C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

Hello and welcome to another edition of the C3 Weekly Update! Our semester has officially launched here at MIT, with Monday serving as our registration day. I'm preparing my course using soap operas as a case study for the historical research on and contemporary state of American television and fan communities, and I'll be sharing insights on that course here in the newsletter and on the Consortium's blog throughout the semester. In addition, we're moving forward with YouTube analysis.

We will be presenting some preliminary thoughts on the C3 blog in the coming weeks, and we'll provide more formal insight through the newsletter and through some more formal work that will appear on the site this semester. The Consortium is also moving forward with its research on spreadable media and how it intersects with understanding of viral media and the concept of memes.

Upcoming Events

The Program in Comparative Media Studies has released its Spring 2008 CMS Colloquia and MIT Communications Forum calendar, and there are a variety of events that would be of particular interest to Consortium partner companies, consulting researchers, and alum. Please contact us if you have any questions on these events. All are held here on MIT's campus. Time and dates are in the calendar on the right, and descriptions of the events are below:

Viral Media: Hows and Whys: Non-traditional and viral marketing campaigns raise questions about the content status of advertising and the authenticity of commercial art. This panel discussion will consider the challenges of engaging audiences in non-conventional ways, looking at the status of viral media and the nature of non-traditional marketing campaigns. Berkman Center Fellow and C3 Consulting Researcher Shenja van der Graaf will moderate the converation with Natalie Lent from Fanscape and Mike Rubenstein of The Barbarian Group (who was one of the featured speakers in the advertising panel at Futures of Entertainment 2.

CMS Research Fair 2008: The Program in Comparative Media Studies will hold its annual Research Fair, a chance to highlight our latest research and bring attention to new research staff and initiatives. In addition to displays in the Stata lobby, this year's event will include a panel discussion with current research staff, led by Henry Jenkins and William Uricchio. This discussion will consider the theoretical contributions of CMS research and the role each initiative plays in the CMS research culture. The panel discussion will begin at 6 PM. Refreshments will be served.

MIT Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition: The prime-time series has been a central narrative form in America for the last half-century, as the Hollywood movie had been in a previous era. Are the radical transformations of television in recent years challenging this domination? How has series TV changed over the past 20 years? What does the prolonged writers' strike signify for the future of TV fiction and the medium as a whole? Leading writer-producers Howard Gordon (24, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files), Barbara Hall (Women's Murder Club, Judging Amy, Joan of Arcadia) and John Romano (Third Watch, Party of Five, Hill Street Blues) will address these and related questions in a candid conversation illustrated by clips from significant series.

MIT Communications Forum: Global Television: A salient feature of contemporary TV has been the appearance of programs that appeal more widely across national boundaries than many earlier television shows. Examples include a range of reality shows such as Big Brother or Survivor as well as fiction series such as Ugly Betty, which undergo relatively small facelifts before being introduced to new audiences. And many American programs – e.g., Lost, Desperate Housewives – travel abroad with no alterations, as country-specific promotion and distribution strategies adjust them to their new national contexts. In this forum, distinguished media scholars Eggo Müller, Roberta Pearson and William Uricchio will discuss the origins and significance of the international distribution of television formats and programs.

MIT Communications Forum: Our World Digitized: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Much discussion of our impending digital future is insular and without nuance. Skeptics talk mainly among themselves, while utopians and optimists also keep company mainly within their own tribal cultures. This forum challenges this unhelpful division, staging a conversation between Yochai Benkler and Cass Sunstein, two of our country's most thoughtful and influential writers on the promise and the perils of the Internet Age.

MIT Communications Forum: Youth and Civic Engagement: The current generation of young citizens is growing up in an age of unprecedented access to information. Will this change their understanding of democracy? What factors will shape their involvement in the political process?

We have included a variety of other conference events in our sidebar schedule, which will be a regular future in the Weekly Update from here on out. All events in that calendar, unless otherwise specified, take place here at MIT.

