The Stories of Physical Games and Us

The Stories of Physical Games and Us‘ is a digital storytelling project by Angus Baillie conducted in collaboration with Claudia Blanche and Richard. It is meant to be evocative of the complex ways in which the lives of human beings are entangled with videogame media as it exists physically and digitally.

The project includes images, audio, and the written word. At some points in the story audio narration will be automatically triggered, so please be aware of this if you are experiencing this project in a public space or if you have your volume turned up.

Thank you.

Reflection

My initial idea for the project was sparked when I was listening to an episode of Isometric – a videogame podcast I follow on a weekly basis. In episode 74 (titled ‘Bowser Has His Good Days’) the hosts discussed the merits and appeal of a new videogame system being crowd sourced on Indiegogo called the Retro VGS, which aims to revive cartridge-based gaming by allowing current developers to create cartridges for games that only currently exist digitally (McFerran 2015). In a discussion of why a console like this would matter in an environment where digital distribution is often celebrated, Isometric host Maddy Myers (2015) suggests that the Retro VGS console is less about the software elements games, but instead about viewing games as “art objects” and imagining how a game that exists in a purely digital form would look if it occupied a physical space in our homes, on our shelves; complete with box and sticker art, packaging, and a game manual.

There were limitations on conducting an ethnographic study on audience relationships with the Retro VGS. The console itself isn’t commercially available yet and the limited number of backers for the project are strangers on the internet with whom it would be find and conduct an interview in an ethical way within such a limited time frame. But I was interested in the idea that Maddy Myers had put forward and wanted to more closely examine the relationships people have with their physical, videogame media.

My initial process for the digital story was to conduct some broad background research on topics to do with physical videogame media and their relationships with audiences and culture. My research began with Alien Phenomenology by Ian Bogost, which is a book that attempts to define and explore a new posthuman, object-oriented philosophy. Although I never referred to the text directly within the digital story, Bogost’s (2012) work was most useful in my thinking about this project when he deconstructed the multiple ways in which the notoriously disastrous 1982 videogame adaptation of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari Video Computer System could be defined in terms of its specific hardware components, digital design, physical dimensions and presence, existence as a product, system of rules, experience, scarcity, historical and cultural context, etc.

Aside from Bogost’s work, I quickly found that the research of most relevance to my topic fell under the purview of researchers such as McDonough (2011), Newman (2009; 2012), and Guttenbrunner, Becker, and Rauber (2010); who are all interested in the practices and importance of archiving videogame media as historical, cultural artefacts, the unique challenges that come with preserving the contextually important peripheral objects and packaging, and the idea that digital videogames exist as unstable, constantly changing artefacts.

With a solid foundation of background research under my belt, I decided to use the #BCM240 hashtag to put the call out on Twitter for people who might be interesting in sharing their own, personal stories with physical games media. In an attempt to produce a more collaborative text, I wanted to allow the people I spoke with the chance to share the stories they wanted to tell in a way that they were both comfortable and able to do. Out of respect for both the subjects and the personal nature of the subject matter, I tried to work alongside participants without too much ‘directing’ or ‘prompting’ in the hope that it would foster the production of a collaborative text that will be of benefit to collaborators, demographics and researchers alike (Lassiter 2005).

Because of the approach I took, allowing contributors to tell the stories they want to tell on their own terms, I was presented with a range of digital multimedia to be used in my digital story. In order to best use this variety of media types in a single digital story, I decided that Prezi would have all the tools to allow me to fit these pieces together. Prezi works well in that it allows for the user to engage with the story at their own pace, whilst also connecting the dots for a range of media types in a way that is able to form a coherent whole and maintain a narrative arc (Zaharov-Reutt 2015).

Finally, upon completion I decided to share the digital story I made – along with the reflection – here on my blog along with my other university, creative, and critical video game writing. This was just a natural extension of the process I’ve been engaged with all semester; making my blog a hub for things that I have been involved in creating. This way of promoting myself and my work within a networked social media ecology (which includes my Twitter account) is meant as a simple way of best utilizing the networked audience paradigm we currently find ourselves working within in an online environment (Marwick and boyd 2011). It’s worth noting that in this project I managed to gather people interested in sharing their stories through my social media networks, meaning that my constant attempts at using Twitter and WordPress dynamically has largely done what I set out to achieve: the creation of an engaged writing community, consisting primarily of my immediate peers and any other interested parties who are of just one degree of separation (Jones 2012). These are points I largely covered in much more detail in another reflective post I published here a few weeks ago. By using what I learnt from this I was able to make this digital storytelling project an extension on these processes.

I just wish I could have gotten the blasted Prezi to embed in the blog properly!

