Journal Name: Information, Communication & Society: Volume 6, Number 4, 2003
Online ISSN: 1468-4462, Print ISSN: 1369-118X
Mapping the Bit Gir: Lara Croft and new media fandom (pp477 - 496)
By Bob Rehak (Indiana University at Bloomington, USA)
This paper examines the fan movement surrounding Lara Croft, a computer- generated character who has appeared in computer games, comic books, men's magazines, promotional tours, music videos, calendars, action figures and motion pictures. A fixture of the pop-culture landscape since 1996, Croft embodies or incarnates a nexus of cultural, economic, and technological forces, whose shared characteristic is their powerful hold on a vast audience base. Lara Croft is nothing without her fans. As the founding member of a new mode of celebrity system featuring female digital stars, Croft's essentially technological nature - the mode of her signification and circulation - produces continuities and ruptures with traditional fan practices, reframing our understandings of categories such as "fan', "audience', "character', and "text' in relation to a mediascape whose speed and multiplicity mark not just postmodernism, but adaptive responses to postmodernity. From this perspective, Lara Croft is less a singular entity than a coping strategy, a mediation of media. The concerns of this project are, first, to examine Lara Croft as a conjunction of industrial and representational forces intended to promote certain types of reception and consumption; second, to assess the ways in which her peculiar semiotic status - simultaneously open-ended and concrete - renders her available for appropriation and elaboration by fans; and, finally, to discuss the ways in which Croft's fandom opens up new debates about the relationship between texts, audiences, and technology.
Keywords: Lara Croft, videogames, fandom, reception, celebrity, synthespian
Boundary Spaces (pp497 - 522)
By T. L. Taylor (IT University of Copenhagen), Beth E. Kolko (University of Washington)
While shows like The X-Files and 24 have merged conspiracy theories with popular science (fictions), some video games have been pushing the narrative even further. Electronic Art's Majestic game was released in July 2001 and quickly generated media buzz with its unusual multi-modal gameplay. Mixing phone calls, faxes, instant messaging, real and "fake' websites, and email, the game provides a fascinating case of an attempt at new directions for gaming communities. Through story, mode of playing, and use of technology, Majestic highlights the uncertain status of knowledge, community and self in a digital age; at the same time, it allows examination of alternative ways of understanding games' role and purpose in the larger culture. Drawing on intricate storylines involving government conspiracies, techno-bio warfare, murder and global terror, players were asked to solve mysteries in the hopes of preventing a devastating future of domination. Because the game drew in both actual and Majestic-owned/-designed websites, it constantly pushed those playing the game right to borders where simulation collides with " factuality'. Given the wide variety of "legitimate' conspiracy theory, alien encounters and alternative science web pages, users often could not distinguish when they were leaving the game's pages and venturing into " real' World Wide Web sites. Its further use of AOL's instant messenger system, in which gamers spoke not only to bots but to other players, pushed users to evaluate constantly both the status of those they were talking to and the information being provided. Additionally, the game required players to occupy unfamiliar subject positions, ones where agency was attenuated, and which subsequently generated a multi-layered sense of unease among players. This mix of authentic and staged information in conjunction with technologically mediated roles highlights what are often seen as phenomenon endemic to the Internet itself; that is, the destabilization of categories of knowing, relating, and being.
Keywords: Majestic, pervasive, games, Internet, multi-player, identity
The Video Game Lightning Rod (pp523 - 550)
By Dmitri Williams (University of Michigan, USA)
New media technologies have long tapped into social hopes and anxieties, and the turmoil that follows their appearance offers a window into the social tensions of the time. Clashing sets of utopian and dystopian visions have typically resulted in an ambivalent portrayal of such technologies. Video games prove to be no exception. Through a content analysis of media frames in the USA's three leading news magazines, the reception and presentation of video-game technology was tracked over a thirty-year period, 1970-2000. The resulting patterns tell a story of vilification and partial redemption, owing to the mainstream acceptance of the medium and the aging user base. Fears of the negative effects from the new technology were hypothesized to come from a routine set of conservative worries. The results support this hypothesis. Moreover, the frames surrounding games, especially in the 1980s, reveal many of the key social tensions of the times, primarily those surrounding gender roles, the separation of age and racial groups, and the role of female parents within an increasingly technological society. The place of video games within the larger context of media history, and the social causes of the frames are discussed.
