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HBO’s Imagine Cube

I must admit that HBO’s imagine concept was really interesting to watch because it was executed very well. Watching the short clip titled “the affair” from the four different angles really opened up the story in a way that would not have been originally seen, had there only been one angle, without expanding the clip. Yet, at the same time by giving you ‘all’ of the story at once you are not really saving any time either because in order to fully get the entire effect of the story you also have to re-watch the clip many times from each side of the cube.
“The Affair” sort of reminded me of Façade, in that we are immediately taken into the living room of this couple that is obviously having marital problems. At first we are unsure of what is going on, however as time elapses we soon realize the depths of the issues that lay underneath. Like Façade, “The Affair” starts and ends with the same outcome, when watching from different angles the middle details get filled in, but the ending is still the same. This is exactly like Façade, in that you can vary the conversation and interactions you have with the couple, but the outcome will always be that you get kicked out of their apartment in the end.
In my mind “The Affair” is like a cross between Façade and the film Memento. If you treat the entire experience as a series of different clips that are independent entities, it is clear that the format of “The Affair” is very similar to the format of Memento as well. Just by viewing one clip we are not able to put together the pieces of the puzzle, however after watching all four we can begin to construct a story of what really happened. Similarly, even after watching all of the story from all of the angles the audience is also left to make significant assumptions and guesses about what really happened as the many details of the story are left vague and incomplete, no doubt to encourage users to watch again and enquire more about the story online through message boards. All and all I really enjoyed the formatting of “The Affair” and thought that it was a creative way to tell a story using a format that is not commonly seen.

Pincus – ‘Newspapers Will Survive’

In waiting too long to write this post, some of the details may have faded a little bit for me, but I’ll do my best to run through some of the things I found most interesting about journalist Walter Pincus’s talk in RAJ last week.

What surprised me the most about the basic premise of his argument was this, and I hope I didn’t misinterpret it.  In giving a talk about how an industry under pressure like newspapers will survive, I thought it would sort of be like “here’s what newspapers need to do/change in order to survive”.  Instead, and I have no grounds to agree or disagree with this, it seemed like he was saying “if newspapers go on as they have been, with a few minor changes (most of them harkening back to the ‘good ol days’), the nature of the industry and its economics will allow them to survive without that much effort”.  This seemed to be founded on his belief, a bit out of touch in my opinion, that this whole ‘internet journalism’ thing is just a ‘fad’, and people only really buy into it because it’s ‘jazzy’ (his word, not mine).  And a lot of his argument hinged on the fact that people haven’t really found a good model for making money in online advertising yet.  But we are exceptionally good at figuring out how to make money out of just about anything, so I would guess that will come soon, don’t you think?

Mark did a good job summing up his ideas about newspapers ‘slimming down’, and I agree with him in that respect, so I won’t say too much about it.  But one of my favorite things about Pincus’ argument was a more general point he made, sort of about ‘slimming down’ in another respect.  He mentioned both the newspaper business and related it to the auto industry, but I think his point about businesses needing to return to a more sustainable business model, with lower expectations (maybe?) applies to many of our industries, especially in publishing — newspapers, record labels, film and tv studios, etc.  As in, they need to face the fact that they might not find a way to make the bucketloads of money they did in their heyday, and this seems to me to tie quite neatly back into some of the stuff Lessig talked about with the record industry refusing to find a compromised middle ground when it comes to digital music.  I couldn’t agree more with this, but I wonder if this shift in mentality is possible for the greed-fueled gears of capitalism.  It seems like this will have a large role in our country’s economic fate.


This post, and the forthcoming one about the Pincus lecture, are both concerning stuff that I should’ve posted last week, but with the ridiculous amounts of work I’ve had, I’m just now catching up with them.  That being said…

I’m glad we got a glimpse into WoW — there’s a lot that I didn’t know about it before, just on the very basic level of what spends most of one’s time doing in it, and I feel like Ian gave us a pretty good idea of what your average WoW devotee actually does in the game most of the time.

