Tag Archives: games

Cosplay Shoutout!

Join in a world-record attempt…

[Image: Shadow and Sonic Cosplay characters]As part of the London Games Festival, there’s an attempt on the world group Cosplay record on Saturday 25 October. If you’re that way inclined, then read on for full details (care of Sara at Cake):

Attention all gaming fans! To mark the launch of the UK’s biggest gaming extravaganza, the London Games Festival, a world record attempt to have the largest gathering of people dressed up as video game characters is occurring on 25 October at the London ExCel centre!

Hosted on the opening day of the London MCM Expo, this is the ultimate chance to prove your gaming credentials and show the world how much of a fan you really are! With the current record a measly 80 people, get out and buff your World of Warcraft armor, equip those Lara Croft dual pistols and brush that Guitar Hero mullet wig and get on down to the ExCel to strut your stuff and become a part of gaming history.

Date: 25 October 2008
Time: 12:30
Location: On the stairs, outside the entrance of the ExCel Centre

MCM Expo, ExCeL London,
One Western Gateway,
Royal Victoria Dock, London. E16 1XL

Key Guidelines:

  1. All participants must be wearing costumes representing characters from video games
  2. Characters from other media such as films, television, books and comics are acceptable; however these must have featured in video games before any subsequent appearances in other media. For example:

    • Sonic the Hedgehog first appeared in a video game in 1991, prior to subsequent television and comic book appearances; therefore Sonic qualifies for the attempt
    • Batman first featured as a comic book character in 1939, prior to his first appearance as a video game character in 1986; therefore Batman does not qualify.

We’re not involved in the organisation of this — contact Mark at the LFG if you have questions.

[Photo from Clow Wizard Eriol's photostream on Flickr]

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More Phony Sony

Sony caught out. Again.

psp fuck up.jpgHow many times do we have to say it: there is nowhere to hide on the Internet. This time last year we were talking about how Sony had attempted to exploit street art to market the PSP and now the company has been caught astro-turfing on behalf of the brand. According to Brandrepublic:

Sony Computer Entertainment has been exposed as being behind an embarrassing online viral campaign intended to boost sales of its PlayStation Portable handheld console at Christmas.

A website appeared last month, at alliwantforxmasisapsp.com, intended to look like a genuine fan site unaffiliated to the brand. The site, which included a video clip of a “Cousin Pete” performing a rap asking for a PSP for Christmas, triggered suspicion among the gaming community about its creators’ impartiality.

Speculation that the website was a Sony creation was initially dismissed by the site administrators, who wrote: “We don’t work for Sony. And for all you dissin’ my skillz I’m down for a one on one rap off or settling it street stylez if you feel me playa.” [Quite].

It has since emerged that the site was created by Sony Computer Entertainment US.

Contrast this with the launch of the Wii. Now we don’t think that all of those pictures of Wii-related black-eyes and customised wrist straps are necessarily a Bad Thing. And recalls also have a tendency to make the heart grow fonder. At least it demonstrates that people are actually playing with the damn things… as The Mirror headline notes:

Wii-OWW! THE new Nintendo Wii games console is causing mayhem — as over-excited players hurl themselves around.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen a grand total of three PSPs this year. Another gauge? Flickr is already hosting nearly 21,000 photos relating to Wii to PSP’s 23,000.

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Henry Jenkins: On Convergence Culture

Henry Jenkins’ new book tells the story of emergent participatory media. He kindly granted BigShinyThing an exclusive email interview.

For a while now, we’ve been paying great attention to the writings of Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies graduate program at MIT.

Over the last few years, he’s argued that the participatory creation led by fans and gamers heralds a transformation in creative media. His new book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide ties together many of the threads of his research, and was recently published to rave reviews from all sides.

While impatiently waiting for our copy to arrive, we caught up with Jenkins via email to get our readers the lowdown on his persuasive arguments about fan culture, collaborative production, and the social networking site backlash.

BST: We’re still waiting for your book to turn up in the mail! Can you tell us a little about its premise?

JENKINS: We live in an age where every story, image, brand, relationship will play itself out across the broadest possible array of media channels. This convergence is shaped top-down by decisions made in corporate boardrooms by companies wishing to tap their cross-media ownership and bottom-up by decisions made in teen’s bedrooms as they want to consume the media they want where they want it and when they want it.

