critical self-reflection of comments (part 1)

‘COVID-19: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE FOR SMALL BUSINESSES?’

Grace’s digital artefact topic is the future of small businesses during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically how online presence will become an essential part of engaging with customers. Grace will be examining this idea through her own social media business that began this year. Her website offers a range of social media packages from general advisory to content creation and page management. She plans to offer her services free of charge or at a reduced rate to small business struggling to transition to an online business model during the outbreak. Grace’s methods when promoting these businesses will consider the government guidelines set in place regarding COVID-19.

In my comment, I commended Grace’s thorough planning and digital artefact utility. I was interested to hear more about her methodology, and what her new website packages would entail. I suggested that Grace use primary research methods by creating a survey for small business owners, with a goal of understanding what these businesses need most during this time. I also linked a news media article for her background research.

[Grace’s Blog]

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‘LIFE AFTER COVID-19’

Steff’s digital artefact addresses a similar topic to Grace’s in observing the effects of COVID-19 on the future, however her focus is more broad in looking at the impact of this pandemic on lifestyle and society. Steff will be exploring this concept in a series of fortnightly blog posts featuring a unique topic (business, education, food, music, law etc.). The posts will contain multimedia elements like images, videos, and interviews. Steff hopes to bring awareness to the importance future-thinking in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and plans to get feedback from post engagement and by sharing her digital artefact on Reddit.

In my comment I praised Steff for her planning and research, which was the most developed and outstanding I’d seen for this round of peer commentary. My suggestion was that Steff interview a variety of local people involved in the area of discussion by reaching out on Twitter for interviewees, as her pitch stated she would be interviewing her roommate. I thought that finding people with relevant knowledge to the fortnightly topic would enhance her posts significantly. I also suggested she narrow down the scope of her ideas if she wished to reduce her own workload when it came to research. I shared a news media article that may be useful to Steff.

[Steff’s Blog]

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‘THE FUTURE OF TIKTOK’

Tahlia was considering two different ideas for her digital artefact, and eventually decided on the more developed of her two concepts. Tahlia plans to explore the future of content creation, specifically the emerging social media platform TikTok. She wants to look into the mechanics of the platform itself, which allows short, fast and frequent creation, and how this content model continuously engages TikTok users. Tahlia also plans to examine the ‘influencer house’ phenomenon on TikTok with creators like ‘The Hype House’ dominating the platform.

In my feedback I suggested that Tahlia should start planning her methodology and utility for her project, as neither were discussed in depth throughout her pitch. I feel this may have been because Tahlia was unsure about which topic she wanted to choose. I thought her topic would suit a series of explainer blog posts/videos, or a visual essay. I shared an academic research report about TikTok.

[Tahlia’s Blog]

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Critical Reflection

With this round of comments I think I did well at engaging with each person’s digital artefact and making suggestions that could enhance their projects. However, I feel that I failed to engage with the research sources I shared in each comment. I neglected to summarise what the articles and reports linked in my comments were about and how they could be beneficial to the digital artefacts. I also did not draw upon any lecture materials and should strive to use concepts and ideas from the BCM325 subject when commenting on the Beta blogposts in the future. I need to find proactive ways to relate future theory to my peers’ projects when giving feedback.

cyberculture [digital artefact pitch]

“High tech.  Low life.”

Background Research

I’ll be researching the history and iconography of the cyberpunk genre so that I can successfully incorporate cyberpunk references and ideas into my original content. This can be achieved by familiarising myself with and analyzing popular cyberpunk literature, films, news media, academic articles, and lecture materials.

Literature; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick, 1968), The Shockwave Rider (John Brunner, 1975), Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1984)

Films; Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995) Alita: Battle Angel (Robert Rodriguez, 2019)

News Media; Bringing Cyberpunk 2077 To Life (GameSpot, 2019), Neon and corporate dystopias: why does cyberpunk refuse to move on? (The Guardian, 2018), What Is Cyberpunk? (Neon Dystopia)

Academic Articles/Books; 

Csicsery-Ronay, I., 1988. Cyberpunk and neuromanticism. Mississippi Review16(2/3), pp.266-278.

Featherstone, M. and Burrows, R. eds., 1996. Cyberspace/cyberbodies/cyberpunk: Cultures of technological embodiment. Sage.

Hollinger, V., 1990. Cybernetic deconstructions: Cyberpunk and postmodernism. Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature23(2), pp.29-44.