This Week's Weekly Update

This week's C3 Weekly Update features the third part in Henry Jenkins' six-part series here in the blog, presenting his latest essay which will appear in the paperback version of Convergence Culture, as well as a book edited by Jonathan Gray. This week's piece looks at how parody has had greater prominence in official campaign advertisements in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, in his ongoing series about how participatory culture and online videos are reshaping politics and citizenship. This week's Closing Note concludes the three-part series from C3 Consulting Researcher Doris C. Rusch, who is a member of the GAMBIT staff here at MIT. Doris has been looking at metaphors and digital games.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at


In This Issue

Editor's Note

Opening Note: Henry Jenkins on the CNN/YouTube Debates, Part III

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Closing Note: Doris C. Rusch on Metaphors and Digital Games, Part III


Thursday, Feb. 21, 5-7 p.m.
Viral Media: Hows and Whys
Featuring Mike Rubenstein. Natalie Lent, and Shenja van der Graaf: Bldg. 2, Rm. 105
Co-sponsored by the Convergence Culture Consortium

Thursday, Feb. 28, 5-7 p.m.
CMS Research Fair 2008
Featuring CMS Research Groups, including the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium: TSMC Lobby and Bldg. 32, Rm. 155, Stata Center

Thursday, March 06-Sunday, March 09
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, Philadelphia
Featuring the following presentations:
Understanding Vast Narratives and Immersive Story Worlds by C3 Project Manager Sam Ford
Bond in Bondage: Ratings Creep, Violence, and Casino Royale by C3 Consulting Researcher Kevin Sandler
The Public Sphere in a "Hybrid Media Ecology": YouTube, Network Television, and Presidential Politics by C3 Director Henry Jenkins
Architectures of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of LostPedia by C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell
The People Formerly Known As: What Happens to the Audience When We're All "Users"? by C3 Research Manager Joshua Green
Framing Motion: Early Cinema's Conservative Method's of Display by C3 Consulting Researcher Ted Hovet
Scholarly Writing in the Digital Age workshop featuring C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell
The Future of Television Studies workshop chaired by C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio
Location Matters: Spatial Logics of Bollywood-Dotcom Convergence by C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar

Thursday, March 06, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition
Featuring Howard Gordon, Barbara Hall, and John Romano: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab

Saturday, March 08, 2-3 p.m.
South by Southwest Interactive Opening Remarks
Featuring C3 Director Henry Jenkins and Steven Johnson, Austin, TX

Thursday, March 13, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Global Television
Featuring Eggo Müller, Roberta Pearson, and William Uricchio: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab

Friday, March 21, 10-11:30 a.m.
Valuing Fans Outside the Target Demographic: Soap Opera Fans and Proselytizing
C3 Project Manager Sam Ford's presentation as part of the soap opera area of the National Popular Culture Association Conference, San Francisco

Thursday, April 10, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Our World Digitized: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
Featuring Yochai Benkler and Cass Sunstein: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab
Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Thursday, April 24, 5-7 p.m.
MIT Communications Forum: Youth and Civic Engagement
Featuring Lance Bennett, Ian V. Rowe: Bartos Theater, Wiesner Building, MIT Media Lab
Co-sponsored by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Thursday, April 24, to Saturday, April 26
Console-ing Passions 2008 Conference
C3 Project Manager Sam Ford will be participating in a panel. Details forthcoming.

Thursday, May 22, to Monday, May 26
Communicating for Social Impact, Conference of the Interntional Communication Association
C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will make two presentations at this Montreal event. Details forthcoming.

Opening Note

Why Mitt Romney Won't Debate a Snowman, Part III: Parody in High Places

Henry Jenkins continues with this series in the Opening Note this week, providing an advance version of his latest essay, which will be featured as an additional chapter for the paperack edition of Convergence Culture and as part of a forthcoming book from Jonathan Gray, who was one of the speakers at the Futures of Entertainment 2 conference. The previous two pieces in this series on how politics and citizenship intersect with new technologies which enable participatory culture, ran in the previous two weeks' Opening Note.

In his essay "The Spectacularization of Everyday Life" in Lynn Spiegel and Denise Mann's Private Screenings: Television and the Female Consumer (1992), Dennis Mann discusses the ways that early television deployed parody to signal its uncomfortable relationship to Hollywood glamour, positioning its technology -- and its own stars -- as closer to the public than their cinema counterparts. Early television often spoofed the gap between Hollywood and reality, making fun of its over-dramatic style and cliché situations, depicting television characters (such as "Lucy" in I Love Lucy) as fans who want but are denied access to film stars. In the process, these programs helped to negotiate television's emerging social status, stressing the authenticity and everydayness of its own modes of representing the world. Something similar has occurred as digital media has negotiated its own position within user's experiences. Amateur media makers often signal their averageness through parody, openly acknowledging the gap between their limited economic resources or technical means compared to more polished commercial entertainment. (See more from my essay, "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture," in the 2003 anthology Rethinking Media Change, which I co-edited with David Thorburn). Through parody, they hope to invite people to laugh with them, not at them.

