prototyping the “let’s play” shuffle; even a lack of engagement is useful feedback

 

Following up on my Digital Artefact pitch; After prototyping two live-streams on my Twitch channel, I’ve made a few changes to my format, though my concept remains intact. I’ve further developed my analytical framework using Clara Fernández-Vara’s book Introduction to Game Analysis’ as a guide. 

Unfortunately, my Twitch chat was entirely dead for both streams, and I peaked at 4 unique viewers. It seems despite already aggregating an audience for my channel, the drastic difference in content did not appeal to any of my 55 followers. I can’t say much about how effective sharing the event on my socials was either. I have decided the live-stream format won’t work for this ‘Let’s Play’ series. By attaching the episodes to a schedule and trying to encourage live discussion, I am also (inadvertently) discouraging engagement with the video after the broadcast as well. Many people will miss the live stream due to time zones or their own personal schedules, not all potential viewers will catch the Twitch VOD (video on demand), and having long sections of my streams without any commentary lessens the quality of the content when watching it ‘un-live’ on YouTube re-uploads.

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Screenshot from one stream. The large blank space to the right of the gameplay window was for two reasons; a) I didn’t want to stretch the resolution of the GameBoy emulator too much as the image would possibly be blurry or lower quality, b) the empty space was meant to be accommodating an embedded live chat, that did not get used at all 😔 meaning that on a YouTube video episode, this layout looks awkward and has too much negative space.

Initially I considered changing the format to an entirely different one, such as critical blog posts or a video essay series. However, a comment on my DA pitch prompted me to research further into the ‘Let’s Play’ subculture. I found an article by Burwell and Miller in the E-Learning and Digital Media journal that explores the ‘Let’s Play’ genre and its function as a gaming paratext. They argue that LP’s allow commentary and analysis that develops gaming literacy.

“In recent years, a great deal of scholarly work has been done to consider video games as productive sites for the development of creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and collaborative skills (e.g., Gee, 2003Hayes and Duncan, 2012Steinkuehler, 2007). This work has challenged the video game’s reputation as a mindless diversion, and has instead shown that games encourage thinking and learning, and play an important role in the production of cultural capital amongst young people. Much of this work explores games as a form of literacy.”

“Inherent in the Let’s Play video is an invitation to viewers to join in the game play; here, we invite the reader to see the complex meaning-making and social practices associated with this emerging paratext.”

– Burwell, C., & Miller, T. (2016).

After reading this article, I was assured that I would be able to effectively use the LP genre as my DA format when analysing and making meaning of the Final Fantasy games. I’ve decided that YouTube seems to be the most appropriate platform for an LP series as twitch channels often fall into either competitive or social streamer categories, the latter requiring lots of time to build-up an engaged and loyal viewership. I’ll be editing and cutting down my gameplay footage to make my commentary more consistent, reduce long periods of level grinding, and overall make the LP more abridged and cinematic. Finally, I’ve chosen to split the game into six episodes of three ‘acts’, with each ‘act’ being played as one of three different versions of the game.

 

References

Burwell, C., & Miller, T. (2016). Let’s Play: Exploring literacy practices in an emerging videogame paratext. E-Learning and Digital Media13(3–4), 109–125.

Fernández-Vara, C. (2015). Introduction to Game Analysis. 1st ed. New York, NY: Routledge. 

let’s talk about k-pop

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K-pop group BTS with American singer Khalid, teasing and upcoming collaboration. Source

These days, you simply can’t scroll through Twitter without stumbling upon k-pop fans in the masses. ‘Fancam’ video edits seem to be posted in threads about anything and everything, and tweets are embedded with hashtags urging to #stan or #stream various k-pop groups. Although my own obsession with k-pop started and finished with whatever was playing on SBS PopAsia circa 2015, the ‘Hallyu’ phenomenon, or ‘Korean wave’, has reached tsunami levels of huge in the last decade. The craze has made a splash all across the globe in neighbouring Asian countries, the West, and beyond.