 


References

Bogost, I 2012, ‘Alien Phenomenology’, Posthumanities, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Guttenbrunner, M, Becker, C, and Rauber, A 2010, ‘Keeping the Game Alive: Evaluating Strategies for the Preservation of Console Video Games’, International Journal of Digital Curation, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 64-90, viewed 2 November 2015 <http://www.ijdc.net/index.php/ijdc/article/view/147>

Jones, SR 2012, ‘Digital Access’, Teaching Exceptional Children, 45, 2, pp. 16-23, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2015, <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=e48b2e3f-9122-473b-bbd3-f39cfbf02bff@sessionmgr4001&vid=1&hid=4211>

Lassiter, L E 2005, ‘Defining Collaborative Ethnography’, in Lassiter (ed), The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, pp. 15-24, viewed 2 November 2015 <http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/468909.html>

McDonough, JP 2011, ‘Packaging videogames for long-term preservation: Integrating FRBR and the OAIS reference model’, Journal Of The American Society For Information Science & Technology, 62, 1, pp. 171-184, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 29 October 2015 <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=5f92bb94-97db-4e52-b58e-f42dd2adf265@sessionmgr4003&vid=1&hid=4108>

McFerran, D 2015, ‘The Retro VGS Wants To Revive The Glory Days Of Cartridge-Based Home Consoles’, Nintendolife, 22 September, viewed 2 November <http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2015/09/the_retro_vgs_wants_to_revive_the_glory_days_of_cartridge-based_home_consoles>

Marwick, A, & Boyd, D 2011, ‘I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience’, New Media & Society, 13, 1, pp. 114-133, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2015.

Myers, M 2015, ‘Bowser Has His Good Days’, in G Dow, M Myers, B Wu, and S Lubitz (eds), Isometric, Relay FM, 28 September, viewed 2 November 2015 <http://www.relay.fm/isometric/74>

Newman, J 2012, ‘Ports and patches: Digital games as unstable objects’, Convergence: The Journal Of Research Into New Media Technologies, 18, 2, pp. 135-142, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 29 October 2015.

Newman, J 2009, ‘Save the Videogame! The National Videogame Archive: Preservation, Supersession and Obsolescence’, M/C Journal, 12.3, July, viewed 29 October 2015 <http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/167>.

Zaharov-Reutt, A 2015, ‘VIDEO: Prezi cracks Nutshell of fun and simple visual storytelling’, IT Wire, 11 February, viewed 2 November 2015 <http://www.itwire.com/your-it-news/home-it/66937-video-prezi-cracks-nutshell-of-fun-and-simple-visual-storytelling>

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Angus casts reflect

Reflection, it’s a tricky beast. Not only is it a staple of any Final Fantasy games “white magic” spell roster, but it is also a regular requirement of subjects in my Communications and Media Studies degree. It’s something that gets both easier and harder as I close out my penultimate semester. By this stage all the biggest and most obvious blogging mistakes were corrected long ago, whilst my ability to refine, nit-pick, and obsess over my own online presence has also been cultivated and honed quite nicely.

Image sourced from here.

The truth is, by this stage in my degree, I am in a constant state of reflection as I blog, Tweet, and write regular articles for the student website/magazine (The Tertangala) as part of my regular weekly routine. I walk out of tutorials every week wondering analysing the behaviours I just exhibited; wondering which students like me more, worrying about any that probably like me less, and weighing up these conflicting factors in my head to give a completely pointless ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ grade to my own performance that will absolutely never matter to anyone that isn’t me. It’s therefore (hopefully) understandable that I find it quite weird to be asked at the end of a semester to stick a flag in the ground and proclaim “this is where I reflected, and this is what I found” as if the whole landscape surrounding me wasn’t littered with hundreds of identical flags like the back of a giant nationalist hedgehog. But for what it’s worth I have been making some real efforts to connect more with my fellow classmates through my blog this semester. The following will be the changes and refinements I made this semester, and the audience-expanding rationale behind them.

The only acceptable ‘hedgehog flags’ (sourced from here)

In the opening weeks of the unit I went through all my usual processes that I carried over from previous blogging subjects. I blogged regularly at the same time every week (complete with relevant tags) and announced its release on Twitter via the reasonably active #BCM240 hashtag. The #BCM240 hashtag essentially acted as good stabilizers for maintaining an audience – there were always people on there posting links to their blogs and joining in on larger conversations. So if you were willing to be part of the conversation, you really did tend to get out what you put in with that hashtag. If you would like to take full advantage of the hashtag (or any hashtags really) by keeping up to date with it, I highly recommend using a Twitter client like Tweetdeck and setting it up to display the hashtag as a separate feed to your main, unfiltered Twitter feed.

We are all learning media (sourced from here)

Taking advantage of the active hashtag and a host of other blogs I already followed and knew to be active from previous subjects, I always made an effort to seek out recent posts from fellow students and comment on them in a way that (hopefully) contributed to the conversation. I always enjoyed reading what other students came up with and offering up something slightly different, be it an alternative example, a different take, or an alternate perspective on an issue. In return, I always put in an effort to reply or acknowledge comments that were often left on my own posts. If I couldn’t think of anything particularly insightful to reply with, I always made sure to at least “favourite” the comment, acknowledging that I had both read and appreciated it.
The point here was always to create and foster an engaged writing community, consisting primarily of my immediate peers and any other interested parties I could incidentally drag in (Jones 2012). As Jones (2012) points out, writing within an engaged community helps to improve the writing of all members within that community because it helps make the audience for the writing less abstract. It’s also worth noting that engaging with this audience in this way, as a part of that very same audience, cultivates an environment where the original posts we published as a part of this community become platforms for others to not only have conversations but to also perform to a larger audience that may never actually comment themselves (Frobenius and Harper 2015). In fact, given the nature of blogs and the hypertext language of the internet, I was often able to connect to other student blogs in my own blog posts – which served not only as sources of information but also as an opportunity to invite engagement from that blogger and their readers.

sourced from here

Going a step beyond hyperlinks, there was one occasion where I used the #BCM240 hashtag to get in touch with a classmate to meet in person for the first time and record a video together that we could both use in our own blog posts. Aside from being a nice way to make new friends, it also has the mutually beneficial effect of bringing each of our audiences closer together, allowing us the opportunity to attract new audiences. Getting in touch with Kae and meeting up with her also meant that I may have stumbled upon another person who would potentially be interested in contributing to the “video games” section of The Tertangala, which I am in charge of.