Hollywood stars often embraced self-parody when they appeared in early television, showing that they were also in on the joke and were able to make the adjustments needed to enter our homes on television's terms. Something similar occurs when presidential candidates embrace self-parody as a campaign tactic. In one famous example, the former president and first lady re-enacted the final moments of The Sopranos. Here, "Hillary" and "Bill" seek to become more like average Americans, tapping a YouTube trend in the aftermath of the HBO series' wrap-up. Through this video's jokes about Hillary's attempts to control her husband's diet and Chelsea's difficulty with parallel parking, the Clintons hoped to shed some of the larger-than-life aura they gained during their years in the White House and to re-enter the lifeworld of the voters. A candidate, who was otherwise closely associated with a culture war campaign against media violence, sought to signal her own fannishness; a candidate often seen as uptight sought to show that she could take a joke. And the video itself was designed to call attention to the Clinton Campaign's effort to get the public to pick a theme song for her campaign.

Or take the case of a Mike Huckabee campaign commercial, originally broadcast but also widely circulated via Youtube. The spot's opening promise of a major policy announcement sets up its punchline: action film star Chuck Norris is unveiled as the Arkansas governor's policy for securing the American-Mexico border. The video does offer some serious policy statements, including a discussion of Huckabee's stands on gun rights and the IRS, but they are rendered over a western movie soundtrack and coupled with more playful statements: "When Chuck Norris does a push-up, he's not lifting himself up, his pushing the earth down...Chuck Norris doesn't endorse. He tells America how it's going to be." The video thus seeks to establish Huckabee's credentials as a man's man, even as it makes fun of his need to do so. The video both exploits – and spoofs – the role of celebrity endorsements in American politics.

CNN had asked the Democratic presidential candidates to submit their own "YouTube-style videos" for the broadcast debate. For the most part, they recycled existing advertising content without much regard for the rhetorical strategies by which YouTube contributors signaled their distance from the commercial mainstream. A notable exception was the video submitted by John Edwards campaign, a spot set to the song "Hair" which jokingly suggested that media coverage of the candidate's expensive haircuts displaced attention from more substantive issues. We might contrast this with Roger Rmjet's similarly themed "Feeling Pretty" video, which sets captured footage of Edwards's primping before doing a local news appearance to a highly feminized song from West Side Story. The first invites us to laugh with, the second at Edwards. Read side by side, they reflect a moment where both top-down and bottom-up forces are deploying internet parody for their own ends – though with very different rhetorical consequences.

Next week, in the Opening Note, Jenkins provides the fourth part of this six-part series.

Henry Jenkins is the chief faculty investigator for the Convergence Culture Consortium and is Director of the Comparative Media Studies program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities at MIT. His blog is available here.

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Fandom in the Age of Franchising (1 of 2). C3 Graduate Student Researcher Xiaochang Li provides the first of her two-part piece about a recent New York Times piece on Friday Night Lights, drawing a distinction between fan interest in and interaction surrounding media texts, on the one hand, and other aspects of "convergence culture."

Authenticity, Grant McCracken, and Donuts. Sam Ford writes a response to his piece on a local restaurant and authenticity last week, based on an e-mail from C3 Consulting Researcher Grant McCracken about where they might disagree on what authenticity means for a brand.

On Wikipedia and Ironic Statements: Another Apropos Analogy. Sam Ford recounts a conversation he once had with a media executive about a lack of official information and the value of tapping into "collective intelligence," as an anecdote about misconceptions about the importance of transparency.

Airline Restrictions: An Analogy for Lack of Transparency. Sam Ford writes about his own recent experiences with flying and the ambiguous explanations about travel restrictions for luggage on flights, as an analogy for a lack of transparency online.

YouTube: (De)Coding Culture Online (2 of 2). C3 Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird provides a couple of potential hypotheses about the YouTube content she encountered while coding videos for C3's larger projects, perhaps giving us some guiding points as we start a systematic analysis of the amassed data from the projects' various coders.