Consumers are gaining a new power as they learn to operate within the knowledge cultures emerging within a networked society and as they learn to share media they’ve produced with each other.

Right now, they are acquiring and mastering these skills through their play with popular culture, but soon they will be applying them towards other powerful institutions. And Stuff.

You are a fan of fans, and argue that fans have long been ahead of the convergence curve, with their understanding that the ‘text’ of the stories they care about is open to engagement, involvement, transformation. Now a much wider community is participating in cultural creation. Is there an essential difference between fan-created content and other content contributions from the ‘former audience’?

Fans have been and are likely to continue to be the shock troops in this transformation of our culture — highly motivated, passionately committed, and socially networked. They are early adopters of new technologies and willing to experiment with new relationships to culture. (We might also throw into this category other highly motivated groups such as bloggers and gamers.)

There are signs that fan culture practices and products are spreading throughout the culture. Recent statistics from the Pew Center of Internet and American Life found that more than half of teens online produce some form of media and many of them shared what they produced by others. They are part of the participatory culture I am describing. So are people who join discussion forms or sign up for RSS feeds to get more information about their favorite band or television program.

As writers like Will Wright and Raph Koster have suggested, there is a pyramid of participation. Not everyone will want to spend massive amounts of time generating new content — some will simply want to engage with content others have produced. Not everyone will write fan stories — some may share critical responses with the authors. Not everyone will want to spoil reality television programs — some will simply enjoy the new relationships to the program the spoiler community helps to create for them. But the expansion of this participatory culture changes the context in which media content gets produced and distributed and thus it impacts all of us one way or another. Given this, I would imagine fans may still enjoy a privileged status in participatory culture but more and more people will benefit from the once invisible cultural work of fans.

As you define it, is ‘convergence’ an historical event, which has already occurred, an epoch (like the Renaissance), during which we are living, or something experiential, which is happening to different groups of people at differing times, in different ways?

That’s an interesting question. In some ways, each of these would be accurate.

In the book, I challenge those who think of convergence as a technological process and feel that we are a long way from integrating our communications technologies. I suggest we are already living in a convergence culture if we take advantage of the many kludged together ways that content travels across media platforms right now.

But I also see convergence as an ongoing process — not an endpoint — so it doesn’t make sense to read it as a historical event that has already occured, even if some aspects of the change have been building over an extended period of time at this point. I do think convergence is going to define our relationship to media for an extended period of time forward so it is in some ways an epoch.

But I also think the transitional nature of the present moment, as well as the uneven distribution of media technologies, means that we are not all living in convergence culture in the same ways or the same degrees. If it is an epoch, then, it is one that is just beginning and the long term consequences of these shifts are going to play themselves out for years and years to come.

The ‘Renaissance Man’ was a new creature, in that ‘his’ identity was open to invention, construction, reassembly, interrogation. What defines the ‘Convergence Person’, if such a person exists as a type? Who exemplifies this, and why?

The Renaissance Man was someone who sought to contain within their own individual intellect as much as possible of what anyone on the planet at that time knew.

Today, with the explosion of information we are all experiencing, it is simply not humanly possible to know everything. Most of us alive today know more about a broader range of topics than most of the people living in the Renaissance but we know a much smaller portion of what could be known that the idealized vision of the Renaissance Man suggests.

This is where Pierre Levy’s notion of Collective Intelligence enters the picture. Today, we see knowledge as dispersed across social networks. Everybody knows something, nobody knows everything, and what is known by any member is accessible to the group on demand. The Convergence Person thus knows how to tap that network to get the knowledge they need and knows how to make meaningful contributions back to the group in return. The Renaissance Man was a creature of hierarchy and expertise; the Convergence Person is a creature of adhocracy and pooled information.

Do you feel that converged culture offers specific opportunities to — or imposes particular obligations on — the ‘official’ creators of fictional worlds (open-endedness, unresolved story arcs etc)?

In the book, I offer two terms to refer to the aesthetic goals of convergence culture.

First, works seek to be cultural attractors. If consumption is now social and communal, then certain works will attract together people of similar interests so that they can begin to pool knowledge together. To do that, they often must tap existing cultural references in the way that Lost or The Matrix or Harry Potter can be said to do.