Speaking of The Tertangala, I recently got around to reblogging articles I have written for The Tertangala on my own blog in a shortened form. Again, the hope here was to build bridges and close ties between the different audiences that read my work across different social media platforms and try and make my blog a hub for all of my creative work. The other positive motivation for doing this is that it allows my blog to serve as a more unified and holistic centre for showing of a range of digital and writing competencies. Instead of bogging people down with multiple links to various websites in order to show off “what I’ve done” I can provide one, simple link from which it is easy to navigate between different university and extra-curricular projects thanks to the implementation of categories and pages on WordPress.

sourced from here

Overall, what I wanted to do across my WordPress and Twitter accounts is create a clear and coherent personal brand (as much as I hate that turn of phrase). The networked audience paradigm within an attention economy means that I should really be trying to promote who I am as well as what I make (Marwick and boyd 2011). I am not just a student blogger who uses Twitter to send out hyperlinks whenever I produce something new. If I am always Tweeting about my interests, hobbies, and thoughts on the things occurring around me, I am able to build a certain anticipation for the things I do end up writing. If I spend a week making jokes about Final Fantasy V as I play Final Fantasy V, then people might be more inclined to read the larger piece I write later on about Final Fantasy V.

I’ve been Tweeting Final Fantasy V jokes a fair bit over the past few days. It only makes sense for it to bleed into my blog.

 

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References

Frobenius, M, & Harper, R 2015, ‘Tying in comment sections: The production of meaning and sense on Facebook’, Semiotica, 2015, 204, pp. 121-143, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2015, <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=e48b2e3f-9122-473b-bbd3-f39cfbf02bff@sessionmgr4001&vid=1&hid=4211>

Jones, SR 2012, ‘Digital Access’, Teaching Exceptional Children, 45, 2, pp. 16-23, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2015, <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=e48b2e3f-9122-473b-bbd3-f39cfbf02bff@sessionmgr4001&vid=1&hid=4211>

Marwick, A, & Boyd, D 2011, ‘I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience’, New Media & Society, 13, 1, pp. 114-133, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2015.

This is what video game censorship really looks like

We all know the classic moral panic that has surrounded video games constantly since the early 90s. Just over a month ago the internet was caught up in a kerfuffle after the American Psychological Association (APA 2015) reviewed a number of studies and doubled down on their stance that there is a link between playing violent videogames and an increase in aggression (although it found there was insufficient evidence to suggest that this would lead to criminal violence). From here it was the same old song and dance: study suggests an inconspicuous link between video games and aggression (a similar link that can be found between aggression and traffic, or competitive sports), then more sensationalist media starts throwing the “should we ban it?” arguments around, and then gamers get extremely defensive. Finally, in the glorious end to the whole cycle, media and journalism students blog about it as an example of moral panics.

Here’s Michael Atkinson in all his game-banning glory. (img sourced from here)

In Australia in particular, the whole violence in video games debate had been gravitating around the issues surrounding video game censorship and the need for an R18+ rating in the Australian Classification Board ratings system for games. Before the eventual introduction of an R18+ rating for video games in 2013, several games that would have fit under that rating were refused classification and effectively banned for sale in Australia. It was South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson who would repeatedly oppose and block the introduction of an R18+ rating, believing it would “greatly increase the risk of children and vulnerable adults being exposed to damaging images and messages” (Parker 2009).

“The interactive nature of electronic games means that they have a much greater influence than viewing a movie does. People are participating and ‘acting-out’ violence and criminal behaviour when they are playing a video game. They are essentially rehearsing harmful behaviour. Children and vulnerable adults (such as those with a mental illness) can be harmed by playing video games with violence, sex, and criminal activity.”
Michael Atkinson 2009

This is how the debate around video game censorship looks. This is the climate in which gaming culture grew its broad stance against all video game censorship, believing that as consenting adults people should have a say in the material that they be allowed to consume. Figures like Michael Atkinson and the American anti-games campaigner of the 90s, Jack Thompson became targets of hate from the gaming community (Jenkins 2015). Late last year the removal of the mass-shooting simulator Hatred from the Steam Greenlight page (a section on Steam used to gauge community interest before sale) caused the gaming community at large to kick up an aggressive stink about censorship (Grayson 2015). At the time of Hatred’s announcement I was doing a podcast for a university subject with some classmates and we discussed the Hatred trailer. If you’re interested at all it can be found here. Eventually Hatred was re-listed on Steam and finally went to sale, with many gamers supporting the game purely to make a consumer statement about censorship. Because gamers are completely against censorship in all forms right?

Wrong!

Image of Hatred sourced from here.