There were a lot of things that I liked about it — I’m impressed that they can make the graphics look that nice for such a huge world with so many people in it; it’s pretty much the anti-Second Life in that respect, probably because it’s all controlled by one entity, and people are paying that entity for access to that world, and with that price comes the expectation that things will run smoothly.  So the world is rich and pretty and complex, and the whole accumulation of abilities thing seems like that could get pretty addicting, but like Ian said, most people only ever use, say, four of their abilities.  All the “fighting against the game itself” stuff he told us was interesting too, in a sort of meta- way.  And though we didn’t get to see a raid, the idea behind it, with all the intensely planned strategy, sounded kinda cool.  In that respect, it almost seems more like a board game to me than a video game — of course, it’s much more visually stimulating than a board game, and you’re playing it on the internet with thousands of other people, but the fighting and such relies more on strategy than the usual finger-mashing dexterity that success in most video games demands.

But in the end, I felt no desire to ever try the game out.  I think the dullness of combat, like I just mentioned has something to do with that — fighting = clicking rapidly and repetitively on something.  Plus, the ‘grinding’ and all the other drudgery that you have to go through just to keep improving sounds pretty unbearable.  And lastly, I mentioned this in class, but it really bothers me that one of the, if not the driving force in the game is that masculine, typical-internet desire to brag, sling insults, fuck with people, and basically piss them off in any way you can think of, just because there’s no real life consequences — “internet assholism”, I think I called it.  It’s that sort of thing that really drives me away from, say, Halo online and that kind of thing.  And it seems like WoW contains the epitome (if not the birthplace) of that attitude.  So I’ll pass on WoW for now.

Walter Pincus and the Life of the Newspaper

So last week I went on saw a speaker here at Middlebury, Walter Pincus. Who was discussing newspapers and how they will continue to survive in the future despite the increase in web news options. I thought it was a very interesting point of view and related to our discussion of media very much.
Pincus talked about the ways in which the newspaper should and will be changing. He argues that the most important characteristic of the newspaper is that it be a competitive business. That the newspaper contains what the reader wants and not what the editors want. He talked about keeping the newspaper shorter, increasing advertisements, and making the content geared more towards what the reader is looking for. He says that because editors will be able to make these adjustments, and largely because advertisers still feel safer investing in print ads instead of online ads that the newspapers will survive.
I thought this was very interesting but it made me think about the social/cultural effects that this might have and the change in quality of the newspaper that this shift may have. It seems to me that a shorter, more ad heavy, and dumbed down version of the newspaper, while maybe a little more commercially successful is not really what I want being published. To me this seems like a dumbing down of our society and it makes me wonder what other sacrifices are being made as a result of new media expansion.

broken phone

These days I like to pick up snippets of conversations that have to do with media and technology in our lives… Here’s one I just got:

“My phone’s broken. It’s so frustrating.”

“Ah yeah that is annoying.”

“Yeah. I mean, it’s like, 20% enjoyable, 80% annoying.”

We all seem to realize that it’s kind of nice to be a little less connected all the time, but when it’s not by our own choice to become disconnected, we worry that our world will flip upside down or that we’re constantly missing out on something.

Video Game Project: Dance Dance Revolution

For Shane’s and my project we decided to look at the game Dance Dance Revolution.  The game seemed interesting because unlike most video games where you are using just your hands to control play, this game uses your whole body and tries to mimic actual actions from the real world… i.e. dancing.  Another amazing phenomenon of DDR is how it is a very good social and spectator game, where many people enjoy simply watching others play.

The video tries to highlight these two qualities, the way in which the crowd can come into play with DDR and the link between dancing for DDR and dancing in the real world and how they are different.

Video Game Project (Patti and Liya)

For our project we (me and Liya) wanted to combine the game-play aspect of NCAA Football 2008 with the real-life game experience. For this we used footage of the 2008 game between Ohio State and Michigan State and then played the football game on X-Box using the same teams. We used footage from the real game and from the video game to create a viewing experience that combines the two mediums.

We posted our video to YouTube but the song that we used was removed by them due to some sort of regulation. The link to our video is below, but we will play the original in class (which has the sound).