Second, works seek to be cultural activators. They give audiences something to do — some activity, some roles and goals, some meaningful form of participation. This can be literally the case in terms of the mechanisms of participation that surround reality television or computer games. Or it can simply be the show embeds lots of secrets and thus opens itself up to a prolonged process of decryption, as seems to be the case of Lost. There are plenty of shows that achieve the first, far fewer which achieve the second.

Once you’ve designed a cultural attractor and activator, the next step out would be to provide raw materials which fans then want to recombine in new ways and thus generate new forms of cultural expression. And the final step in this process may be to find ways to monitor and amplify the creative energies of these fan communities to sustain popular interest in your program.

To achieve the first two, you need the skills and creativity of professional creators. To achieve the second two, you have to create a context where grassroots creativity is respected rather than shut down.

Lost would seem to be a show which does very well by the first two criteria: a decade ago, Lost would be a cult show like Twin Peaks was in its time. Now, it is one of the highest rated shows on American television despite the fact that, as Steven Johnson has pointed out, it is also one of the most intellectually demanding shows on American television (or more precisely because it is so demanding.) It is designed in a way to generate constant secrets which we want to uncover and thus providing fuel for the participation of large scale knowledge communities. The map which was flashed across the screen for a split second in a single episode is, as Jason Mittell has noted, emblematic of that new relationship with the consumer.

As of this summer, the Lost Team has pushed this one step further by creating an alternate reality game that will generate new opportunities for participation and socialization around the series. There has been some suggestion that the Lost writers also monitor online communities and reshape the story in response to their speculations.

There has so far been fewer signs of audiences recreating Lost or creating the next generation of Lost on their own. This may be because the series is so demanding and people are still so unsettled in their expectations about what is actually going on there. In that regard, Lost may generate more new culture once it is finished than it has so far. This was certainly the case with Twin Peaks which only really started to inspire fan fiction once it was off the air. It is spectacular though to recognize that Wrapped in Plastic, a fanzine produced when the show was first aired, is still being produced and read — and if anything, it has more subscribers now, a decade plus later, than when the series was first broadcast. This is a classic illustration of the ways that fans can help extend the shelf life of media products.

With the advent of weightless digital media, we’ve anticipated some global crossover hit from somewhere other than the ‘first world’, but so far, it’s not happened — music in particular seems to exist in tight local (spatial or cultural) ghettos of genre. Any thoughts on what it would take for a truly converged global music culture and if/when it will happen?

I think you are measuring success by the old standards — looking for mega-hits — whereas the greatest impact of globalization in media content so far comes on the other end of Chris Anderson’s long tail. Global media in the West remains niche media.

Indeed, you can argue that it is the most vivid example of the potential of niche media for market success. Music is, as you note above, in general, defined right now by ever more precise niches or “ghettos of genre” to use your term. While music can be a shared resource within subcultural communities, there is very little music we listen to as a culture at large.

The Nichification of music is suggested by something like MySpace which emerged initially as a vehicle for helping people to find music that they liked by tapping their social networks. The massification of music might be suggested by something like American Idol — which has self consciously sought to generate music that will appeal across a broad demographic (though in reality, the best Idols have turned out to be second run performers on the show who then get pulled into specialized niches once they depart it.)

Right now, I see people consuming more and more media from other parts of the world — global fusion music, anime and manga, Bollywood films, Latin America soaps, Nigerian horror films, etc. but in fairly localized communities of interests. We are seeing this culture brought into the western market by a mixture of Otaku (fans) and Desi (immigrants): fans seek out difference where-ever they can find it in the world; immigrants seek to maintain ties back to the mother country which they left. Both contribute to a cultural landscape where global media is more readily available. And the results can take off dramatically.

Do you think that the diversification of modes of media consumption (iPod, PVR/DVR, home cinema, mobile phone) makes for a fundamental challenge to creators of ‘content’? If so, what’s the challenge, and where do you see this challenge leading?

Ok — there are two potential challenges — one a dead-end, the other a new possibility for gifted entertainers.

The dead end is the idea of developing content that simply gets reconfigured easily across all of those platforms. This is an idea that’s been kicking around for a while and this practice shows little to no appreciation of the aesthetic and social dimensions of those various media.

The result will be something like the pan and scan prints of films which have been reconfigured to fit our television screens as opposed to the letterboxed prints that reflect a recognition of the aesthetic practices that shaped the original product and seek a meaningful compromise as it is moved into the new medium.