K-pop boyband ‘BTS’ are an immensely popular group within the genre, achieving incredible break-out success in the US at a level never before seen. The group has collaborated with many popular US/European artists like Nicki Minaj, Halsey, Ed Sheeran, and many more. You could say BTS are the poster group for the rapid spread of k-pop throughout the US and other Western audiences. Ingyu Oh’s research paper about the globalisation of k-pop credits platforms like YouTube and the new distribution structures of the music industry for the global success of k-pop as a musical subculture. The report argues that South Korea’s standout success in comparison to other Asian music industries (such as Japan or China) is because of k-pop’s “photogenic appeal”, borrowing aesthetics and production techniques from popular American music. By localising these elements of American music and distributing the final, hybridised product to both Asian and Western audiences, k-pop is able to attain mass global appeal. Woongjae Ryoo explains the cultural hybridisation of k-pop further in an article from the Asian Journal of Communication; South Korea is described as a mediator in popular culture exchange between the West and Asia, and in comparison with Japan, South Korea has “broader cultural affinities with China and other Asian countries while also being just Westernized enough.” In other words, South Korea is currently the bridge between Asian and Western popular culture.

In 2018, American game development company Riot Games released a k-pop inspired music video promoting an upcoming line of cosmetic character ‘skins’, available for purchase in their online multiplayer game ‘League of Legends’. The video features iconic characters from the game in a ‘virtual’ idol group, dancing and singing in the k-pop style. The artists featured in this collaborative project were two American singers, Madison Beer and Jaira Burns, and two members of the k-pop girl group (G)I-DLE. The track ‘POP/STARS’ was debuted on the League of Legends world finals stage in Seoul, South Korea, and featured character avatars in Augmented Reality. This collaboration is an example of cultural hybridisation through the k-pop genre, mixing together elements of Western and Asian pop culture to create a media text with globalised appeal.

 

References

Alexander, Julia. (2018). The League of Legends world championship opened with an AR K-pop concert. The Verge. 

Daly, Rhian. (2019). All of BTS’ collaborations with western artists, ranked. NME.

Lee, Lee. (2018). Top 10 most viewed K-pop idol solo fancams. SBS PopAsia.

Oh, Ingyu. (2013). The Globalization of K-pop: Korea’s Place in the Global Music Industry. Korea Observer, 44, 389-409.

Romano, Aja. (2019). BTS, the band that changed K-pop, explained. Vox.

Woongjae, Ryoo. (2009). Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: the case of the Korean wave. Asian Journal of Communication, 19(2), 137-151.

‘once upon a time in hollywood’

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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Movie Poster. Source

I recently caught the new Tarantino film at my local cinema with some friends. Being fans of the director’s previous works, we went into the film expecting the usual satirical, colourful, and violent spectacle, laced with pop-culture references. I think it’s safe to say we got everything that was expected, and more. I mostly enjoyed the movie experience; I would describe Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a periscope fixed upon the golden era of Hollywood, with Tarantino’s signature alternate-history spin on real life events providing us the ‘fairy tale’ promised in the film’s title. I was particularly impressed by the attention to detail in re-creating the scenery and culture of LA during the 1960’s. Although the film has been criticised for its pacing and lengthy periods without narrative progression, I personally enjoy films that take time to familiarise the audience with each character and spend a little extra time on context than the story itself. My only issue with this film (which isn’t so much with the film itself, but rather the way it is watched by some individuals) was when the final sequence of events played out in the cinema. Though Tarantino is known for his gratuitous, violent scenes that are supposed to be thrilling and exciting, hearing people around me in the cinema cheer and laugh in delight at a young girl having her head bashed against the wall did not sit right with me. During this scene I cringed, I flinched, and admittedly I felt relieved for the protagonist. After all, in real life this young girl and her companions killed innocent people, and here in the film they are invading his home armed with weapons. Although I may have shared the feeling of ‘pay-off’ with those who relished in the violence, I don’t think I actually enjoyed the scene in the same way they had. While I think Tarantino’s style of ‘comical violence’ that is framed as exciting and enjoyable has been fantastic in some of his previous films, something this sequence left me disappointed by the gleeful audience reactions. Despite all this, I’d rate Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; ★★★★✰