YouTube: (De)Coding Culture Online (1 of 2). C3 Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird, after finishing her YouTube coding for C3's larger research project on the video sharing site, provides some preliminary observations from her own individual coding.

Cheerios Ads Tailor-Made for Specific TV Shows. Sam Ford writes about the cereal's targeting ads for specific soap opera plot lines of late, as part of their "4 in 6" campaign.

DRM Is Dead! (Or Is It?) C3 Graduate Student Researcher Ana Domb writes about articles proclaiming the death of DRM, in relation to the rhetoric surrounding Qtrax.

Bernard Timberg and "Launch" and "Rebound" Texts. Sam Ford publishes a comment he recently wrote in response to Timberg's Flow piece on the concept of "launch" and "rebound" texts, in response to discussion around green campaigns after Al Gore's appearance at the Oscars.

Looking Back to 1996. Sam Ford links and responds to a piece about how much changed online between 1996 and 2006, with some visuals to look at the state of various corporate Web sites in the infancy of the Web.

Fanista: Generating Value Back to Users. Sam Ford writes about a new distribution model called Fanista, the Amway controversy surrounding the company, and driving value back to proselytizers.

Around CMS: Jesper Juul, Beth Coleman, and Market Truths. New CMS researcher Jesper Juul gives a talk about casual games, while CMS' Beth Coleman conducts an interview with the marketing group which has done "the first universally respected market analysis" in Second Life.

Follow the Blog

Don't forget – you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.

Closing Note

Shooting Is Shooting Is Shooting Is Shooting…? How Tackling Metaphors Can Help Us Expand the Meaning Potential of Digital Games, Part III

C3 Consulting Researcher Doris Rusch continues her look at metaphors and digital games in the concluding piece in this series. The previous two pieces appeared in the Closing Note of the past two weeks' Weekly Update.

To become a bit more specific about the concepts I've written about in this series over the past couple of weeks, I have so far identified three key concepts shared by "game" and "life":

1. direct causation

2. physical conflict

3. regulation of behavior

All three concepts are based on physicality. They directly emerge from experience and are major building blocks for our metaphorical structuring and understanding of the world. All of these concepts consist of a range of structural elements.

Ad 1) At the heart of every interaction with the (game)world lies the concept of direct causation. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson list twelve structural elements of direct causation in their book Metaphors We Live By (p. 70). The following elements I find most relevant to illustrate my point.

For direct causation to happen:

  • an agent has as a goal some change of state in the patient
  • the change of state is physical
  • the agent has a plan for carrying out the goal
  • the plan requires the agent's use of a motor program
  • the agent touches the patient either with his body or an instrument
  • the change in the patient is perceptible
  • the agent monitors the change in the patient through sensory perception

Examples for direct causation are endless. From scratching one's nose to sewing on a button to firing a gun. Thanks to the "action button," all of these acts of direct causation are principally possible in games. However, some might feel more immediate than others, depending on the physical mapping between real-life input and on-screen action.

What is important now, in regard to the question, how thinking about game design as metaphorical process can help us to systematically expand the thematic range of games is that, according to Lakoff and Johnson (p. 72), "given a concept of causation that emerges from our experience, we can apply that concept to metaphorical concepts."

I argue that this is true for all of the three key concepts I have just introduced. Once you understand how they work on the physical level, you can find analogies to more abstract ideas with which they share essential structural elements. The concept of direct causation could be applied to every kind of more abstract causation, e.g. changing a state in the patient through not primarily physical means.

Take a motivational speech, for example:

  • The agent's goal is not a physical change in the patient but an emotional and mental one.
  • The plan in carrying out the goal does require a motor programme, but this motor programme is just a vehicle for something more abstract. It is the mental challenge of giving a good speech that is in the foreground of this action, not the skillful wagging of the tounge or the moving of the lips themselves.
  • The agent does not touch the patient with his body or an instrument (thinking about a speech as "touching" is a metaphor!), but with thoughts and ideas.
  • The result is not a physical change in the patient, but a mental and emotional one.
  • They change in the patient might not be perceptible to the agent (admittedly a problem in the gaming context, since we all want feedback to our actions.)

Thinking about causation and its various structural elements in more abstract terms can lead to fresh game ideas and be a way of creating interesting insights into the human condition. That a man will bleed if hit on the head with a wrench is not an interesting insight. We know that that would happen. How various mental and emotional changes are brought about through actions, how they interrelate and change our behavior, that is not as readily understood.

