Gaming Paratexts

So where does a game begin and end? Or a book? You could say it starts with the beginning and ends with the end or credit screen, but there’s a whole new world out there! Gérard Genette wrote about paratexts, the little things that surround a book – like copyright, chapter headings, cover, interviews, etc – which surround and extend a text (within the book = peritext; external to the book = epitext). Genette calls paratexts a “threshold”, an undefined zone that is neither in the text, nor outside, but frames the text and extends it. Genette is very obviously discussing books, but let’s see how it can work for games!

Screenshot 2015-09-13 14.41.19

Continue reading Gaming Paratexts

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Immersion and related concepts in gaming

Finally, I got some free time to finish my mind-map of all the things that go into immersion or identification in video games! There’s a tonne of citations and resources there, should anyone be curious about certain concepts.

External link to Prezi here!

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The picture above can’t be zoomed in like with Prezi, as WordPress doesn’t like embedding them, it’s just here to look at all the colours and lines!

Identification

At the moment, I’m starting to look into concepts around how readers (and gamers/viewers) connect with characters, or how identification happens.

What-Does-That-Mean-Foreign-Language

There’s a few different thoughts around identification: does the reader want to BE that character? Do they imagine themselves AS the character? Or does the reader hold themselves outside of the character, observing and judging the situations and events?

It’s not as simple as “readers connect with the main character” (and definitely not that the main character has to be likable to be identifiable!). In some books, the main protagonist is the alienated viewpoint. Say, feed by M T Anderson – the main character, Titus, is this solipsistic teen in a highly commercial and capitalistic future. In this future, kids have an internet implant (the feed) in their brain (imagine having thoughts getting interrupted by ads). Except for Violet, who sees the world “as it truly is” without the implant and questions everything. Even though the book is written entirely through Titus’ perspective, empathy and identification goes more to Violet. The book is even dedicated “To all those who resist the feed.”

In film studies, identification is also complicated, with commentators distinguishing between primary identification (with the camera) and secondary identification (the character of empathic choice) (Clover 7-8).

chase

Evil Dead awesomeness. Dem camera moves!

… just as attacker and attacked are expressions of the same self in nightmares, so they are expressions of the same viewer in horror film. We are both Red Riding Hood and the Wolf; the force of the experience, in horror, comes from “knowing” both sides of the story. ~ Carol Clover

I’m still fairly new to looking into video game studies, but in searching for stuff around this topic, I found an interesting study on identification in three ways: avatar identification (roleplay, customisation and escapism), group identification (socialising and relationships) and game identification (advancement and mechanics).

sera2newCharacter customisation is huge for me and how I play Warcraft.

Identification is more than just “I like X”, but is important also in part because of the general perception that watching/reading/playing can influence you, the typical example being that playing violent video games makes you commit real world violence – which I totally reject. fool

Identification is also interesting in terms of genre. For example, with romance, it’s probably safe to say most people assume that the reader identifies with the heroine. And for a while the heroine as narrator was pretty established, however from perhaps around the 80’s this began to change as reader’s wanted to see the narrative from the heroes point of view. Author Laura Kinsale proposed in “The Androgynous Reader” that actually, the romance reader identifies with the hero, as the reader is represented by and also in competition with the heroine. Kinsale argued that “through her own and the hero’s eyes, the reader watches and judges the heroine” (35).

Which leads me onto what I’ve been looking at as a case study for all this: Twilight!giphyOn Meyer’s website, she states that “I left out a detailed description of Bella in the book so that the reader could more easily step into her shoes.” This goes back to the Mills and Boon adoption of “Lubbock’s Law”:

Lubbock’s Law was derived from Percy Lubbock, critic and author, who published The Craft of Fiction in 1921. Lubbock maintained that the best fiction, such as Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, succeeded in part because the author wrote from the heroine’s point of view. ‘to have lived with their creations is to have lived with them as well,’ Lubbock maintained. Fiction, he added, must ‘look true’.~ Joseph McAleer

How Meyer interprets how reader’s identify with Bella was also extended to the choice of casting:

For every actress that has been suggested as Bella in the past few years, there are always a slew of critics that cry, “But she doesn’t look like Bella!” (Which can often be translated thusly: “She doesn’t look like ME!”) To this I would like to say: “Of course she doesn’t!” Bella is a fictional character, and she looks different to everyone. As is the same with every actor who will be cast in the next few months, no one is going to match up with your mental picture exactly—or mine.

