Genres and New Media

Genre in digital literature is a many headed beast I have been wrestling with lately. Some sources for this struggle have been Mikhail Bakhtin’s “Speech Genres and Other Late Essays”, “The Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre” Edited by Richard Coe, Lorelei Lingard and Tatiana Teslenko, “The Law of Genre” by Jacques Derrida, and just lately “Genre Trouble: Narrativism and the Art of Simulation” By Espen Aarseth (in Wardrip-Fruin and Harrigan {Eds.} “First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game”, finally just out in paperback).

From my reading and textual experimentation I find myself agreeing with Stuart Moulthorp’s Online Response to Aarseth’s essay in wondering how we can ignore the reality of mixed genres (see also Derrida’s “The Law of Genre”). In examining the multiple genres of a single text I have been using Medway’s model (1998) based upon the writings of M.M. Bakhtin (1994). This is a four criteria model consisting of; the functions served by the texts (variation and regularity), formats taken by texts, styles employed by texts and how uptake of the texts is negotiated (1). The idea as I see it is to move through what are actually inseparable fuzzy layers, starting with the material form of the text (Flash animation, HTML, Blog template, 3D world platform etc. etc.). Then there are the generic forms, represented within the material form (such as novel, diary, report, letter, film, painting, or map). From both of these we can examine how they would have to be negotiated by the text’s eventual ‘consumer’. Finally the genred social and cultural assumptions made by the texts, much based on style (gaze, time constructions, syntax, addressivity etc. etc.).

Of particular interest to me is when a digital work contains a representation of a non-digital media form, such as a book or voice recitation. This is intertextuality at its most blatant. Sure, in the case of digital games it may not be so concerned with actual gameplay, but if one is trying to build a critical base to look at digital texts, for example as cultural products, then intertextuality is important.

For a specific take on intertextuality I have been using N. Katherine Hayles’ intermediation, the “complex transactions between bodies and texts as well as between different forms of media” N. Katherine Hayles, My Mother was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2005) 7. This gives a broad enough field to discuss borrowing and blending in everything from visual theories to materiality and the narrative of the texts. I see intermediation as an example of Bakhtin’s dialogics.

But there are many problems. Following these lines back through genres is like trying to untie double knots, slow, fiddly work that craves concentration. Plus, how does one decide where to make a break between one generic presence and another as they overlap all over the place. It also seems to be so random. I may see a genre in one feature of a text that the next person may not. Bakhtin discusses this in “The Problem of Speech Genres”. It is all a very interesting puzzle.

1. Peter Medway, “Fuzzy Genres and Community Identities: The Case of Architectural Students Sketchbooks” in The Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre Edited by Richard Coe et al. (Cresskill NJ: Hampton Press 2002) 125-129.

Media influences

In my research, I try to describe the influence that different media have on interactional patterns and conversational structures. A recurring topic of contemplation is whether I give the medium of the interaction too much prominence here. I am well aware of the fact that the medium is not the only factor influencing the patterns that I find, but still I argue that certain aspects can be ascribed to the influence of the medium.

Here in HUMlab we have recently started a PhD course on technologically mediated communication, and we have now had our first meeting. Among other things we discussed different theoretical approaches to the role of the medium in computer-mediated settings, ranging from technological determinism to technological instrumentalism. I believe I have been able to find a middle road in my research project, since I have chosen not to focus on the qualities of the medium per se, but rather on its affordances. This is a situated approach bringing in the complete environment in the analysis, and focusing on those specific qualities of the medium that stand out to the user as being especially useful.

Unfortunately, this approach is not unproblematic. The term ‘affordance’ was first coined by J.J.Gibson, but has since been interpreted in a number of ways, ascribing different levels of importance to the role of the social context. For instance, Gaver (1996) takes a stance which is close to the technological determinism end of the scale and excludes the influence of social conventions while claiming that the affordances of the system govern interaction. Norman (1999) has a more socially based approach and argues that not only affordances, but also cultural conventions influence the behaviour that we find in HCI. I now need to decide upon a definition that captures the complementary relationship between the individual and the environment, supporting the idea that the patterns I find are seen to be influenced both by the material qualities of the medium and by the choices that people make when employing the different media, as well as by the conventions that arise as a result of groups learning to make the most of these mediated conversations.

Other topics of contemplation relating to the concept of affordances can be found in my blog.

Censorship and Technology

In recent months the Australian Government Classification Review Board has refused classification for the computer game Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents under Pressure and withdrawn classification for Grand Theft Auto III: San Andreas. In effect both games are banned in Australia.