That is how video game censorship looks at the surface, but let me tell you what video game censorship really looks like. Back in 2013, game developer Zoe Quinn had released her small game Depression Quest online to both praise from video game critics and media, and anger from the gaming community. The initial reasons gamers didn’t approve of the game varied from the gloomy subject matter to the “not fun” gameplay of a visual novel/text adventure game. When Zoe Quinn brought her game to Steam Greenlight in order to get it available (for free I might add) on Steam, the hatred and harassment targeted at Zoe Quinn exploded, eventually reaching the point that she had her personal information accessed and made publically available to the hate-mob that were after her (Parkin 2014). Just earlier this year a similar outpouring of targeted hatred and harassment was levelled at video game developer and tech feminist Briana Wu, as she tried to get a PC version of her development studio’s hit iOS game Revolution 60 approved on Steam Greenlight (Parfit 2015). The comments on her game all too commonly fell to personal attacks on Wu herself, and general comments about feminists ruining video games, rather than critiques of the actual game itself.

Image of Revolution 60 sourced from here.

Make no mistake, what we are seeing here is a pattern of harassment designed to silence women (particularly feminists) in video games. This is what Caleb Young (2011) would refer to as ‘targeted vilification’ – a kind of hate speech levelled at individuals or groups that is designed to “wound, insult, and intimidate” them. This kind of harassment campaign plays out constantly on Twitter, Reddit, and in the comments sections of articles written by women in gaming spaces every day. It is an attempt to silence feminist voices in video games, and similar instances have been observed in relation to Trans-women, and a host of other minority groups in video games. This attempt to keep other voices out of video game culture via vilification, I would argue, is the real censorship taking place in video games that we should be worried about.

Now that I have your attention…

A modern media audience has their attention spread wider than ever before in history. Strailey (2014) points to a recent study that showed the attention span of an average American in 2014 is just 8 seconds; marking a decline in attention spans from the 12 second average cited in a 2000 study. It’s a statistic I’m sure we’ve all heard before – whether we were paying attention or not – but I often feel its significance is overprescribed and even misrepresented. Of course the amount of time our attention is given to any one thing is less 15 years ago. It needs to be.

Oh my god! Too many screens. My precious attention. Arrrgggh! (img sourced from here)

In a modern, multiscreen, online world it’s completely normal to assume that we are all carrying devices that can access an enormous and ever-growing wealth of content on our person at any given time. The internet alongside these networked devices mark a paradigm shift in which information processing is now seen, and valued, as labour (Mitew 2014). If being able to efficiently process information is becoming increasingly valuable in this way, then it only makes sense that we will be developing shorter attention spans in order to extract greater value from these information flows. It’s all just a matter of perspective, and how we choose to define and think about the nebulous concept of attention itself.

Kids today. Just look at them. Attention spans in the toilet. (img sourced from here)

When we talk about attention in terms of a time-span measured in the way Strailey (2014) describes, what we are talking about is a way of applying narrow quantitative parameters to a broad qualitative concept. Is attention really just ‘time spent dedicating yourself to a single task’? In a report on attention spans prepared by Microsoft for the purposes of improved marketing, Microsoft (2015) pointed to Sohlberg & Mateer’s model of attention as a useful framework for understanding attention. Sohlberg & Mateer’s model of attention outlines three different sorts of attention: sustained, selective, and alternating (see fig. 1 for details). In an attempt to reflect on our own ability to give attention, I teamed up with fellow classmate Kay (who blogs over here and is well worth your attention, haw haw haw) to watch a visually and aurally noisy YouTube video intended to “replicate” the ADD/ADHD experience, and answer questions at the end of the video about information revealed within it.

Note: We are not medically trained and are not advocating this video as a tool for ADHD/ADD diagnosis or as an accurate representation for those who live with these conditions. We merely found it to be a useful tool for the purposes of studying and comparing our attention.

The kind of attention demanded of us during this video was arguably a mixture of selective and alternating attention. This was based on the fact that we didn’t pre-emptively know what we would be getting questioned about, so when we first started we needed alternating attention to keep up with the different visual styles that the text adopted. But when we repeated the task, we had already been exposed to the questions and it was then a matter of selectively scanning the text for the information we knew we’d need. In both instances Kae performed much better than I did.

Being able to manage shifts between attentions is arguably the most important skill needed for effective information sorting in an online context. I am very sceptical of this 8 second attention span figure because I have seen media audiences able to juggle and process information coming from multiple screens. Shows like the ABC’s Q and A actually depend on the ability of its audience to live Tweet along with the events of the program – something that would completely break down if people couldn’t pay attention to not only their TV and Twitter feed, but also any number of other online distractions that would be clamouring for your attention on your mobile device or computer. Just remember that attention isn’t any one, clearly defined thing; and that it’s decline in one respect might actually be to the benefit of how we sort good information from bad, relevant from irrelevant. So before we start hitting the panic button and worrying about what on earth we’re going to do about this supposed decline in attention spans, just remember th- oh my god they just announced an augmented reality Pokemon game!