 

Production Timeline

Mid-Sem Break; background research and collate assets (music, images) for edits, develop ideas for content

Week 4; Apply pitch feedback to DA concept/method/utility, start creating content

Week 5; Create accounts for sharing original content, post content

Week 6; Continue creating and posting regular content

Week 7; Assess first round of engagement and feedback, iterate upon content

Week 8; Continue creating and posting regular content, submit DA beta

Week 9; Apply beta feedback to DA concept/method/utility, keep creating content

Weeks 10-12; Continue creating and posting content, work on DA contextual essay

Week 13; Submit DA contextual essay

 

Expanding on Methodology and Feedback Loop

I will be making these edits by collecting images and assets online through boards like Pinterest or Google Images and then using photo editing software edit them into collages. After that, I will use PHOTOMOSH to add dynamic effects to my edited images, and edit the produced gifs into short clips with background music using video editing software.

I will be sharing my cyberpunk edits online using various platforms; Instagram will be the primary source of feedback through user engagement (likes, views, comments, follows, etc.) for this project. By assessing and comparing posts that are successfully engaged with to those that are not, I can deduce what type of content is most favourable to my target audience. I also plan to look into tumblr and tiktok as sharing platforms, though I don’t have any experience using these and therefore am not certain about how suited they are to this type of content. I hope to get feedback from my peers about these two potential points of engagement. I also will attempt to share my edits on reddit as original content (without linking to any accounts, ie; Instagram) to hopefully receive verbal feedback on the quality of the content I produce.

Game Media Digital Artefact; Let’s Play FFIV Remakes

I’ve been working on a “Let’s Play” series of Final Fantasy IV (1991). This game has a special place in my heart; it was one of the first games to make me realise while growing up that video games are media texts capable of telling complex, compelling narratives just like film, television, and other forms of digital media. However, I believe that if it weren’t for my encounter with the Nintendo DS remake (2007) of this classic SNES game, I probably would have never played a single Final Fantasy game in all my life. For this reason, I wanted to make a digital artefact that analyses the intertextual value of remaking classic video games on newer platforms with increased software and hardware capabilities. The “Let’s Play” format allows me to share my own meaningful FFIV experience with an online audience that features comment, praise and critique on each of my selected remakes. Hopefully I am creating a valuable media paratext with social utility for fans of the Final Fantasy series, and also for newcomers who wish to learn about the Final Fantasy games and their stories.

Active audience members, fans in particular, challenge media researchers to look not only at their consumption of the primary object of interest but also at how fans interact with other fans, how they make sense of their interests, how their interest is sustained through intertextual means, and how they go beyond mere consumption to active production of media of their own that comment on, praise, and critique the media products that so interest them.

Consalvo, M. (2003). Zelda 64 and Video Game Fans: A Walkthrough of Games, Intertextuality, and Narrative. Television & New Media, 4(3), 321–334. 

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Research

After settling on my concept, I began to research my topic by gathering any useful sources of information that would help in forming an analytical framework and guide my digital creation process. I started by reading popular news articles from game media websites ([1], [2], [3]) about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ video game remakes. These lists mostly outlined reasons for and against remakes in terms of each game’s formal elements; graphics, sound, gameplay features, controls, characters, narrative etc. Although this structuralist approach is essential to the appraisal of a remake, there is also a post-structuralist layer beneath the surface that is important in understanding why changes to the game’s formal elements are considered either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

I decided to gather some primary data by polling fans of the Final Fantasy series on Reddit (r/finalfantasy), in two threads that can be found here and here. There were many different responses reflecting individual player experiences.

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I also looked at an interview with the original lead designer of Final Fantasy IV, Takashi Tokita, which discusses the PSP remake release. It provided rich insight into the development of this version and how it aimed to capture the integrity of the original while still enhancing the experience, something that I found through my primary research is important to many fans when assessing a remake.

Finally, David Heineman’s (2014) analysis of public memory, retrogaming, and nostalgia was useful in understanding why players enjoy and anticipate remakes. It allows them to revisit an aspect of shared public memory with a fresh coat of paint and quality of life improvements designed to enhance an experience that already is avidly replayed in retrogaming communities. This essay also briefly touches on emulation, a method of replaying old video games on PC that transforms the experience with new features (save states, romhacking, fast-forward). Because of these convenient features and ease of recording footage through console emulation, I chose to use this method when creating my “Let’s Play”.

What is interesting about nostalgia in video gaming is that re-released games do, in a sense, afford players the possibility to return to an exact same “home,” a virtual environment that was present when they originally played a particular game.