Bella’s apparent blandness or blankness of personality was also picked up on by critics as a device for identification:

Unfortunately, the books are tough to defend. There’s no doubt, for instance, that Bella is a remarkably droopy, drippy character, and while her blankness could be justified as a device, enabling readers to identify with her (which has obviously happened to an extraordinary degree), she also has a weird clumsiness, a haplessness that means her vampire boyfriend has to rescue her regularly. ~ Kira Cochrane, The Guardian

Concerns about Bella’s passivity neglect to consider how the books invite identification with the main character. For this to be possible, there have to be certain gaps in her characterisation, but these gaps are designed to be filled in by readers with their own characteristics. ~ Catherine Strong, The Age

As Crawford examines in his chapter on the fandom and the controversy of Twilight, it is often claimed to be bad for readers, because if they identify with Bella (through such claims in fan reviews as wanting to be Bella or wanting to marry Edward etc) then they have a role model who has low self-esteem, is submissive, is passive and all that jazz – but then he asks “does the fact that someone identifies with a fictional character really imply that they view them as ‘a model for [their own] real-life choices’?” The argument against Bella and Twilight is also used for 50 Shades, such as with this article snarkily titled “Christian Grey is not real”. Crawford sees this argument as rather reductive, and also perhaps with implicit discrimination against readers (of Twilight) “because of their presumed youth and femaleness … often seem to be assumed, a priori, to lack the critical faculties necessary to distinguish between fantasy and reality.” This will be no surprise to fans of romance, or even young adult literature.

Dylan-Moran

So TL;DR, there’s a bunch of theories of how identification works, but it’s important to think about because society thinks that identification with fictional characters will lead to bad things, particularly if the work is about about sex or violence or is aimed towards younger readers.

Recommended Reading

  • Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol Clover ~ A study of horror films from the 70’s to mid 80’s and how identification works (using a psychoanalytical framework) and how it is gendered.
  • Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon by Joseph McAleer ~ A very detailed history of how Mills & Boon became one of the biggest publishing names in the world
  • The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity by Carol Thurston ~ A slightly older work, on how romance and women in romance were changing in the 70’s and 80’s due to the new wave of feminism.
  • “The Androgynous Reader.” by Laura Kinsale in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. ~ How reader identification works with romances (this is not an academic work, but rather from the perspective of an author of romances – however, quite a few academics pick up on this and extend the work, such as Amber Botts “Cavewoman Impulses: The Jungian Shadow Archetype in Popular Romance Fiction” in Romantic Conventions edited by Anne K Kaler and Rosemary Johnson-Kurek.)
  • The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance by Joseph Crawford ~ awesome history of the paranormal romance, its gothic associations, and including a reader response chapter on “The Twilight Controversy”
  • Player Identification in Online Games: Validation of a Scale for Measuring Identification in MMOG’s by Jan Van Looy, Cedric Courtois, Melanie De Vocht and Lieven De Marez in Media Psychology Vol 15.2 (2012).

Favourite Zombie Theories

Up on twitter, zombie peeps are having a discussion about their favourite zombie criticism/theories. Be sure to follow these  people on Twitter and their academic works! If you want to read more about zombies, also go check out my Recommended Reading page (in which you’ll find these peeps!).

@zombiescholar (AKA Sarah Juliet Lauro):

  •  We ‘Are’ the Walking Dead by Gerry Canavan (@gerrycanavan) (Extrapolation Fall 2010, Vol. 51 Issue 3, p431)
  • Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller by Kobena Mercer (Screen, 1986, 27;1)

@DanHF (AKA Dan Hassler-Forest):

  • Steven Shaviro’s (@shaviro) Capitalist Monsters Historical Materialism 10 (4):281-290 (2002)
  • The Year’s Work at the Zombie Research Centre ed by Edward P Comentale and Aaron Jaffe (published September 2014)

@gerrycanavan (AKA Gerry Canavan)

  • The Zombie Manifesto by Sarah Juliet Lauro and Karen Embry, boundary 2 Spring 2008 35(1): 85108

@DrMoreman (AKA Christopher Moreman)

  • Guess who is going to be dinner by Barbara Bruce in Race, Oppression and the Zombie (McFarland)

@Doctorofthedead (AKA Dr Arnold Blumberg):

  • Braaaiiinnnsss!: From Academics to Zombieed. Robert Smith

@VintageZombie (AKA me!)