To create media content that is mechanically reconfigured across all of those platforms is to produce content that really exploits the potentials of none of those media. We’ve seen this in cinema where the expressive uses of cinemascope found in the 1950s when films were designed for the big screen have given way to the pretty limited use of the frame edges that characterize current filmmaking practice. However big the screen looks in the theatre, the significant action has to play out within the boxed window which will be visible on the television screen.

There will of course be some content that moves easily from platform to platform but in general, I think one has to develop strategies appropriate for each space. We are already seeing that there are television series that do spectacularly well on video iPod that are not ratings champs on broadcast and other shows, sitcoms, dramatically under-perform in these new contexts.

The alternative is what I am calling transmedia storytelling or more broadly transmedia entertainment. This is a system where each medium makes a distinct contribution to the media franchise, each is left to do what it does best, and the reader is able to expand on their experience of a favorite story by pulling together bits and pieces of information from various sources.

I discuss this in the book in terms of The Matrix where the films, animation, games, and comics each made unique and integral contributions to the whole. This is similar to the “media mix” culture that has emerged in Japan, for example. I believe that transmedia storytelling represents the most compelling way to use convergence to expand the canvas on which our most creative entertainers work.

We are convinced that the current proliferation of hardware and software is but a moment ie netflix, PVRs, chargeable film downloads, before content moves entirely online (reaches convergence). However, the media industry at large appears to be in denial about this — do you agree?

I am much more interested in predicting where our culture is going than predicting where technology is going. My hunch is that we are going to see a variety of delivery mechanisms for the foreseeable future and indeed, that there will be no steady state of media convergence, no fully integrated technological infrastructure.

We are seeing that divergence as demonstrated by specialized devices is part of the process by which convergence operates. I don’t happen to like the idea of my cell phone as a media appliance, for example, and I find that I prefer to watch dvds on a portable dvd player rather than my laptop. These are probably idiosyncratic choices but then, the point is that every consumer wants their own unique mix of media appliances because they like certain affordances each offers in specific contexts.

My hunch is that as soon as some media functions get integrated, someone else will offer a new appliance that seperates them out again for consumers who want a different relationship to media content. This goes back to what I say about convergence being a process rather than an endpoint. We are going to see ever more complicated configurations of media, ever more complex integrations of media content, but we may never reach a technological steady state.

This doesn’t mean that all of the stop gap measures you are referring to above are here to stay. They will only last if they are seen by consumers as serving necessary functions or if they serve a clear niche in the new media infrastructure.

Nobody I suspect imagines the video iPod say is the best possible way to watch television. It simply came along at the right moment to provide an infrastructure to support television content on demand. And we will see a better solution emerge. We are already seeing Netflix and other services experiment with new ways to get movies into the hands of consumers besides mailing dvds. On the other hand, there are signs that people still want to buy books even where they can download the content for free on the web.

danah boyd and yourself seem to have become (reluctantly) the most visible defenders of young people’s rights to explore and create identity using emergent media. We remember when ‘learning-though-doing’ with technology and media was at the core of education, but it seems that the young people growing up now have to reclaim reedoms that have somehow subsequently been lost without a fight — any thoughts on what went wrong with the relationship between children and tools/media, and what we grownups can do to help them maintain and/or win back their right to play (with technology, identity, etc)?

In a way, each generation of young people across history have had to fight their own battles for expressive freedom and for the right to play with technology and identity. Young people have always been on the cutting edge of media change as they search for ways to escape the surveillance of their parents and define their own space in the world. They gravitate towards the new and the shiny and they are willing to put in the time to adopt it to their needs and interests.

Parents are often spooked by their relationship to these technologies that were not part of the culture of their own childhoods. They don’t know how to protect their children as they go into that space — and this is part of the point.

All it takes is one shocking tragedy — something like the Columbine shooting — to turn their ignorance into fear and then it takes the mixture of moral reformers, sensationalistic media, and opportunistic politicians to turn their fear into a moral panic which results in laws and regulations that try to put the genie back in the bottle again. It can take a generation to reverse those constraints — more particularly, it takes the generation which came of age with those technologies to take on adult roles as parents, teachers, lawyers, and citizens. Then, we see a reversal of course which allows us to adopt a more normalized attitude towards those technologies and practices.