Celebrities Who Play World of Warcraft

I was interested in seeing who else played World of Warcraft (and my “else” I meant not your everyday average people). Turns out, that many celebrities play World of Warcraft (go figure?) According to my sources…

1. Mila Kunis (the chick from That 70′s Show…what?!)
2. Macaulay Culkin
3. Dave Chappelle (Snap!)
4. William Shatner (Predictable…)
5. Matt Stone (Co-Creator of South Park)
6. Trey Parker (Co-Creator of South Park)
7. Vin Diesel
8. Robin Williams
9. Verne Troyer (Mini-Me!)
10. Mr. T
11. Jay Mohr
12. Elijah Wood (Hahahahaha, of course)
13. Chuck Norris (Really? Wow…)
14. Brandon Routh (The New Superman Guy…)
15. Jimmy Fallon

Video game project

The game I chose for this assignment is called Heavy Rain and runs on Playstation 3. The reason I selected it is that it offers an experience quite different from the great majority of consoles’ games. It allows you to play four different characters (as far as I have played it): a detective, a fbi agent, a dad and a young woman. They are involved in the chase of a serial killer that drowns his victims thanks to extended period of rainfall.

If I try to summurize the concept behind this game, I would say it is an “interactive story telling experience” that borrows a lot from movies. The most conspicuous cinematographic element in it is the camera. You have a very limited control on it as it is very often set at given place and you can only switch to a different one by pressing the R1 button. The interface is almost non-existant, by this I mean that in most games, the character you control has a health bar, an inventory, a quest log etc… But here you do not have any of this. You just walk around and as soon as an interaction is possible between your character and the environment, the button with which you can perform an action will be represented on the screen next to the object. To illustrate this point, I captured a part of the introducing sequence of Heavy rain.

This choice shows that the developpers wanted the players to be immersed in the story as an interface can be seen as a tool highlighting the feeling that you are playing a game. Overall I would say that this part of the gameplay works rather well except the camera. Indeed, the fact that it is fixed actually gives a cinematographic touch to the sequences but does not help the gameplay. The explorations of the places you have to visit is sometimes made difficult as you bump into objects or change direction without willing it when the camera changes point of view in a shot reverse shot way.

The different characters played offer the same gameplay except the fbi agent that has a special attribute as he benefits from a cool pair of sunglasses that enable him to analyze a zone to find DNA traces for instance. It also serves as a kind of inventory as it stores the clues you find while inquiring. The gameplay experience while playing this character is the one that I preferred thus far and it is the one that is the closest to “regular” games.
The game sometimes offers sequences filled with “quick time events”. When this happens, you do not control the character but you have to hit a button when its symbol appears on the screen. They are used during action sequence and here is an example:

So, does Heavy Rain’s concept offer an interesting experience? Well, to tell the truth, I am not entirely convinced. The scenario is more interesting than in a lot of other games but it is inspired by many thriller movies and it does not do it as well, this by the simple fact that it is a game! A nice aspect though is that you have to make choices that permanently change the story and there is no way to go back as the game autosaves at specific points.

The problem of Heavy Rain is that it borrows from two different media grammars: cinema and video games. All the cinematographic elements can have bad consequences on the gameplay (ex: the camera) and sometimes, the developpers chose to make you play sequences that could be agreable when watched in a film but definitely horrible to play. The best example I have is this sequence when you have to cradle a baby.

Also the whole introductory sequence that serves as a tutorial is boring. You are literally meant to make him brush his teeth, have a shower, eat a piece of cake, wait in the garden until the kids come home, in a word it is useless as you understand how to play the game in no more than 15 minutes. My point is that video games cannot do well when using movies’ attributes to tell a story and they have therefore to find their own way. Heavy Rain is an interesting attempt to make a narrative compelling through this medium but it lacks a clever understanding of video games themselves. If I were to quote a game that successfully integrates strong storytelling and good gameplay it would be GTA IV or even Bioshock.

note: I figured out how to have the videos in my article but there is no sound which is weird because I think I had it on the quicktime videos saved on the computer in Axxin….

World of Warcraft – Never again!