Purchasing a used Nintendo Entertainment System and playing the original Final Fantasy game more than twenty years after it was initially released results in a much different kind of nostalgic experience (one that requires one’s physical and mental attention) than can be provided by more passive nostalgic media experiences, such as viewing a film or playing records.

Retrogaming communities facilitate shared reminiscences about those “homes” to which participants continually return.

Heineman, David. (2014). Public Memory and Gamer Identity: Retrogaming as Nostalgia. Journal of Games Criticism, 1(1), 1–24.

 

Analytical Framework

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The design of my analytical framework was guided by Clara Fernández-Vara’s Introduction to Game Analysis and my research.

Firstly, my goal is to unpack the intertextual value of remakes for two different types of players; those who have played the original game, and those who have not. It is clear that my approach to appraising a remake should change under this condition, as it represents a shift in context surrounding the player’s experience. For example, with Final Fantasy IV, a fan will play the remake and assess it in relation to their personal experience with the original game. However, a newcomer will go through the meaning-making process differently. The value of a Final Fantasy IV remake to newcomers could be found in the ease of accessibility when released on newer platforms, or in any other changes and updates that help lower the entry barrier.

After considering the context surrounding player experiences and the socio-cultural environment in which the remake was released, I analyse the player experience itself. This is a post-structuralist look into how the remakes are received by players. My “Let’s Play” will act as a shared and documented player experience that pays careful attention to each remake in relation to each other and the original game. While doing so, I will be mindful of acknowledging player experiences and opinions that are different to my own, based on my primary research from Reddit and other fan forums.

Which brings me to the final point of my triangulation, the changes made in each remake’s formal elements. These will be observed through comparison, and then discussed in relation to the context and player experience. In Final Fantasy IV, the most relevant of these formal elements are the graphics (backgrounds and character sprites/portraits), music, difficulty, battle system, localisation (script), and various smaller gameplay features.

 

Methodology and Progress

I had originally intended to upload this “Let’s Play” series to the Twitch streaming platform, though later changed to YouTube instead. I outlined my reasons for this change in my project beta; the game did not suit the live stream format due to long periods of repeated grinding and dungeon crawling that halted progression through the game’s narrative, and it was also alienating my existing aggregated Twitch audience (I usually live stream competitive digital card games and tournaments). This was apparent through a lack of initial engagement with my digital artefact.

Now, by cutting and editing my “Let’s Play” footage I am able to create an abridged and cinematic experience for my viewers. The first episode of my series, uploaded to YouTube and then shared both on Twitter and Reddit, received significantly more engagement than my live streams. I even got a few subscribers on my brand new channel. The only issue I’ve run into so far is low audience retention, which is likely due to having about 2-3 minutes of just analysis and discussion about the remake at the beginning of the video. I plan to change this in future by moving that content to the video description, and instead jumping straight into gameplay. I’d also like to improve my video thumbnails, using other popular “Let’s Play” channels as a reference point.

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Audience Retention

I am emulating three different versions of FFIV on my PC and recording my footage with Open Broadcaster Software. This footage is then edited in Sony Vegas and uploaded to my YouTube channel. Each episode is about 25 minutes long. Between each episode, I seamlessly switch to a different FFIV remake, picking up from exactly where I left in the previous episode. In order to achieve this, I have to play through each version up to my desired game state and then create a save file at this point. Although it sounds tricky, I have made a written plan of the exact points in the narrative I want to stop and start at so that I can prepare save files ahead of time. This method also benefits greatly from the console emulators’ save-state and fast-forward features.

 

Conclusion and Reflection

After receiving feedback for my beta, I aimed to integrate more course concepts into my media analysis. The Heineman reading about nostalgia and retrogaming was very relevant and useful to my topic. When discussing how some gamers prefer 2D sprites to 3D character models from some remakes, or changes to the game’s musical score due to hardware limitations, I was able to apply concepts relating to shared public memory and the re-visiting of familiar virtual spaces and how they facilitate a nostalgic, retrogaming community. I have also been using passive audience engagement as a feedback loop, with an increase in views, likes and subscribers indicating a successful iteration cycle for my project. Overall, I am very happy with the trajectory of my digital artefact, and I feel like I’ve laid the foundations of a project I’d like to continue outside of this subject. My digital literacy in video-editing has definitely improved, as previously I’ve only ever done live streams with very minimal time spent video-editing my own projects. As for how I’d approach this idea differently next time, I found it difficult to increase the depth of my analysis throughout my “Let’s Play” commentary, as I was focused on gameplay and using a casual tone. I think this project would benefit from a supplementary blog post or video essay that clearly outlined my main arguments about the value of each remake.