This is not totally unexpected although Australia seems to be the only country to ban these particular games. Another Rockstar Games product Manhunt has been banned in New Zealand, and is also banned in Australia. While the Swedish designed and built game Hearts of Iron was banned in China in 2004 (there are quite a few games banned in China: The Sims 2, Manhunt, FIFA 2005, Painkiller: Battle out of Hell, Age of Mythology: The Titans, Battlefield Vietnam, Conflict Vietnam, Vietcong: Fist Alpha and Devastation are some of the 50 or so). New Zealand banned Postal 2 in 2004. In 2002 the Greek government banned all computer games. As far as I can see it is still in place, although the Greek authorities even admit it is difficult to consistently enforce such a position (think mobile phone games).
Continue reading “Censorship and Technology”

Maureen McNeil at Umeå University

Three upcoming seminars with Maureen McNeil (in Triple Helix, Samverkanshuset):

Tuesday March 28 10.15 am-12
Cultural studies of technoscience and science and technology studies: borrowings, stretchings and challenges

Wedensday March 29 10.15 am-12
Feminist reproductive politics in the early twenty-first century

Friday March 31 10.15 am-12
Genomics: a very public, intensely mediated technoscience

Program here (pdf). McNeil’s visit has been organized by the Center for the Studies of Science and Value.

Vectors fellowships

Information about Vectors fellowships below (Vectors is very relevant to what we do in HUMlab and this seems like a good opportunity):

Summer 2006 Fellowship Call for Proposals
Vectors: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular

The University of Southern California’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy is pleased to announce a third annual Fellowship program for summer 2006 to foster innovative research for its digital publishing venture, Vectors: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular.

First launched in 2005, Vectors is an international electronic journal dedicated to expanding the potentials of academic publication via emergent and transitional media. Moving well beyond the text-with-pictures format of much electronic scholarly publishing, Vectors brings together visionary scholars with cutting-edge designers and technologists to propose a thorough rethinking of the dynamic relationship of form to content in academic research, focusing on the ways technology shapes, transforms and reconfigures social and cultural relations.

Vectors adheres to the highest standards of quality in a strenuously reviewed format. The journal is edited by Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson, with Creative Directors Erik Loyer and Raegan Kelly and Lead Programmer Craig Dietrich, and is guided by the collective knowledge of a prestigious international board.

About the Fellowships
• Vectors Fellowships will be awarded to up to eight individuals or teams of collaborators in the early to mid- stages of development of a scholarly multimedia project related to the themes of Difference or Memory. Completed projects will be included in Volume 3 of the journal in 2007. Vectors features next-generation multimedia scholarship, publishing work that can only be realized in an online format. Volume Three, Issue One: Difference
From Charles Babbage’s 19th century “Difference Engine” to Derrida’s 1980s neographism “Différance,” the notion of difference has served as a provocative metaphor for thinking about language, culture, politics, technology and identity. This issue of Vectors encourages diverse examinations of the notion of difference as it plays out in a variety of cultural spheres, discourses and practices. We are interested in a broadly-conceived notion of difference, one that engages technology and culture or that might be productively examined through the format of an interactive multimedia journal. In particular, we seek proposals that foreground the cultural or political manifestations of racial, gender, national, religious, ethnic, geographic, technological or economic differences.

Possible areas of investigation include but are not limited to:
-historical and future conceptions of difference
-rethinking otherness, multi-culturalism, convergence
-technologies of difference
-legacies + limits of 1990s theories and manifestations of difference
-sounding out difference(s)
-afro-futurism, speculative differences, future species
-sameness and/or difference, the logics of both/and
-rethinking identity; difference/multiplicity/fragmentation
-post-Katrina, post-9/11, post-racism
-post-feminist gender differences
-war and ethnic/religious differences
-economic disparity and cultural differences
Continue reading “Vectors fellowships”

Are we all Narratologists now?