As I said a couple of times in class: I have sinned!…. I mean, I have played WoW and the demonstration of this afternoon comforts me in my choice to not play this game ever again. My main problem with it is its total uselessness in social life. People that have hobbies that are really time consumming have to sacrifiy for a period of time their social life but I feel that more people can relate to what they do than to a game like wow.

This problem comes from the fact that it is a virtual world and that all the time invested in it will improve your virtual life but your actual life gets only poorer. Some people are going to say “oh but you can play it in a more casual way and not spend too much time on it” but I don’t really buy this argument. You get really hooked up quite quickly in this game and your goal of obtaining more and more power will result in spending more and more time onto it. And to be weak in such a game means that you won’t enjoy 2/3 of the “end game” activities as other players will refuse to go killing this monster because you will be the weak element of the party. Moreover, the argument that consists in saying that you actually develop a social life in the game does not seem convincing to me as I never met someone that sort of interested me in this game. And even “I’m sorry I don’t know his name” told us today: “I’ve never met the members of my guild in real life”. So where is the social benefit here?

I am not spitting on wow players though, I have tolerance especially because I played it but I simply do not find any positive side in playing such a game.

Make Love, Not Warcraft… a demo of Taylor’s argument

I have only seen a couple south park episodes in my life. So watching this episode, I found myself actually laughing because of how on target all the mockery was. I’m trying to decide if I thought it was so good because it is a funny show standing alone, or if it’s because I’m now so attuned to how media rules our life, because of what we talk about in class. Chatting with my friend online, I told her what I had to just watch for class, and she responded in excitement, because she watches every episode. When she typed, “HAHAHHA I LOVE that one! One of my favorites,” I thought to myself, well it must just be a funny show in general. I’m thinking of myself as being more analytical than I really am. Bummer. But then she continued to crack jokes quoting lines like “You can’t be the dwarf! I’m the dwarf!” which makes me think maybe she (and other people) isn’t picking up all the underlying messages from the episode about media.  Another friend I’m talking to (yay multi-tasking on the internet) told me she’s seen it. She’s a big gamer, so I suggested she watch it. She decided to put it on again because she has nothing else to do right now, and I said how I thought it was so funn because of how relevant it is to my class. And she typed, “like what? HAHAHHAHHA! HILARIOUS about Hitler.” …not related to the messages I’m picking up. She did also just say “seriously people LOVE this shit. Everyone makes fun but this is exactly what…90% of guys our age do on halo and call of duty. Its just modern warfare instead of like legendary. Aka not different hahah.”

I guess the messages aren’t too deeply hidden under the surface, it’s all pretty in your face. But I think its because of these messages that the episode is successful in its humor, whether we all realize it while we’re watching it or not. The big points made are about how people “socialize” digitally through their avatars, gamer stereotypes, gender stereotypes, and how media over all has become like a second life to many of us.

I’m blabbing and realizing as I go… I guess my point isn’t really just whether or not other people are watching the episode in the same way as I am… but whether or not I would have had interest in the show without being in the critical media state of mind. I think if my brother had been watching it and I walked into the room, I would have seen 30 seconds of it, watched video game images on the television, and walked away uninterested.

The show dramatizes all these worries about gaming to the fullest extent, as if the end of a game really is the end of the world. The creators worry, “could this be the end of the world… of warcraft?” Always with that pause before “of warcraft” to emphasize the importance of this virtual reality for some people. Anyone who becomes good at the game is stereotyped in the show as having no life, fat, pimply, sitting at a computer with leftover processed food everywhere. When the world (of warcraft) is ending due to a killer on the loose, Cartman says to his peers, “you can stand around in the sun all day tossing a ball around, or you can sit at a computer and do something that really matters.” The killer is a great example of what Taylor talks about in his article, “pushing the borders.” Each game has a set of rules and how players should conduct themselves in the virtual space, but “absorbing the game experience proves itself to be, player culture has never existed in a completely rarified space: We can see all kinds of players pushing back at and tweaking the structures of play they encounter.”

The boys gang up at their computers in the basement and battle until they too become fat ugly gamers, needing assistance to go to the bathroom. Meanwhile, the managers of the game system don’t even have accounts to the game, because they “have a life.”