Spontaneous Minecraft: a look into public space ethnography

Speaking with my fellow classmates at university this week has confirmed a growing suspicion I have had over the past few years. Basically, people seem to hold very conflicting ideas about their relationships with cameras, surveillance, privacy, and data. In a post-Snowden and Ashley Madison hack world, it is undeniable that the information we are putting online is not only being collected, monitored, and stored; but it is also vulnerable and exploitable (Horton 2015; Wired 2014). Almost everyone who talks about this seems to agree that privacy issues are concerning, but they (myself included) are quite selective in how they choose to behave in light of this. This is because so much of our entertainment, collective knowledge, culture, careers, and community exists in online and digital forms. Paul Miller (who writes for magazine The Verge) has chosen to live a year completely offline and has come up against some serious challenges, even with the special advantages his bosses and co-workers have afforded him in exchange for the rights to publish his experiences (Stern 2012). There is no way to be completely private and anonymous in the modern world, which means that the way a person treats privacy issues will depend entirely on various personal preferences.

“It’s basically impossible for you and I to decide, as of tomorrow, I’m going to remain off the radar and to survive for a month or 12 months,” says Gunter Ollmann, CTO of security firm IOActive (Kessler 2013)

Australian Law doesn’t offer much in the way of guidance when it comes to privacy issues while documenting and recording public spaces. As long as your photographs don’t constitute stalking, child pornography, or are taken for sexual gratification without the subjects consent, then you’re basically not doing anything criminal (Arts Law Centre of Australia 2015). But as Joel Colberg (2013) points out, just because something is legal doesn’t make it ethical. In relation to the ethics of photography and permission in public spaces I think the Code of Conduct for Supanova: Pop Culture Expo (which I attended earlier this year for The Tertangala; self-promotion here), which defines ‘harassment’ in a number of different ways, including “inappropriate photography or recording” (Supanova 2015). Signage at the event itself reminded patrons that permission to photograph cosplayers should always be established beforehand.

Some Supanova cosplays, photographed with permission. Photo by Britt Andrews (2015).

But why all this talk of ethics in the first place? Well this week I will be talking about public space ethnography in relation to the use of media, and it is important to establish an ethical framework when going into this kind of research. I observed two quite different forms of public screen usage this week that I want to share in this blog, although for ethical reasons which I will explain later on I only have photographic evidence of one of these events.

I observed a man on his smartphone whilst waiting for a train. In order to preserve the moment properly, I took the photo first and sought his permission to use it afterwards – which I was given after he made sure that the text conversation he was having could not be made out in the photo itself. So in much the same way that both Joel Colberg (2013) and Supanova (2015) advocate for permission to take and use photographs, I decided to ask for permission to keep the photo and use it in an online context – while respecting the subjects wishes to not have the location revealed. It is an example of engaging in ongoing media use during waiting times. It’s something I am all too familiar with, having conversations with people that stop and start as dictated by gaps and breaks in schedules.11997443_10206596169079110_1139763314_n

The other type of public media use I observed this week took place in JB Hi-Fi. In the games section they have a display model Xbox One set up, running a playable copy of the insanely popular video game Minecraft. It was as I walked past this display that I stole a few moments to watch a young brother and sister of around the age of 9 or 10 playing Minecraft together. I never like to make assumptions about the ethnicities of strangers, but I can pretty confidently say that these two young children were not of a Caucasian ethnic background. It was a nice moment. As someone who writes and thinks a lot about inclusion in video games cultures and media, it was nice to see an equally engaged pair of children playing a game together respectfully in a spontaneous public space, as their father half-observed them from afar as he carried on with his shopping. I considered taking a photo as I observed this pleasant scene, but I didn’t for several reasons. Firstly, in this instance I felt it would have been necessary to ask permission of both the children and the parent before taking the picture (which would have been a hassle and would probably have resulted in the children becoming self-conscious in the photo). Secondly, the young girl was wearing a headscarf that was quite obviously of a religious significance. This was a part of what made the moment so nice in the first place – to see video games as a cross-cultural and cross-religious media experience. But as an adult Caucasian male growing up in a contemporary Australia where Muslims are openly othered and targeted in public, it didn’t feel appropriate to ask permission of someone who might quite reasonably feel at risk of people like me. To me, I’d prefer that this family felt welcome to use this space without fear of attracting unwanted and unwarranted attention.

Screenshot of Minecraft gameplay. Photo sourced from here.

Public space ethnography is effective at revealing contexts for behaviour (in this case media use). A simple survey or interview of behaviours at home would reveal patterns of behaviour under very idealized and self-controlled conditions. What’s interesting and revealing about public space ethnography in relation to media use is that it reveals how media is used when the environment, surroundings, and people around us are out of our control. When in public, we make use of the media we have at hand that work for us in the circumstances in which we find ourselves; whether we’re continuing online conversations with friends while we wait for the train, or spontaneously picking up where the last person left of in an ongoing game of Minecraft whilst dad is browsing the sound systems – looking for the one he’ll gift to himself this Father’s Day.

Britt Laughs Loud and Often

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Not even Tinder could find me a movie companion.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m a very passive movie viewer. It’s not that I don’t like movies, but I don’t think I have ever in my entire life arranged to go to the movies of my own accord. I simply never think about it. I don’t even keep track of upcoming movie releases. I resent seeing movie trailers trending in the Facebook news bar. Especially when the news is that some movie trailer “leaked a day early” and everyone is excited. What the actual fuck is that about?