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was co-produced between the US and UK, and distributed by Sony Pictures. The film’s domestic market (US and Canada) accounts for just over half its gross value, with the rest being the foreign market. Reports from the ‘Communication Research’ journal show that global media consumption is on a trajectory toward homogenisation. This includes audience preferences for film and cinema, with media interests moving toward uniformity. Recent trends in the Hollywood film industry are reflective of this notion, with the international box office usually making up the higher portion of a successful blockbuster film’s market share. The exceptions to this trend can sometimes be explained by linguistic or cultural barriers that prevent it from appealing to international audiences. In chapter 6 of the book ‘The Impact of International Television’, Joseph Strauhbaar outlines these tendencies toward making choices about media based on cultural knowledge using the term ‘cultural proximity’. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may be a Hollywood blockbuster, ironically about Hollywood itself of all things, but it requires a lot of cultural knowledge and proximity to be fully appreciated and understood. Being based around real historical events in LA around 1968-69, the references to American culture and the events of the Manson family murders can easily fly over the head of an international audience. Even some of my friends left the cinema confused, because they had not read up on the context of the film. This could explain why it has performed better within the domestic market.

 

References

Fu, W. Wayne & Govindaraju, Achikannoo. (2010). Explaining Global Box-Office Tastes in Hollywood Films: Homogenization of National Audiences’ Movie Selections. Communication Research, 37(2), 215–238.

Goldsberry, Kirk. (2014). All the World’s a Stage: How International Box Office Is Changing the American Blockbuster Economy. Grantland.

Serena, Katie. (2017). They Committed The Most Infamous Murders Of The 1960s — So Where Are The Manson Family Members Now?. ATI.

Straubhaar, Joseph, D. (2014). Choosing National TV: Cultural Capital, Language and Cultural Proximity in Brazil. The Impact of International Television: A Paradigm Shift. Edited by Michael G. Elasmar. Oxford: Routledge. pp. 77-110.

York, Keva. (2019). Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is less a Manson family story than a mid-life crisis film. ABC.

critical self-reflection of comments

Pitch #1; ‘Crunchy Bytes’ by Tim

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Tim is going to be making a video essay series discussing the impact of hardware limitations on game development over the years. In his pitch, he presents the source engine of ‘Half Life 2‘ as an example of ambitious game development that pushed the boundaries of hardware at the time.

In my comment, I recommended Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’ as a potential source of information for the video essays. I commended his editing skills and the overall presentation of his video, and suggested using subtitle tracks for following videos to help with audio/mic issues. I gave him feedback for improving his blog post’s formatting and tone, but overall his pitch was in-depth and covered all criteria. Tim put lots of effort into planning his research and analytical framework in particular.

Tim’s Blog

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Pitch #2; ‘Movie Tie-Ins’ by Chris

maxresdefault.jpgChris is writing a series of blogs reviewing old video game titles that are based on movies. Some examples of these games Chris provides are ‘GoldenEye 007‘ and ‘Spider-Man 2‘, noting that they also acted as promo-material for their respective movie releases.

In my comment, I provided some examples of modern video games based on movies, and recommended one book and one academic article relating to paratexts in digital media. I gave him feedback for improving his pitch and developing his idea, because Chris seemed a little unsure about some aspects of his DA plan. I also suggested that he frame his blog posts as a ‘critical analysis’ instead of a ‘review’, using the frameworks discussed in class in his writing.

Chris’ Blog

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Pitch #3; ‘Going AFK’ by Kiana

landscape_angry-gamer-1140x570.jpgKiana is putting together a podcast that discusses the issue of cyber-bullying and toxicity in online multiplayer games. She talks about the common harassment gamers experience when communicating online, and mentions sexist comments as a particularly alarming aspect of toxic behaviours.

In my comment I shared one web article and one academic source about toxicity in gaming and how it affects players, and also how game companies are combating the issue. I complimented Kiana’s presentation and her ability to cover all the criteria points concisely in her video. I had one small criticism of her blog’s formatting, recommending that she spread out her statistics across her post rather than having them all in one paragraph. I think that this DA pitch had a great focus on social utility and was well-planned.