    • Plans are Pointless by Sara Sutler-Cohen in Zombies are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead. Ed. Christopher M Moreman & Cory James Rushton. McFarland & Company

@DrWalkingDead (AKA Kyle William Bishop)

  • Undead (A Zombie Oriented Ontology).” by Jeffrey J Cohen Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 23.3 (2013): 397-412.

@jamierussel74 (AKA Jamie Russell)

  • Robin Wood “Apocalypse Now: Notes on The Living Dead”

Politics and the Media

So the past few weeks I’ve been working on one of my final essays for this semester. The course was Charisma, Fame and Celebrity and I chose to look at how the role of the leader in politics has changed due to the rise of televised media. I was going to look at polling and Twitter/blogs of amateur journalists, but couldn’t fit it in ><.

So first up, what charisma is isn’t very clearly defined. It’s more a case of you have it or you don’t have it, but there seems to be very little doubt (particularly in journalism) that is does in fact exist. Most of the modern work on charisma is based on Max Weber (although charisma was first a Greek word, which was then widely used in Christianity until quite recently when the meaning became more secular). Weber predicted the fall of the charismatic leader due to the ‘bureaucratic political party machines’ (although, clearly has not made it impossible, just very difficult for a charismatic leader to rise above). They usually arise in times of crisis, and can better survive poor performance or avert blame during such times.

In Australia, there appears to be a growing ‘personalisation of politics’ – also referred to as ‘presidentialisation of politics’ – where we single out a leader as the One whom all policies and ideas come from, rather than a whole party or cabinet voting on them (I saw more studies for this than against it, though both exist). In America this might not seem such a big deal, but in Australia it is the parties themselves who decide on a leader. They might choose a new leader because the old one has been ineffective (either in policy-making or failure to win government) for so long, doesn’t represent the party’s ideals, has received poor polling, things like that. While looking at some stats, it seems like leaders have a shorter life span than they used to – but I didn’t look at this in much detail and didn’t have the word count to go into it in any meaningful way.

The blame for less charismatic leaders is squarely put on televised media – although the politicians are complicit in this process as well. Joshua Meyrowitz has a great chapter in his book No Sense of Place on the history of American Presidents and how before tv, any ‘ugliness’, disability or health issue, and presidential scandals were able to be confined from the public. The way they manipulated – or perhaps, worked with – the media to establish a certain image was much more in their control. But no longer! Now we pretty much all have tvs, access to 24 hour news, and news can spread wide and very fast. It seemed to be that the appearance of a charismatic leader partly relied on the distance between the leader and the people, which is now almost impossible as the media will endlessly go on about a leaders personal life, their hair colour, their shoes etc. There also seems to be evidence that politicians have gone along with the media to try and get the attention they need (after all, you can’t vote for someone if you don’t know they exist!).

Barrack Obama is generally considered to be an exception to this, particularly in his first election. Remember how damn excited everyone was?! Although it was quite a bit lesser, people were like that for Kevin Rudd before he got in. While Tony Abbott has been called a ‘charmer’, neither he nor Julia Gillard are gifted with charisma. Part of being charismatic depends on being recognised by followers that one IS charismatic.

In Tanner’s Sideshow, he says “a short-term focus, extreme risk aversion, and minor announcements are all symptoms of the permanent campaign” (111), and I think we’re getting that quite clearly in Australia at the moment.