With Columbine and video games, we were lucky that few of the laws passed in that phase of moral panic withstood judicial review. With MySpace, we are apt to be less lucky because if DOPA passes, it will be a law that is going to be hard to challenge in courts. Technically it isn’t censorship. Schools are not prohibited for allowing youth to access MySpace. They simply lose federal funding if they do so. And the Federal government can make any stipulation it wants on how it distributes its funds.

The result is going to be a law which we will actively have to repel once the generation that has grown up using social network software becomes adults. This is going to be a huge step back for participatory culture and a big step back for those of us who want to see Web 2.0 applications used more fully in the classroom. What is shocking is that it is occuring with so little real public discussion because the mainstream media has done everything it can to scare people about MySpace and has little interest in reporting the truth about this story.

That said, I think there was a fatal mistake in the discourse about youth and digital media in the 1990s. It became all about the digital divide which got defined in terms of access to technologies. This wasn’t true of [Seymour] Papert and a few others but it became the mantra. “Let’s build a bridge to the 21st century. Let’s wire our classroom.” Well, we wired the classroom — now what? We now face the participation gap — the gap between those who have unlimited access to new media outside of school (and more importantly, the skills and experiences they enable) and those who have limited bandwidth, limited access, on filtered computers. We dealt with the technological challenges but not the social and cultural challenges. And we have been held hostage by a culture war discourse that has been very effective at transforming adult ignorance into fear and backlash against those forms of cultural experience teens have found for themselves in the online world.

I am very involved right now in developing the case for a very different form of media education — one which grows out of a desire to enable kids to become more active participants in the participatory culture I describe in my book.

That’s where Convergence Culture ends — with the call for new media literacies — and that’s where my new book begins. We are going to be releasing a white paper later this fall that paves the way for a whole range of pedagogical activities designed to help teachers and parents better appreciate the value of gaming, social networking, fan fiction writing, and all of the other things the most digitally adept kids are doing now.

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Microsoft Goes Massive

And we thought this in-game advertising thing was just a fad…

Not so, says Mr Gates. According to the Wall Street Journal Microsoft is planning to buy in-game advertising start up Massive. According to sources quoted in the article, the deal is thought to be valued between at $200 million to $400 million:

Microsoft’s planned purchase highlights a belief among game-industry executives that videogames could become a large new medium for advertising. Major media companies have similarly begun to increase their investments in game-related media to ensure they stay abreast of consumers’ tastes. This week, Viacom Inc. paid $102 million to acquire Xfire Inc., a start-up that operates an instant-messaging service that connects gamers over the Internet. Last September, News Corp. agreed to pay $650 million to acquire IGN Entertainment Inc., a company that operates a collection of Web sites for game enthusiasts.”

And, of course, Microsoft have a vested interest in the success of the in-game advertising medium.

Microsoft is pitching in-game advertising on Xbox Live online-videogame service as a new source of revenue for videogame publishers such as Electronic Arts Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., and Ubisoft. The Massive acquisition is also part of a broader attempt by the Redmond, Wash., software giant to grab a bigger piece of the online advertising boom that’s fueling the growth of Google Inc. and others. Microsoft has struggled to take control of a larger piece of that market as Google extends its lead in the business of linking online ads to Internet search results.

Advertisers spent about $56 million on advertisements in videogames last year, up from $34 million the prior year. But a recent report by the Boston research firm Yankee Group predicts that the in-game advertising market will reach more than $700 million by 2010. Yankee Group also predicts the number of games with advertising in them will double by the end of this year to more than 200.

MIT has more highlights from the article.

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Sony launches PSP and Hopes Everything Will Be OK

Could the Playstation Portable become the video equivalent of the iPod? Or just another online piracy tool?

Although the PSP is designed primarly to play games, it can also store digital photos, play MP3 files and play video. There are a number of portable video devices on the market already – pocket computers, mobile phones and media players. But none have had the crucial support of the film studios who are already producing films in formats suitable for the PSP. The PSP also has the added attraction of a widescreen format and a bright screen that makes it possible to watch outdoors.

It helps that Sony has its own film studio but Fox, Universal, Paramount and Buena Vista have also pledged to produce films for the device. Of the majors, only Warner and Dreamworks (rather critically) have yet to embrace the format.