So normally when it comes to the cinema I am the kind of person who gets swept up in the plans of other people. Someone invites me and I have about a 50-50 chance of commiting. If you’re after a story about an upbeat person loving life I’m sure you’re beginning to realise that you have clicked the wrong link my friend. It’s all buzzkill here.

Coupling Constraints (Hägerstrand 1970)

A coupling constraint refers to the need to be in one particular place for a given length of time, often in interaction with other people.

So it was hardly surprising to find myself on Thursday evening realizing that I had not yet arranged to go to the movies with anyone, despite the fact that I was actually required to do so for uni. It was a part of this week’s blogging task, in which I was tasked with arranging to go to the cinema with someone in order to write about the personal and cultural experiences of ‘going to the movies.’ So I started to ask around a bit on Facebook, even going so far as to make a status about it calling out to anybody who might be free on Friday or Saturday.

Capability Constraints (Hägerstrand 1970)

Capability constraints refer to the limitations on human movement due to physical or biological factors.

Eventually fellow classmate Britt decided to step in and suddenly everything was as it should be. She was deciding what to see, when to see it, and where. I didn’t even mind that I’d have to catch the train for one hour to get to Shellharbour. I gave me a chance to play Danganronpa 2.

Of Course what was absent from this conversation was the local knowledge needed to understand that around Britt’s way they like to name stations after the places where they aren’t located. So instead of getting off at Shellharbour Junction – where Britt was nowhere to be seen – I should have gotten off at Oak Flats, where she was waiting to pick me up.

The car park at Shellharbour Junction.

Authority Constraints (Hägerstrand 1970)

an authority constraint is an area (or “domain”) that is controlled by certain people or institutions that set limits on its access to particular individuals or groups.

A few texts and a phone call later and we were in Britt’s car on the way to Greater Union Shellharbour, where we were still on track to watch Trainwreck. When we finally walked into the large, sweeping lobby of the cinema complex – adorned with multiple arcade games and claw machines – I was met with a series of new and tedious challenges. The cinema where I grew up and have had the most experience is an independent, local business where ticket prices are based on age and concession cards (students and seniors pay less than “Adult” prices). Apparently cinema chains like Greater Union have all this plus a loyalty program involving a membership card that takes 24 hours to activate, where ticket prices are reduced on weekdays. Britt has such a card, I do not. After I purchased my slightly more expensive ticket and a salted caramel choc top (which was fantastic by the way) I made my way around the corner and down the massive corridor of numbered theatre rooms. Led by Britt, who was holding the largest “medium” popcorn I have ever seen (apparently she gets free refills as well; that loyalty card is ridiculous), we took our seats right in the middle of what I can only assume is one of the more modestly sized theatres.

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This is basically what my Facebook feed looks like these days.

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Then the movie began.
Now, when I say that “the movie began” of course what I mean is that the ads began. At this point Britt leant in closer to explain that she hates the ads, but loves the trailers. This is because “they let me see what exciting movies I’ll be seeing later on,” she explained.
“That’s disgusting,” I replied.
Then the trailers started playing.

Half an hour later, after being fed the prerequisite amount of bullshit, the movie began. I have never been to the movies with Britt before, although I have sat with her in enough lectures and tutorials by now to not be surprised in the slightest to find out that Britt laughs loud and often in movies. I don’t usually like watching comedies in theatres because they have always been an uncomfortable reminder that what I find funny is often out of step with what other people find funny. I remember feeling like this in The Simpsons Movie when I discovered that people actually do laugh at Itchy and Scratchy skits, and that people still found that stupid “Spider Pig” gag from the trailer as hilarious as ever. Although I will readily admit that I, too, thought Trainwreck was pretty funny.

As part of this weeks blog task I was asked to have an educated guess at what the near future of movies might be. When I interviewed my father a few weeks back about the introduction of television into the home, he mentioned that at the time people heralded this as ‘the end of cinemas.’ Obviously that didn’t happen, but it’s interesting that people seem to think that the internet is having the same effect on movie theatres today, despite the fact that 2015 has seen some massively successful movies like Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Furious 7 (Box Office Mojo 2015). Screen Australia (2015) have also shown that the average number of people attending movies at the cinema has remained relavtively stable over the past 40 years, although there is a slight decrease in the frequency with which these people attend per year. So I don’t see movie cinemas dying out any time soon, howvere it wouldn’t at all surprise me if virtual reality technologies started to become incorporated into the movie experience in the same way 3D has in the past (Occulus 2015). Although I think safety (particularly for women and minorities) would have to be considered for the use of VR in a publically shared space.

When I finally got home, after Britt kindly gave me a lift, I finally took care of my Greater Union Loyalty Card.

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You’re Never Alone with Collaborative Ethnography

When people outside of my course ask me about the Media, Audience, and Place class I am enrolled in this semester, most seem to think it is a unit about “studying audience ratings.” It’s understandable why they would think that, given that the classical (and therefore most widely recognized) way of examining TV audiences is by measuring ‘who is watching what, and how long for’ for the benefit of broadcasters and advertisers (Bowles 2015). In that sense it’s very focused on media content; ignoring the range of social, domestic, personal, and cultural factors that are influencing the audiences themselves. But does this narrowly focused methodology produce results that are meaningful and useful to those of us outside of advertising and broadcasting? Is there a methodology we can use to paint ourselves a clear picture of contemporary media use in the home and how it fits into the broader social and cultural contexts of Australian homes?