Kiana’s Blog

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Critical Self-Reflection

After reflecting on my feedback and seeing my peers’ comments, I feel as though I may have been overly-analytical and wordy in my responses to the DA pitches. I think that in some of my comments, I have focused too much on the assignment criteria and how successfully they achieved their video and blog post. I should have offered more in terms of engaging with and suggesting ideas for their DA’s. Hopefully in the next round of posts with the project beta, I will be able to give my peers some extra input into the direction of their DA. I also will try to be more concise, as my lengthy feedback may be too overwhelming.

 

digital posters

When I was a tiny child, before I’d even started going to school, I’d watch and re-watch the first Harry Potter movie every afternoon until the VCR tape inevitably began spilling out of its plastic shell. Somehow, out of all the whimsical spells and wondrous charms in the movie, I found the printed pictures in the wizarding world most fascinating; newspapers, photos, and posters that move and change dynamically. Although we still haven’t quite cracked the code for printing out GIF’s straight to paper, the muggle world isn’t far from replicating this magic with modern technologies. An increasing access to digital screens have allowed for the creation of dynamic, digital ‘posters’ spread across the surfaces of public areas.

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The Daily Prophet newspaper from the Harry Potter universe, with printed images that move. Source

I spent a week taking notice of public screens and digital signage around my University, and I was surprised by how many I had not noticed before. Digital displays have such a strong presence in everyday life that the signs around campus are almost camouflaged. These signs were almost exclusively used for advertising and promoting different aspects of Uni life; events, student resources, and on-campus activities. Some also had features like weather forecasts and a news feed, though most did not. In my own experience, I don’t consciously find myself looking at these signs unless they have something that hooks me by my peripheral vision. Again, they blend into the background. When observing those around me I found this level of interaction was common. Though public screens and signage should be great at grabbing attention, they are competing with the constant presence of private screens; smartphones.

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Public screens on campus at UOW

Public screens can also be seen on a much larger scale in urban cities across the world. Times Square in New York City is known worldwide for its bright, digitised billboards, which loom overhead of up to 460,000 pedestrians per day. By contrast, some urban cities use public screens for a different purpose to advertising. When going on a trip to Melbourne, I’ll often try to catch a couple games of tennis on the big screen in Federation Square. Urban areas with large public screens like this one become hubs of public intimacy, gathering masses of onlookers to share a viewing experience. Mirjam Struppek discusses the potential uses of public screens in urban planning in their 2006 journal article, with a focus on interactivity and alternative content to advertising. Struppek argues that to create a sustainable network of digital screens within the public sphere, the uses for digital display technologies need to be broadened. They suggest accommodating cultural institutions, or TV broadcasters, and creating more desirable, publicly-intimate spaces around screens in urban settings. By usefully integrating these screens within the space, our cities can become interactive, networked, and sustainable alongside the increased presence of public screens and digital signage.

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Times Square, New York City. Source

References

Struppek, Mirjam. (2006). Urban screens–the urbane potential of public screens for interaction. Intelligent agent 6(2), pp. 1-5

Remnick, Noah. (2015). New York Today: Transforming Times Square. New York Times.

the “let’s play” shuffle

 

There are numerous remakes of classic video games in existence across all genres and eras of gaming. Some are praised for bringing old classics back in peak form, while others suffer criticism due to questionable design choices or other disappointing decisions that leave fans upset by poor performance and a disregard for the original game’s legacy. It begs the question; what criteria do gamers consider when assessing the value of a remake? What makes a remake successful?

It’s also important to understand the intertextual value that remakes have for fans of a series. It’s no coincidence that the titles being updated, their legacy carried forward through the rapid progression of gaming tech capabilities, are usually very popular or considered a ‘classic’ by fans. Some examples of highly anticipated upcoming remakes would be the ultra-hyped Final Fantasy VII for PS4, or Nintendo’s recently announced remake of the Zelda series title Link’s Awakening for the Switch. These remakes allow fans to re-experience a beloved game from childhood in a new form, or can bring newcomers and younger players into the fold by migrating the experience onto modern platforms.