And now for the fun bit, a video by the Chaser boys from their series The Hamster Wheel. Enjoy! XD

Recommended Reading

  • Julia 2010: The Caretaker Election. Ed. Marian Simms & John Wanna. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2012.
  • Ginsborg, Paul. Democracy: Crisis and Renewal. London: Profile Books. 2008. Print.
  • Farnsworth, Stephen J & Lichter, S Robert. The Mediated Presidency: Television News and Presidential Governance. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 2006. Print.
  • McAllister, Ian. The Australian Vote: 50 Years of Change. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing. 2011.
  • McKew, Maxine. Tales from the Political Trenches. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. 2012.
  • Megalogenis, George. Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the End of the Reform Era. Collingwood: Black Inc. 2010.
  • Meyrowitz, Joshua. No Sense of Place: The impact of electronic media on social behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1986.
  • Potts, John. A History of Charisma. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan. 2009.
  • Tanner, Lindsay. Sideshow: dumbing down democracy. Melbourne: Scribe. 2011.

Lessons from Reality TV

I’m currently finishing up an essay on whether reality TV can teach audiences, using as my case studies The Biggest Loser (most studies were on US and Australian series) and 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom (US only). I was going to include Masterchef (Aus, US and UK), but this assignment is only 2000 words and there are fewer studies on it that I could find.

I have issues with reality tv research.

While participants of surveys, viewers and non-viewers, are very clear that reality TV does not teach, or at the very most, only teaches in certain genres (e.g. home makeover shows), it seems that there is some kind of learning going on – but it does not appear that media creates the behaviour/attitude, but does contribute and reinforce it. The little that I found on Masterchef said it was a celebration of unhealthy food with no nutrition, but it did affect buying patterns and promoted home cooking (Phillipov). For The Biggest Loser, there is a lot of condemnation of the mixed messages, the promotion being “yay let’s all lose weight together” and the real message transmitted is stigmatising obesity (Thomas, Hyde and Komesaroff), humiliating the contestants, and the horror of the temptation challenges where they will tempt contestants to eat (sometimes large amounts of) takeaway or unhealthy foods for prizes such as immunity, exercise machines, or even contact with family at home (Lundy, Ruth and Park, and, Sender and Sullivan). With 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom, it was suggested that the media does inform teens on things like the reality of teen pregnancy (Lance) – not so much on the risks and responsibilities of sex and childbirth  – but each study also points out that there is a massive lack of sexual education across the US compared to other Western nations. There seems to be negatives and positives for all of them, and not just on an individual level but taken to much broader societal level.

One aspect that I could not include in my own essay, partly because of word count and partly because it was barely mentioned in the research I looked at, was the effect of the whole branding, including the show, the websites, the forums, the merchandise and advertising etc. I wonder if we are starting to use all media to our benefit. There is always a lot of talk on Twitter during shows now, some with their own Twitter tickers at the bottom. Marketers, of course, want us to go out and buy all the stuff related to the show such as replacement meal shakes from Biggest Loser, food from Coles – which sponsors Masterchef (see: The Gruen Transfer or The Checkout on ABC, Australia for more on marketing and promotion … and associated evils). All three shows have a website linked to them – I’m often found on Masterchef during the season catching up on the show or looking up recipes. 16 and Pregnant is marketed as a type of sexual health education for teens, alongside the website It’s Your Sex Life which has an ad on every episode (even on the MTV website catchup). Maybe we should be examining these shows in context with all the external stuff?

When I first decided on this topic to write about, everyone had an opinion. Reality TV is just crap and anyone who buys into anything it does is stupid. Reality TV can be good, but you need be choosey and thoughtful and actually research the things you take away from it (especially on things like how real is reality tv? I did see quite a bit of work on the scripting and editing control that changes whole stories). Images of people sitting at home with The Biggest Loser on while eating McDonald’s or other takeaway. I had my own experiences in which to build my expectations from because of my constant watching of Masterchef and my summer holidays binge on 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom. I tried watching more The Biggest Loser for this assignment, and it literally made me feel ill (despite the protestations by my brother-in-law and his girlfriend that it was essentially a good program, and that it was great there were kids on it <.< ). Overall, all these opinions were in various studies and research done on the topic! I am quite interested to see what comes in the future, but am rather mindful of the possibilities for exploitation – one scifi series I have by Ian Irvine (Human Rites) has a short description of a future reality tv show where people must call in to bid to pay for a life-saving operation for a child, complete with obnoxious host. *shudders*

References

Phillipov, Michelle. “Communicating Health Risks via the Media: What Can We Learn from MasterChef Australia?” The Australasian medical journal 5.11 (2012): 593–7.