Films for the PSP come on a new disc format, the Universal Media Disc (UMD). The disc can hold three times as much data as a CD – enough for a ‘DVD-quality’ movie. According to the BBC, more than three million UMD movie discs have already been sold in the US, with two films – Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse and House Of Flying Daggers – selling 100,000 copies each in the first month since launch.

But despite being a hit in the US, UMD is not faring so well in the classic early-adopter market of Japan. A recent survey of Japanese PSP users found that only 10% had used it to watch a UMD movie. This may be due to the explosion of file sharing culture where high broadband penetration and file sharing software such as BitTorrent is enabling users to download films and TV programmes off the Internet illegally. Moreover, most of this content can be easily converted to watch on the PSP with some pirates already providing ‘PSP friendly’ versions of films and shows. Ironic that a company such as Sony may be giving consumers the very tools that they need to undermine their business.

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Sudoku Craze Potentially Worth £100m

The Guardian reports this week that the company responsible for the Sudoku craze may be worth £100m.

sudoku.jpgPuzzler Media supplies Sudoku puzzles to groups such as News International, publisher of the Times and the Sun. The craze has proved such as hit that Puzzler’s majority shareholder, private equity fund ABN Amro Capital, has appointed Hawkpoint, the corporate finance house, to look at strategic options including a sale. Reports over the weekend suggested that the company could be worth as much as £100m.

Whether Sudoku – a paper-based craze in a shiny new world of technology – can save the newspaper industry may yet to be seen. Photograph of Sudoku-ers taken at my local pub.

The full story is available on the mediaguardian site. http://media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,14173,1544571,00.html (registration required).

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The Shock of the New

The Economist has published a think piece defending gaming culture.

Unsurprisingly, the article references Steven Johnson’s recent book, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter, which argues that popular culture – mainly due its complexity and accelerated nature- is making us smarter. A number of the anecdotes and stats are worth repeating here.

Gaming is now pretty rampant – in America, for example, half of the population plays computer or video games. If gaming encourages violent behaviour – as so often claimed – why hasn’t there been a higher incidence of it? As Johnson notes, in America violent crime actually fell sharply in the 1990s, just as video and computer gaming as we know it was taking off. Of course, it’s possible that crime would have fallen by even more over the period had America not taken up video games; but video gaming has not turned America into a more violent place.

Tim Rylands, a Bristol primary school teacher, recently won an award from Becta, a government education agency, for using computer games in the classroom. By projecting the fantasy world of ‘Myst’, a role-playing game, on to a large screen and asking his 11 year old pupils to write descriptions and reactions as he navigates through it, he has achieved striking improvements in their English test scores.

The article also suggests that much of the fear of video games comes from a generational gap – one which Rupert Murdoch recently alluded to. Young people these days are ‘digital natives’ – they have grown up surrounded by and embedded in technology. Older people are ‘digital immigrants’ who have been forced to adapt to this new world, and learn how to use technologies such as the internet and mobile phones. Digital natives who have played video games since childhood already consider them just another form of entertainment on a par with films and music. According to Gerhard Florin of games publisher Electronic Arts, “It’s just a generational divide. It’s people not knowing what they’re talking about, because they have never played a game, accusing millions of gamers of being zombies or violent.”

The article also cites Dmitri Williams, who specialises in studying the social impact of media at the University of Illonois. He likens video games to rock n roll which was also initially villified – the shock of the new. He says, “There’s always this pattern. Old stuff is respected, and new stuff is junk. Once a generation has its perception, it is pretty much set. What happens is that they die … Thirty years from now, we’ll be arguing about holograms, or something.”

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Gaming Nation

15 million South Koreans are registered for online gaming.

The BBC reports this week that a man has died after playing a computer game for hours at a time in South Korea. Shock horror stories about online gaming are nothing new, the latest big one being the guy in Shanghai who got stabbed in a dispute over a virtual gaming sword. Some people take their alternative lives in MMORPGs very seriously indeed.

The real shock in this article for me came right at the end: 30% of the South Korean population are registered for online gaming.

BST has written about South Korea before – see previous posts: Cunnilingus in North Koreaand Ohmynews.com. As the most wired nation on earth, South Korea has become something of a nursery for what all our futures may look like.

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Moving Advertising in Video Games

Guaranteed to irritate the hell out of anyone over the age of 16, video game manufacturers can now embed moving advertising into games.