A simple change of metaphor such as substituting the resource "health" through the resource "nerves" as has been done in the game Indigo Prophecies can already create some of these more interesting insights. Losing the game when you lose your nerves made me think differently about my personal daily stress management. I catch myself seeking activities that give me a +5 mood boost in potentially stressful situations. Buying shoes high scores a +50!

Ad 2) Conflict is another key principle of digital games as well as life. In games, it mostly takes the form of physical conflict. Physical conflict is the most readily understood form of conflict since it directly emerges from experience:

Fighting is found eveywhere in the animal kingdom and nowhere so much as among human animals. Animals fight to get what they want – food, sex, territory, control, etc. – because there are other animals who want the same thing or who want to stop them from getting it. The same is true for human animals, except that we have developed more sophisticated techniques for getting our way. (Lakoff / Johnson p.62)

Games are rarely built around these more sophisticated techniques. One reason might be that argument is one of the main substitutes for physical conflict and convincing communication with NPCs is still quite an AI challenge. A game that tries it nevertheless and finds some interesting metaphors on the way is the MMPORG Vanguard. Vanguard tackles the concept of diplomcy via a strategy card game, throwing any attempt at verisimilitude out the window, but thereby generating some interesting insights into how verbal conflict works. The diplomacy game is rather complex, and I will not explain it here in detail, but just point out some analogies to real-life conversation:

  • the value of the various cards the player gets depends on character class. This implies that certain personality types have particular persuasive strengths and weaknesses. Not everybody is a born flatterer. If flattery works depends on the flatterer. When playing a cat person, flattery is more potent then when playing another character class.
  • By exercising diplomacy you get better at it. Not even do you get really better at playing the game, but the quality of you conversation statements improves. This is analogous to improvement of vocabulary and finesse in real life.
  • Another similarity to real life conversation is that you have to vary the kinds of statements that you make. If you continously boast or flatter, you will lose all credibility. Thus, a particular statement card is tapped after it has been played out. This is comparable to recast timers in physical combat. It takes a while, until you have rebuilt enough energy to backstab your opponent again.
  • To win the diplomacy game, you have to get rid of all your conversation points, before your opponent does. You have to have made your point, before the other party had a chance to do so. That means you have convinced your opponent.

For an insightful account of how verbal conflict can be understood in terms of similarly structured physical conflict, such as war, see Lakoff and Johnson, pp. 61-65.

Ad 3) player behavior has to be regulated or else there would be no game. We understand all sorts of mental, moral, social or emotional restrictions through our experience of physical restrictions, e.g. "my hands are tied." For verisimilitude's sake, it must be plausible why the player can do certain things and cannot do others. Mostly, the "cans" and "cannots" are physically motivated. A physical boundary cannot be crossed, an object is too heavy to be picked up, the inventory is full etc.

We know that we are moving in a simulated world and that not every aspect of that world can possibly be implemented into the rule-system and thus we have a high tolerance for incoherences regarding the things the game allows or doesn't allow us to do. Still, resorting to certain intrinsically rule-based schemata that have regulation of behavior as one of their key principles helps in the construction of believability because it provides plausible metaphors for such restrictions and limitations. One such schema is "prison" and a game that employs it quite succesfully is Chronicles of Riddick - Escape from Butcher Bay. We do not expect to be able to move around freely in a prison. Weapons are not allowed. We accept the fact that our actions are surveyed and we thus accept that whenever we engage in unruly behavior, guards will show up that stop us. So, should we have managed to aquire any weapons, waving them around openly is not a good idea.

Again, analyzing and identifying the essential structural elements of concepts that physically regulate behavior is a first step to apply this concept to more abstract ideas in order to expand the thematic scope of games and to foster insights into the human condition. Limitation of freedom cannot only be due to physical boundaries but it can be the result of traumata, mental restrictions or emotional problems. E.g. being in an unhealthy relationship can share essential structural elements with the experience of being imprisoned. Trying to capture metaphors that arise from the abstract concept "unhealthy relationship" might make for a thought-provoking game-play experience, one that stays with you long after you have put down the controller. It might make you see life differently.

Doris C. Rusch is a postdoctoral researcher with the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab in the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. Prior to joining CMS, Rusch did postdoctoral work for the Institute for Design and Assessment of Technology at the Vienna University of Technology.

The Fine Print

Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium.


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