Keywords: Video games, media frames, media history, content analysis, frame analysis
Geography of the Digital Hearth (pp551 - 576)
By Bernadette Flynn (Griffith University, Australia)
Console based video games are an increasingly familiar and engaging technology in the living room and as such, warrant critical attention. Considerations of their impact on the home have been widely regarded by new media academics as technological innovation and by social scientists as symptomatic of a decline in social and familial connectedness. In an attempt to move the debate beyond discussions of machine functionality and social crisis, this paper argues for a reframing of some of the ways we think about the impact of entertainment technologies on the home. It presents the notion of the digital hearth as a concept that shows how cultural meanings associated with the home can be transformed through gaming and changing patterns of consumption. The research examines the domestication of the console through cultural histories of the living room, the social context of electronic media, and ethnographic studies. It argues that the concept of the digital hearth represents a re-organization of the spaces in which collective engagement occurs and a shifting of the cultural norms associated with that collective engagement. In these spaces not only does the living room become the site of collective engagement but also the form of that engagement changes with the digital hearth acting as the focal point around social interaction. The paper traces parallels between the appropriation of television and of radio into the home and the domestication of the console while arguing that the console represents a shifting of spatial and social norms of domestication from previous electronic media. In addition it represents gaming in the home as symptomatic of changes from public to private forms of entertainment which constitutes a changing geographic base for social networks.
Keywords: Video games, gender, spatiality, cybernetics, living room, parlour
The Sims: Real Life as Genre (pp577 - 592)
By Diane Nutt and Diane Railton (University of Teesside)
This article examines one of the most popular computer games The Sims to consider whether the shared understanding of the game's "rules' can be understood through the concept of genre. The main argument is that the genre being used is "real life'. The game's creators are assuming the players share with them, and with each other, an understanding of real life, which can be transposed into the game world. The article explores this notion of a real-life narrative that is shared, by considering the ways in which family and other relationships are both conceptualized and played out in the game. Whilst real life as genre is problematized here, the tensions and conflicts of contemporary real-world conceptualizations of family and other relationships do appear to be represented in the game. What is interesting then, given this, are the ways in which players negotiate the gameplay. The article concludes by suggesting that players are active agents negotiating both the game's version of real life, and their own real-world experiences.
Keywords: Genre, narrative, family, relationships, computer games, The Sims
From Pong to Planet Quake: Post-Industrial Transitions from Leisure to Work (pp593 - 607)
By Hector Postigo (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)
In the closing weeks of 2002, video games were featured in various popular American news publications and media outlets such as Wired, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek and Time Magazine. It is becoming increasingly apparent that video games are no longer child's play, but rather that they are poised to become a major entertainment form for the twenty-first century. Social analysts and media scholars must begin to formulate an understanding of this emerging mass-consumer phenomenon because it will increasingly impact social and economic structures of post-industrial societies. Part of the tremendous value generated by the American video-game industry is tied into broad global economic shifts that have created a space where services and ephemeral products, such as software, can be created and cheaply distributed. The predominance of " high-tech' production, the rise of the Internet, and the cultural capital associated with computerization all have contributed to the rise of hobbyist software developers that currently tinker with commercial video games and freely add to them increasing levels of sophistication. This paper sees video-game programmer hobbyists as a source of some of the significant value that the video-game industry generates, and understands the role of the programmer hobbyists through the lens of theories on post-industrial work. My analysis situates the work of hobbyists on the Internet within the context of post-Fordism and explores some of the motivations for this unwaged work. In the sections that follow, I will analyse the potential value of the work hobbyist do as well as analyse its transition to paid work as some commercial software developers experiment with incorporating these fan bases into the game design process.
Keywords: Unwaged work, mods, modders, modifications, hackers
Playstation and the Power of Unexpected Consequences (pp608 - 627)
By Alberto Alvisi, Alessandro Narduzzo and Marco Zamarian (University of Bologna)
It has been suggested that research business strategy is like studying specimens on a wall. By examining successful stories, one can easily identify the strategic factors responsible for such a success, and the greater the success, the more evident those factors are. Timing, strategic positioning, pricing policies, lead-time - everything goes back to the place where it fits best, like a beautiful mosaic. Even competitors' mistakes become more evident, their dull misunderstanding of what the winner was planning as every successful move leads to an even more successful one. The case of Sony PlayStation, the most successful digital games console ever, is no exception and the temptation to explain the rationale behind such an achievement is almost irresistible. As this paper tries to suggest, sometimes ex- post rationalizations hide or avoid part of the truth. Despite PlayStation's success, Sony's strategic choices were, on more than one occasion, driven more by lucky coincidence than by long-range planning. Furthermore, this paper shows how some of the strategic factors behind PlayStation's winning run sprang from decisions taken by lack of alternatives, and that only in the very end was Sony able to understand their full profit potential.
Keywords: Video-game industry, strategic change, deliberate vs emergent strategy, reception, celebrity
(This journal is available online: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/1369118x.html)
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