For the past few weeks, Massive Inc., a New York company that distributes ads in videogames, has been testing an ad with full motion and sound in a science-fiction game called Anarchy Online. This week, Massive will roll out the full-motion ad capability to advertisers generally. According to Massive’s site, “By aggregating the largest audience of gamers and providing real time delivery of advertising across top-selling video games, we can provide publishers and developers $1–$2 profit per unit shipped for their titles. For advertisers, the Massive Network provides unprecedented access to the gamer audience through dynamic and targeted delivery of ad messages.”

Massive’s move comes less than a year after it created a stir in the videogame-advertising industry by offering advertisers the chance to insert still ads into videogames played on Internet-connected computers. Massive uses the Internet to insert ads into spaces in the games. The ads can also be changed and withdrawn whenever the advertisers want. The technique was a big step forward for videogame advertising, which previously was restricted to ads inserted into games while the games were made. Because games can take up to a couple of years to be designed, this required advertisers to put their ads into games well before the games’ release.

The game-insertion technology opened the door for a broader array of marketers to promote their products on videogames. These ads are particularly suitable for Hollywood studios wanting to promote movies a week before their release date or retailers promoting holiday sales, Massive Chief Executive Mitchell Davis says. He says Massive has so far sold space to 35 advertisers, including Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures.

Current spend on video game advertising is modest — $10 million compared with $10 billion on TV advertising aimed at young men, according to estimates from Harris Nesbitt Equity Research. But advertising in videogames is growing fast and expected to reach $92 million by 2008, according to Yankee Group, a global technology-research firm.

Massive says its technology works for both online games and consoles, but it hasn’t yet negotiated a deal allowing for ad-insertion in console games. Mr. Davis says he hopes to strike a console game deal soon. Edward Williams, managing director at Harris Nesbitt Equity Research in New York, says the videogame ads won’t take off until console games are included.

As with television, ad avoidance is a real issue in video games. The player can simply move past the ad and is too focused on getting the bad guy to pay attention to branded messages. As a result, gamers may see only a few seconds of the 15-second ads. Massive says it won’t charge advertisers unless the full ad has been viewed.

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Good news for Sky

Popular culture is making us cleverer!

Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us SmarterIn his book ‘Everything Bad is Good for You’ Steven Johnson suggests that pop culture is actually making us smarter instead of dumbing us down

His theory is based on the discovery, twenty years ago, by a political philospher called James Flynn that Americans -measured by IQ tests – were getting smarter. Flynn found that IQ scores showed a steady upward trajectory, rising by about three points per decade, meaning that a person whose IQ placed him or her in the top ten percent of the American population in 1920 would today fall in the bottom third. Some of this rise can be attributed, of course, to economic progress meaning that people were better fed, better educated etc. But test scores have continued to rise, not just in America but all over the developed, and media saturated world. It has also happened across demographics

Johnson argues that, as forms of pop culture such as television programmes have become more sophisticated, our IQs have developed to keep pace. For example, an episode of ‘Starsky and Hutch’ from the 1970s depicts two main protagonists, engaged in a single story line, move towards a decisive conclusion. By contrast, a single episode of a modern day rating hits, The Sopranos, might follow five narrative threads, involving a dozen characters who weave in and out of the plot. Modern television also requires the viewer to do a lot of what Johnson calls ‘filling in’: for example, an episode of The Simpsons that parodies Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The dependence of the broadcasting industry on the television aftermarket – DVDs and sydnication – also means that programmes have to sustain (and even encourage) more than one viewing

Johnson uses video games as another example of popular culture becoming more and more involving. Baiting critics who suggest that reading a book is much more educating that playing a computer game, Johnson imagines that video games had instead been invented hundreds of years ago whilst books were the new arrival being marketed aggressively to children:

“Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying – which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical sound-scapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements – books are simply a barren string of words on the page … Books are also tragically isolating. while games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, buiding and exploring worlds together, books force the child to
sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children … But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a linear path. you can’t control their narratives in any fashion – you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you … this risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive”

Whilst Johnson is being deliberately provocative here, his suggestion is an interesting one. It would figure that increasingly sophisticated forms of media and entertainment would create a more sophisticated audience. But is it, in fact, the other way around? Has the media ‘smartened-up’ to keep up with its audience?

Everything Bad is Good for You is published in the UK 26th May. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s review of it in The New Yorker here (subscription required)

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