I loved how the show ramped up with excitement and suspense while we waited for the flash stick to be delivered, and then watching the Dad’s character run up to his son’s character to give him the sword of 1000 truths…. But then he doesn’t know how to hand it off. “Inventory! Apple i!!” Of course the father is the one to be helping out, because mom’s are portrayed as having absolutely no interest in the game, and thinking it’s dumb.

I also loved how in the earlier battle, Butter said he didn’t play warcraft, only the virtual world of Hello Kitty. The boys tell him to get the game before they murder him, and then when he appears, his avatar is the same as Cartman’s avatar. This mocks how we can enter into these virtual worlds as someone else, whoever we want to be. And two people, completely unique in real life, can appear identical in the alternate world.

“We killed him. I can’t believe it’s all over… What do we do now?”

“What do you mean? Now we can play the game.”

Very funny. Well done, South Park.

Chatroulette 2.0

My younger brother showed me this video and I thought that it was a great example of how Chatroulette might be able to be used for other sorts of things. Like I said in my earlier blog posts, if there was a way to filter why people were there it would be much more useful. The fact that “Merton” used it though to create a hilarious beginning to a concert for Ben Folds blows my mind. Such a simple idea that got millions to laugh :) Take a peek.

Rentals on Youtube

As I recently went to the youtube homepage, I saw something new on the sidebar. There was an add for the youtube store, curious at this new development I clicked on it. It turned out to be an online movie rental store run by youtube. The movies ranged from new releases to popular favorites and even hard to find indies and the prices were from .99 to 5.99. The format seemed normal enough and was pretty much a copy of similar online rental sites such as itunes, blockbuster.com, or netflix. However, the interesting thing was that this store was being run by youtube.

This factor alone made the whole concept of the site utterly and completely ridiculous. I mean how ironic is it for youtube to try and sell movie rentals when you could probably find most of these videos on youtube for free anyway. Further more, if the average Joe is aware of this fact then the execs over at Google should be aware of it too right? They are trying to to tap into the market of users that go on youtube to watch movies, however while it is much harder to find full movies on youtube, it is not impossible which is why it is doubtfull that this store will be especially lucrative. Similarly the quality of these illigally uploaded movies are also getting better and better, which is why I think that the appeal of an HD quality movie rental will not sway the average user to shell out that additional fee. Who knows, in the future this format might prove to be extremely successful, however for now that is not the case.

For those who want to check out the store for themselves, go to this link:


Façade and my thoughts.

So in class on Monday we played a game called “Facad” which was essentially a one-act play in video game format.  You follow the first person point of view of a guest invited over to a couple’s home.  The game not only gives you the freedom to walk around the room, pick up objects, and physically interact with the two characters, but it also allows you to speak (through text) to the couple and actually have them respond to you.  This was like nothing I had seen before.  Of course I’ve played video games where you can physically interact with other characters in the game (basically any game where you are fighting people/creatures… a.k.a the majority of games), and I have played “sandbox” games like GTA where you have the freedom to “do/go wherever you want,” but I have never played a game where I could actually speak to video game characters and have them interpret what I say and respond.

Now that I’ve raved about the incredible freedom and technical progress that this game demonstrates, I do have to point out the limitations of the game.  It became very clear after playing the game for a little bit that the characters responses were definitely limited.  Often times I would ask questions or make comments that were ignored or answered insufficiently by the game.  Also, it was very clear that, while there were several ways the story could have gone, that still meant that there were only a handful of ways the story could end (most of the time ending with one of them saying “it’s time for you to leave,” and forcing me out).

I suppose I can see the appeal to a game like this.  It was kind of interesting playing the game several times and seeing how I could get things to turn out differently each time.  The fact that the medium allows me to actually participate in a one-act play is very very impressive, and I even found myself getting into the story for brief moments.  At the same time it was definitely not for me.  After each time that I played I felt like things ended very abruptly and felt no closure which is usually something that I feel in even the simplest of games even without the ability to respond to my text/actions.  I suppose that in the future the technology and creativity of programmers could allow games like this to be even more participatory and responsive and if that is the case my opinions might change.