I blinked twice when I read this:

“Espen Aarseth is unabashed in calling himself a narratologist. Building on the theories of French literary theorist Gerard Genette and narrative theorist Seymour Chatman, Aarseth’s work is really about how literature may be generated by gameplay mechanics in contexts from the I Ching to the FPS. For Aarseth, gameplay is part and parcel of what makes the story; in some senses, it is the story.”
From The Plays the Thing by Mark Wallace

It does sound much like the Aarseth of 1997 but none the less. When Espen Aarseth and Henry Jenkins met in HUMlab in January 2005 it was not so much a debate as informed discussion with just a few points of disagreement. From their chat I got the idea that there really is not so much to debate about between narrative and ludology. It is like debating which is better, apples or pears. Both Jenkins (who I think said the apples and pears line in the HUMlab chat) and Aarseth seemed reconciliatory at the end of their meeting. Very little blood was spilled. However, as Andrew Sterne does point out, the debate does/did have value, but there are many debates that could be had as well. Why don’t we talk about the industrial military complex and gaming? Is it hindering the narratological development of games? Yes, maybe, depends.
I have since attended a lecture and a workshop given by Espen where I had a chance to talk to him. He qualifies his narratology with the simple point that playing a game is not a text. I have thought a lot about this in the last year and I believe it to be an accurate point of view. A game is not the same thing when played as when read. Driving a car and designing a car are different things. So is critiquing the design of a car.
Wallace’s article is a brief survey of four of the “big names” (couldn’t The Escapist find a single female game theorist or designer?) Frasca, Aarseth, Juul and Barrett. They all seem to be moving on from polarities to more integrated descriptions of the narratology-ludology conundrum. That’s if they were ever really as polarised as it has been sometimes painted.

“a masturbatory, ego-driven, politically-motivated debate that is never going to help anyone make a better interactive product”
Mark Barrett sums up the ludology-narratology thing.

Brand Strategy in a Web 2.0 World


Jennifer Rice at Brand Mantra has an excellent series of posts on Maslow and Branding. She’s looked at 8 core consumer needs: Security, Connection, Esteem, Control, Aesthetic, Cognitive, Self-Actualization and Transcendence. She starts the series with this ….

“Remember back in your Psych 101 class when you learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Bet you never expected to see it again in the business world, but…ta da! Here it is. Personally I think a few are missing like freedom and control. But in general, we can easily see how strong brands relate back to the hierarchy. In the next couple posts, I’ll walk through the expanded hierarchy (8 needs instead of 5) and discuss their relation to brand strategy.”

For the uninitiated, an explanation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’ve culled out, from Jennifer’s multiple posts, some of the key points and examples that she makes – they are in italics:

on Security:

“This is the “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” syndrome. There are people everywhere who will only purchase products and services from companies that have proven themselves over time. They stuck with SBC when their more adventurous counterparts were fleeing to try one of the new competitive phone companies.”

on Connection:

“We’re seeing this era of fragmentation come to a close, and the locus of connection is reforming on two very different levels: the physical world where brands like Starbuck’s are providing modern tribal gathering spots, and the virtual world where like-minded people can connect based on affinity instead of geography (like Slashdot.) As with trust, all brands can work on facilitating a sense of connection through blogs and forums. But newer brands that are plugged into the grassroots economy are making ‘connection’ a foundational differentiator for their brands. I’ll end up revisiting social technologies and grassroots economy after going though the entire hierarchy, because the virtual locus of connection is actually the point at which 4 different needs intersect.”

on Esteem:

“Some newer ways of delivering Esteem include: “New Economy” forums like LegoFactory. Not only is this a place to show off your new Lego designs to other community members, but you also get a chance to be publicly recognized for a great design by the Lego Product Designers themselves. Another example is Slashdot, where you earn karma for smart participation in the forums. You can see in the FAQs that people’s karma scores serve as ‘reputation badges,’ and it appears that some folks were a bit peeved when the karma indicator was changed from a potentially unlimited number to a label ( Terrible, Bad, Neutral, Positive, Good, and Excellent.)”

on Control:

“Control is tightly linked to the notion of freedom; without freedom we have no ability to control our environment. Control and Freedom are two sides of the same coin, a linkage that has surfaced in primary research for several different technology and B2B clients. Features like flexibility and customization relate back to Control, but so do social technologies like blogs, forums, user ratings, etc. The emerging grassroots economy is pushing both Freedom and Control into the hands of employees and customers… forming a vast, distributed human network where each node (individual) can connect, communicate, make choices, learn from each other, grow. In essence this new economy is enabling and empowering us to live and work the way we want, not how someone else tells us we must.”

on Aesthetic:

“Aesthetic used to be a nice-to-have, but it’s increasingly becoming foundational. Witness the explosive success of Apple and the iPod, or the gotta-have Razr phone. Target is bringing designer style (Isaac, Oldham) to the masses, along with InStyle magazine and “The Look for Less” show. Starbucks combined coffee with an aesthetic environment. Barnes & Noble did the same for books. There are now 250 bathroom faucets from which to choose. Style is important because it’s an external representation of our own self-image. What we wear, drive, carry… they’re all badges to demonstrate who we are. It makes me wonder if Aesthetic really is the core need; perhaps it’ something much more basic, like ‘validation of self-existence.’ Perhaps style is our subconscious way of defining who we are, or attracting a mate (like peacocks and bird plumage).”