Lundy, Lisa K, Amanda M Ruth, and Travis D Park. “Simply Irresistible: Reality TV Consumption Patterns.” Communication Quarterly 56.2 (2008): 208–225

Sender, Katherine, and Margaret Sullivan. “Epidemics of Will, Failures of Self-esteem: Responding to Fat Bodies in The Biggest Loser and What Not to Wear.” Continuum 22.4 (2008): 573–584.

Lance, A. et al. “16 and Pregnant: a Content Analysis of a Reality Television Program About Unplanned Teen Pregnancy.” Contraception 86.3 (2012): 292.

Strasburger, Victor C, Amy B Jordan, and Ed Donnerstein. “Children, Adolescents, and the Media: Health Effects.” Pediatric clinics of North America 59.3 (2012): 533–587.

Thomas, Samantha, Hyde, Jim and Komesaroff, Paul. “‘Cheapening the Struggle:’ Obese People’s Attitudes Towards The Biggest Loser.” Obesity Management 3.5 (2007): 210–215.

Review: Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader

Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft ReaderDigital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader by Hilde G. Corneliussen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I do appreciate that the authors in this volume took time to actually play the game they study. I felt that rather than just reading about it, their experiences in this world would lead to a greater understanding the complexity of the game, and the awesome fun too. I did find, however, that while quite a few essays are well written but out of date (as is likely to happen, especially in such an expanding field as gaming), some others got on my nerves as I didn’t feel any belief in what the author was saying, and that the inaccuracies or just simple neglect could not be explained away by having been written during Burning Crusade (since then, three more expansions have been released).

Quite a few of the articles are out-of-date, so the specifics of them no longer hold true a few expansions later, but the ideas behind them are still relevant. The important of the economy as a structure is very much still an issue, both with the addition of transmogrification (changing the appearance of one piece of armour to look like another of the same type) and dwindling numbers on particular servers. The problem of not being able to impact upon the game environment has changed through the expansions with the addition of phasing, as you progress through certain quests or stories, the environment you are shown is changed (none more so evident than in Mount Hyjal in Cataclysm).

Some essays looked rather negatively on WoW with no sense of charity of purpose, and illustrated the issues in a very simplistic manner that didn’t do justice to the game. War and Histories seemed very basic, labeling the Horde as environmental and the Alliance as ecological destroyers which doesn’t quite stand true when you take into account the different perspectives of the races. The essay on Post-Colonialism in WoW I felt wasn’t quite understood. Yes, some races are based on real-life cultures, but I don’t feel (perhaps this is subjective) that it was meant to be demeaning in any way, as the player chooses the race and adopts that culture. Race could be seen to be subordinate in WoW, with the major differences only being class choices available and aesthetics. I also take note with the depiction of role-playing being see as deviant and not the way the developers intended. There are specific realms for role-playing with more rules (and it is easier to report those who break them), but also the developers aren’t policing role-playing as it is very individual how one chooses to role-play, and guilds and communities will self-monitor this. The nature of quests, while still very much kill X of these or collect Y of this, has become more consolidated with better threading of the storylines.

The essay on gender was extremely problematic. There are important issues around gender inside the game itself and externally in the gaming industry, however I felt the author was pushing an agenda by ignoring certain aspects of WoW. Just on the background of the game, the author refers to some characters who are absent in-game, or ignores the strengths of those in-game in favour of defining them only by their romantic relationships. There is no mention of Jaina Proudmoore or Sylvanas Windrunner, both in-game heroines of incredible strength and who defied powerful men to be such important roles in the shaping of recent history. The author also doesn’t point out that there is no playable differences between male and female characters, and or allow that female and male players (of any sexual preference) do choose characters that are of a different gender.

While some of this book was interesting in offering different perspectives, regardless of the age of the text compared to the game itself, I did feel that quite a few essays were incorrect or the authors were analysing the game unfairly by ignoring certain aspects.

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