Image sourced from here.

Image sourced from here.

Numerical data has its limitations. Sometimes those limitations are desirable, as they eliminate certain ambiguities that come with descriptive data. In drug design it is crucial that the quantitative relationship between physical properties and potency are properly and accurately established (Martin 2010). Imagine a world in which paracetamol tablets were measured out in “just a pinch” rather than 500mg doses. As mentioned previously, much of the data concerning media audiences is statistical, quantitative and measured. The Australian Multi-Screen Report Quarter 1 2015 (REGIONAL TAM, OZTAM, NIELSEN 2015) is a comprehensive, quantitative break down of the Australian population in terms of how different demographics have engaged with broadcast television and other forms of video and how this has changed over the past few years. It is extremely thorough and detailed, employing lots of graphs and tables to give the data more meaning to more people. But it doesn’t really explain these statistics or address any of the many complex reasons why Australian’s are showing these trends. Qualitative research is designed to produce results that describe and give insights into the knowledge, opinions, beliefs, and behaviours of demographics relating to certain topics, issues or events (Qualitative Field Research, author date not given).

Image sourced from here.

Image sourced from here.

Collaborative ethnography is a qualitative research methodology that would help to alleviate this. Collaborative ethnography is designed to be conducted so that researchers are working alongside participants within the communities/demographics being studied in order to produce a collaborative text that can benefit the collaborators, demographics and researchers alike (Lassiter 2005). This kind of methodology also encourages more ethical practices with verified results and conclusions (Campbell and Lassiter 2010). To some extent I did this with the blog I wrote last week after interviewing my dad – although I did not co-write the piece with him I did ensure he was happy with what I had written before publishing. An even better example would be a puzzle-platforming game released in 2014 called Never Alone, the narrative of which was based heavily on Alaskan indigenous folk stories. Never Alone was developed by Upper One Games in strong collaboration with Alaska native storytellers and elders to ensure that what was represented in the game was an accurate and respectful depiction of the Iñupiat people (Upper One Games 2014). The resulting text is a beautiful game that rewards players with short documentaries about the people, places and objects that you come across in the game as you play.

Image of Never Alone sourced from here.

Image of Never Alone sourced from here.

I don’t think it’s hard to imagine ways in which this kind of collaborative ethnographic methodology could be used to study contemporary media use in other instances. Perhaps after obtaining the quantitative data for the household and interview could be conducted with the residents to give them a chance to explain the trends in the data? What were the people in the house doing when The Great Australian Spelling Bee was on? Were they Tweeting along with the hashtag? Were they gathered around with friends, cheering on their favourite contestants? Or had they simply forgotten to turn the television off before leaving to go to the pub?

References

Bowles, K 2015, ‘Lecture 3: Measuring the audience’, BCM240 Media Audience and Place, lecture, week 3, University of Wollongong

Campbell, E and Lassiter, L E 2010, ‘From Collaborative Ethnography to Collaborative Pedagogy: Reflections on the Other Side of Middletown Project and Community-University Research Partnerships’, Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Vol. 41, no. 4, p370-385, Dec, viewed 17 August 2015 http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/viewarticle?data=dGJyMPPp44rp2%2fdV0%2bnjisfk5Ie46bBRs6e2TLek63nn5Kx94um%2bUK2ns0ewpq9Nnqy4S7Ows0iexss%2b8ujfhvHX4Yzn5eyB4rO3TrWsr0q0rrI%2b6tfsf7vb7D7i2Lt95t6kjN%2fdu1nMnN%2bGu6uzSrWqsE%2bvnOSH8OPfjLvm4n7E6%2bqE0tv2jAAA&hid=4213

Lassiter, L E 2005, ‘Defining Collaborative Ethnography’, in Lassiter (ed), The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, pp. 15-24 http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/468909.html

Martin, Y C 2010, ‘Overview of Quantitative Drug Design’, in Martin (ed), Quantitative Drug Design: A Critical Introduction, 2nd ed, CRC Press, pp. 1-14 https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=PATLBQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=quantitative+drug+design&ots=X1btCIB0Dm&sig=gxrBLSDNzHzvWd7QddPHW-iesC8&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=quantitative%20drug%20design&f=false

REGIONAL TAM, OZTAM, NIELSEN 2015, Australian Multi-Screen Report: Quarter 1 2015, http://www.oztam.com.au/documents/Other/MultiScreenReport_Q1-2015-Final%20amended%20P7.pdf

Upper One Games 2014, ‘Crafted in Partnership’, Never Alone, http://neveralonegame.com/

A Migration in Television Culture: An Interview with My Father

“The broadcast would end each night with God Save the Queen.”

My father was born in Glasgow, Scottland in 1948. Up until the age of 10, the family entertainment consisted largely of gathering around the coal fire in the lounge room and listening to radio plays and serialized Westerns on their gramophone radio unit. When my father was 10 the family bought their first TV. It was a 12 inch, black and white tube TV with rabbit ear antennae and dials that clicked and clacked as you twisted them to change channnel. When asked about the prevalence of TVs in the home at the time, my father recalled that they must have been slightly ahead of the curve. “Owning a TV was still seen as a novelty at this time. Not many of my friends had one.”