on Cognitive:

“This is about learning and understanding the world around us. While many people still blindly accept the doctrines of traditional authority (church, state, corporations, media, etc.), others are taking control, asking questions and seeking answers. Brands that knock down barriers to knowledge and provide easy access are delivering on this need. These aren’t just the obvious brands like Google; they’re also brands that practice transparency and educate customers on the how’s and why’s of their products, services and business practices. Transparency and openness deliver on customers’ desire to know. FedEx tracking is a great example (of both Cognitive and Control). And of course, blogs and forums fit into this category as well.”

on Self-Actualization:

“Nike pioneered the focus on self-actualization with their famous “Just Do It” tag line. Home Depot followed suit with “You can do it. We can help.” Brands that demonstrate a belief in their customers’ abilities will win the hearts and minds of those who want to reach higher and accomplish more. But it needs to be more than just talk or a nice tag line. Microsoft’s campaign, “Where do you want to go today?” appeals to this need, but I haven’t found a lot of supporting evidence for the promise (of course, I haven’t looked very hard.). How about creating more interactivity with customers, learning where they want to go, offering online education classes, or perhaps social networking tools that connect mentors with learners?”

on Transcendence:

“This need is about giving back, enriching others or championing a greater cause. The Body Shop was founded on core values like environmental protection; their web site reminds visitors, “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, that’s the only thing that ever does.” The Toyota Prius won Edmund’s Consumer’s Choice for Most Significant Vehicle in 2004. Cause-related brands have strong appeal to small but loyal customer segments.”

There is so much potential for social tools and technologies to address so many of these needs – the needs for Esteem, Connection, Self-Actualization, Cognition, Control . Am looking forward to reading Jennifer’s thoughts on how they interact. It would require a cultural change in organizations to acknowledge that some of the more powerful human needs, or in marketing terms, customer drivers, lie in the value of actually passing on the control and freedom to customers. Tied into this need are the needs for connection, esteem, cognitiion, self-actualization and ultimately, transcendence.

Web 2.0 companies have shown the way – their products are in perpetual beta, their architecture and marketing is decentralized, they encourage communities of users to self-organize around them. Recently, in an email to Rob, I wrote …. I think one of the most difficult things for people to do is give up control and relinquish ‘power’ to the many unless they see tangible ‘cost-per-click’ sort of gains. It’s the single largest barrier to accepting and adopting a process that is different to one we have been so conditioned to. Sadly, what few realise the act of giving up that power itself can be so empowering for them – why is WordPress gaining popularity – why is Flickr so popular – why are and Skype and so many others gaining traction today? They weren’t built in a day and pushed onto us as a final product or service – they are being built by and around the community that breathes them. The folks behind them had the guts and vision to say – let’s see how our customers ‘play’ – how they self-organize into networks (developers for instance) – embrace the criticisms with the accolades – and build around what they build. Chaos ….. and creativity. So powerful.

cross posted from here

when you can’t tell…

When someone approaches you about a movie, they usually have you sign a contract before telling you the fine details of the project. Actually, in some cases, they’ll have you sign something before they’ll fill you in on even the most basic stuff – like what kind of work you’re expected to do, what kind of movie it is or even who they are. Before you’re hired, before you know what the job pays and before you have any clue. The contract is called an NDA. Non Disclosure Agreement. What this means, in essence, is that this thing that you’d like to shout about from the rooftops – maybe the coolest job you’ve ever had – you won’t be able to talk about. At all. In fact, if you do, they can sue you for pretty much anything you own.

Sucks, doesn’t it?

It makes sense, though. There’s a lot of money involved. Any spilled secrets might result in another movie company stealing the ideas and releasing an almost identical movie… or some newspaper or internet site getting hold of vital information. There’s just too much at stake, I suppose.

Being overly cautious, I wasn’t even sure I was allowed to talk about the movie companies that have hired me, or what movies I’ve worked on. In some cases, you see, this isn’t okay. For instance, I can say that I’ve done work for Disney – but I’m not allowed to tell you for which movie (since it’s not been announced yet) or even what kind of work I’ve done. I’m allowed to say, I know this because I’ve asked, that I’ve done work for New Line Cinema, on a movie called The Golden Compass… but I can’t tell you the particulars of what I did. So the fun anecdotes I have about how I shot reference photos for this project… I can’t share them, no matter how much I want to. Let’s just say they involve a stuffed toy animal, some string and a cat that totally mistook my hard work for fun play.