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Source

I’m excited to be playing one of my favourite games of all time, Final Fantasy IV, and streaming the experience to my twitch channel. I believe that it will be enjoyable for both myself and my audience to play through a classic game in a fun, unique way by swapping between different remake versions throughout the “Let’s Play” series. I hope to be successfully comparing, analysing, and evaluating each iteration in community discussion, creating a case study for the intertextual value of video game remakes.

 

References

Doucet, L. (2015). Doing an HD Remake the Right Way : FFVI Edition. Fortress of Doors.

Leadbetter, R. (2012). What Went Wrong with Silent Hill HD?. Eurogamer.

Schreier, J. (2019). Final Fantasy VII Remake Feels Great To Play, But The Project Might Not Be Finished For A While. Kotaku.

Souppouris, A. (2019). The Link’s Awakening remake feels exactly like it should. Engadget.

“because it has tits and dragons”

You probably are already familiar with the popularity of US TV series Game of Thrones, but in case you did not know, the renowned fantasy epic was incredibly successful on a global scale. In fact, the show was broadcast in 207 different countries or territories, 194 of which being simulcast. It’s also stands as the most-licensed HBO program to date, with over 100 licensees worldwide. Love or hate the show, it was undeniably pandemic television; a phenomenon that broke through the limitation of cultural proximity and ignited TV screens all across the globe. Game of Thrones was the show on everyone’s lips, even during its controversial final season (though perhaps for different reasons than before). But how did the series manage to attain and maintain its mass appeal?

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Drogon and Daenerys, Game of Thrones. Source

Well, there are your typical shallow responses to this question; “Sex! Violence! And Dragons!”, what more could you ask for? Though over time as Game of Thrones has gained popularity, it has also aggregated a loyal, engaged fan-base. Look no further than the lengthy discussions and in-depth analysis on fan forums like Reddit to see that its appeal can be more than simply “tits and dragons”. The subject of Game of Thrones’ popularity is often approached from a political or philosophical standpoint, pointing to dissatisfaction and unrest in contemporary society that qualifies the want for escapism in our entertainment media. Then of course, the show is frequently described as “Quality TV”; the writing, actors, and production level are ‘good’, and people like ‘good TV’. Not to mention that Game of Thrones was adapted from an already-popular book series by George R. R. Martin with many accolades of its own. In an essay about Game of Thrones and the ‘Quality TV’ meta-genre, Dan Hassler-Forest describes the show as a remediation of ‘cine-literary culture’, mixing cinema-like production aesthetics with narrative structures of 19th century literature novels.

Both of these reasons are indicative of Game of Thrones’ amassed cultural capital. When looking at the success of the series through the lens of media theory, the reason for its mass appeal can be explained in terms of cultural capital and proximity. Joseph Straubhaar defines cultural capital as “the sources of knowledge that permit people to make choices among media” in chapter 6 of the book ‘The Impact of International Television’. Being able to relate to the gritty depictions of human nature and politics from Game of Thrones is an experience that transcends linguistic and cultural differences, while the institutional framework of ‘Quality TV’ on American cable services appeals to a large portion of the global mainstream. Plus, the ‘fantasy’ genre lends itself to cultural ambiguity, meaning the audience does not require in-depth knowledge about any particular countries and their cultural practices to enjoy the story. Game of Thrones became popular on a global scale because it does not require cultural proximity to be engaged with and understood, among other reasons. Being a worldwide phenomenon, the show has countless avenues of cultural capital.

 

References

Flood, Alison. (2016). Game of Thrones: an epic publishing story. The Guardian.

Hassler-Forest, Dan. (2014). Game of Thrones : Quality Television and the Cultural Logic of Gentrification. TV / Series, 6.

HBO. (2019). GAME OF THRONES Facts and Figures. Medium.

Investopedia. The Success of Game of Thrones in 5 charts.

Tucker, Ken. (2014). Why is Game of Thrones so popular?. BBC

Siciliano, Leon & Shardlow, Ju. (2019). 9 reasons ‘Game of Thrones’ season 8 was a huge disappointment. Business Insider.

Straubhaar, Joseph, D. (2014). Choosing National TV: Cultural Capital, Language and Cultural Proximity in Brazil. The Impact of International Television: A Paradigm Shift. Edited by Michael G. Elasmar. Oxford: Routledge. pp. 77-110.