In spite of this, my father had actually been exposed to TV a number of times before. Several years before there was one in his own home, dad’s grandparents (on his fathers side) had come to own a television. My father would watch TV there every week on Sunday’s; the day when the family would regularly gather. It was interesting to hear that. It’s not often at all that we think of our grandparents as being ahead of the younger generations in terms of technology.

The introduction of the TV marked one big noticable change to the family dynamic for my father. It meant that rather than dinner being eaten at the dining room table, it was now eaten in the lounge room in front of the TV. The more formal dining table and chair dynamic shifted into a less formal one on the lounge chairs that faced the television, with dinners balanced ineligantly in their laps.

Image sourced from here.

My father was the middle child. He had an older sister and a younger brother with whom he shared a bedroom. It was with his family that the majority of TV viewing took place. “We all watched the same shows back then.”It was more than just the fact that there was only one TV in the house. There was also much less variety in choice in programs, with only two TV channels. So it was something done as part of a family rather than each person having an individual, personal viewing schedule. A lot of the television programs my father remembers were Westerns – which he loved. They were narratively very straightforward; good vs bad, black and white. But they still made an impression on him. “These characters were my heroes at age 10.”

Having said that, my father didn’t seem to recall many instances where his father was around to watch TV with them. He worked until 7pm most nights and was also a part of a lot of community events, like The Boys Brigade (similar to the Boy Scouts). But his mother would watch TV with them.

“Australian TV seemed very amateurish to me.”

My father’s family migrated to Australia when he was 13, in 1961. Living in Perth at the time, my father recalled feeling as though TV ownership was much more widespread in Australia. Although he realizes that the same was not true of regional areas in Australia. The move to Australia brought with it a number of other TV changes.There were more channels than back home with much longer broadcast times; and although some of the BBC productions he had grown familiar with were rerun on the ABC here, a much larger percentage of the shows were American than in the UK. In Britain much of the TV content was produced locally.

Probably the biggest change was that Australia did a lot of “tonight” shows like “In Melbourne Tonight” (hosted by Graham Kennedy with Bert Newton) – which seemed to run for what felt like several hours across multiple nights of the week. My father, who had grown used to the slick production of British television, found Australian TV to be very amatuerish to him. a lot of ad hoc jokes in front of a live audience with variety entertainment – singers, dancers, jugglers, magicians, etc. It was an attitude of ‘let’s film it and whatever happens, happens’.”

With the change in location also came a change in the space my father occupied physically. He was no longer in that lounge room in Glasgow, warding off the cold with an open coal fire. Not only did the family leave behind that lounge room, that home, and that “bloody cold” weather – but they also left behind their first TV. In Australia for the first few years, when the family was still renting properties, the family would actually rent TVs rather than buy them. A lot of the hired TVs at the time used to take coins to run, which would be slotted into a box at the back of the television. One or two schillings would usually be enough to run the TV for an evening – so a stash of coins was kept nearby to be fed into the metre. My father doesn’t remember the coins ever getting collected, as it used to happen while he was at school. Owning a TV to renting one was quite a change for the family, although it didn’t seem to change the viewing habits of the family. It wasn’t prohibitively expensive.

Image sourced from here.

I found this aspect to be particularly fascinating. The idea of allowing a relative stranger into your living room, your family’s media space, to extract money from the back of the TV seems so alien to me – invasive even. But even more than that, even the presence of a rental TV that requires coins to run seems just as invasive. The object just as much a stranger. Like having your fridge replaced with a vending machine. It almost violates how one would normally think of a home – a space where everything is yours to use as you wish. But then again, I suppose paying a small regular fee to keep up with your television viewing habbits isn’t entirely unlike the kind of model that streaming services like Stan and Netflix offer today.

Angus the Space Man

As I write this introductory post about myself (my most hated of blog topics) I am sitting in armchair in my bedroom, typing away on my laptop. I decided to type up this quick self-introduction as I wait for my softdrink to cool in the freezer, which I bought in anticipation of playing the newly released episode of the ongoing videogame Life Is Strange. As you read this, I am describing to you the nature of the physical space I occupied as I constructed this digital space.

A tender moment from Life Is Strange. Image sourced from here.

My name is Angus Baillie and I am a third year BCMS student majoring in digital media. In February this year I was lucky enough to be allowed to create and run the Video Games section of the student run magazine/website The Tertangala – a digital space I created, contribute to, and help to run. When asked to introduce myself in relation to the occupation of a media space, it was hard not to think of myself in relation to this space. If you would like to help contribute to this section of The Tertangala, please don’t hesitate to ask in class, in the comments, or on Twitter @angusuow.

My goal for the Video Games section is to create a progressive gaming space that aims to make games journalism less about hype and more about interesting, personal experiences with gaming and projecting an idea that gaming is an inclusive art form for everyone. You will come to our section not because you want to read that the latest Triple A shooter will run at 6o fps, but because you will want to hear about our opinions, feelings, and suggestions regarding the games we are playing and the current events that are constantly shaping the industry and the culture that we are all so lovingly invested in.

I look forward to meeting and interacting with you all.

My space.

My space. Image is my own.