It’s difficult to do work you can’t talk about. I can’t vent. I can’t ask for advice or critique on the images I’ve painted. Some exceedingly cool stuff that I’ve made, I might never be able to show off – I don’t own the copyrights to any of it. It’s really up to the movie makers. I’m not even sure I’ll get any kind of credit for my hard work though as far as I know, I might well have been the first artist involved in a particular project. I’m still new in the game.

Worst thing?

Chances are some movies I work hard on and am proud of – are never actually released. I’m involved at such early stages that I have to face the possibility of the movies being cancelled.

It sounds as though I’m unhappy. I’m not. Maybe I’ll never be able to talk about what I did, and maybe I’ll never get credit for any of it – but I’d be hard pressed to find any kind of work I’ve enjoyed more. Anything I’ve been more excited about. When Disney first called me, back when, I thought I would have a heart-attack – that’s how thrilled I was. For someone who watches as many movies as I do and is so obsessed with them, the mere prospect of having been part of the process is almost overwhelming. It’s not about the money and certainly not about getting credit for it – it’s the whole thing… knowing that, wow, I designed that, I was part of that, I helped. I have a feeling that when the first movie I’ve worked on is actually showing on the big screen – I’ll be climbing the walls with excitement.

I guess I already am.

Swimming Across The Pool

When one goes swimming it is inevitable that one gets wet. I have been continuing my mission for this semester: Dive into Web 2.0. The water is starting to get in my ears!
Moving along from video I am currently interested in how a line of narrative or topic can be maintained and moved around different platforms and still keep a coherent and consistent ‘feel’ with what has gone before whilst adding to it by virtue of the new media at each stage of the reader’s experience.
Alternate Reality Gaming is a good place to start in cross media networks. The textual possibilities of a augmented total information environment are strong in ARGs but at the moment the interplay between the light side and the life side of the screen seems to place the human subject in the latter. ARGs rely heavily on participation and tagging but I would describe them as examples of the box beginning to collapse and what it contains coming out and enveloping the participating subjects. This of course will change as convergence continues and technologies become more immersive. I am not convinced that ARGs are Web 2.0, although they are related (first cousins maybe?).
Following this line of inquiry it was at this point I found a reference from Matthew Kirschbaum for a newly published thesis by Marc Ruppel which includes Learning to Speak Braille: Convergence, Divergence and Cross-Sited Narratives. This is where I want to go!
Ruppel states in his blog description of his recently completed thesis:

“Over the course of my presentation, I argue that not only do cross-sited narratives validate the notion that convergence is a product of narrative as much as technological intersections, but also that, in some cases, the structures of these stories are often inseparable from the corporate structures that produce them– either expansive (horizontal) or redundant (vertical). They are, in essence, complex systems of both narrative meaning and textual distribution, where simplex sites work within a larger (virtualized) complex of meaning.”
Marc Ruppel

What struck me about “complex systems of both narrative meaning and textual distribution, where simplex sites work within a larger (virtualized) complex of meaning” is the mergence of content and form through meaning. Whilst not open to interpretation and change in the same way as many contemporary western texts are the ancient stories of the Australian Aboriginal peoples, from my understanding, operate in a similar fashion. Known in English as Songlines and Dreamtime stories they function to weave multitudes of strands together; people, communities, clan groups, histories, topologies, events and cycles of practice. But what has this got to do with web 2.0?

Ruppel goes on to discuss and demonstrate examples of networked texts and textual networks in the link above to Learning to Speak Braille. I would like to give one further example of what I believe to be an interesting text network that gives us a glimpse of where the internet is heading in Web 2.0. The Pool is a

a collaborative online environment for creating art, code, and texts. In place of the single-artist, single-artwork paradigm favored by the overwhelming majority of documentation systems, The Pool stimulates collaboration in a variety of forms, including multi-author, asynchronous, and cross-medium projects.

The Pool’s structure emphasizes distributed learning and authorship. Contributors can propose a concept for others to implement, or respond to invitations to explore, debug, or remix existing works. Thanks to an innovative graphical interface, when Pool surfers review artworks, programs, and texts, the ratings they give these works ensure that the best of them will be most visible to future surfers.

Developments such as cross-sited narrative, convergence and augmented reality story telling force a lot of revision about narrative theory up to this point. How does one divide a text that creates itself, requires participation and becomes a way of living? Fan communities and Cosplay are some results in the so called ‘real world’ of such realities. The pool is getting bigger all the time.