At the end of the autumn semester, the Comparative Media Studies department hosted a set of colloquia called Comparative Media Insights. Three of these presentations focused heavily on digital culture and fit neatly into our interests here at the Consortium, so I want to share them (especially since I'm sure all of you are still recovering from the holiday and wouldn't mind a couple intellectual, mid-day breaks).
The first talk is by Lisa Nakamura, a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. Her presentation, entitled Race, Rights, and Virtual Worlds: Digital Games as Spaces of Labor Migration, focuses on digital migrants, workers who labor in virtual worlds for other virtual world users. A lot of the work is done across transnational networks, such as gold farming in World of Warcraft performed by laborers in China for users in the United States. Lisa argues that in relation to these workers a type of "transnational working class" is being created, and she wishes to point out that these communities of workers provide a different perspective to the cosmopolitan, global, or converged Internet.
You can listen to a podcast of Lisa Nakamura's talk by clicking here or using the embedded player below:
As ICT's become available to new groups of users, notably those from the global South, new social formations of virtual labor, race, nation, and gender are being born. And if virtual world users' claims to citizenship and sovereignty within them are to be taken seriously, so too must the question of "gray collar" or semi-legal virtual laborers and their social relations and cultural identity in these spaces. Just as labor migrants around the globe struggle to access a sense of belonging in alien territories, so too do virtual laborers, many of whom are East and South Asian, confront hostility and xenophobia in popular gaming worlds and virtual "workshops" such as World of Warcraft and Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Do these users have the right to have rights? This presentation considers the affective investments and cultural identities of these workers within the virtual worlds where they labor.
Lisa Nakamura is the Director of the Asian American Studies Program, Professor in the Institute of Communication Research and Media Studies Program and Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. She is the author of Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet (Routledge, 2002) and a co-editor of Race in Cyberspace (Routledge, 2000). She has published articles in Critical Studies in Media Communication, PMLA, Cinema Journal, The Women's Review of Books, Camera Obscura, and the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. She is editing a collection with Peter Chow-White entitled Digital Race: An Anthology (Routledge, forthcoming) and is working on a new monograph on Massively Multiplayer Online Role playing games, the transnational racialized labor, and avatarial capital in a "postracial" world.
The second presentation is given by Mia Consalvo, a professor at Ohio University and also a visiting professor at MIT. Her talk, Western Otaku: Games Crossing Cultures, examines digital games -- particularly MMORPGs -- as spaces of transnational cultural exchange, places of hybridity formed by cross-cultural contact. She is particularly interested in the relationship between Japanese and American gamers, both in how the industry impacts transnational reception and in how players interact with each other across languages.
Mia's talk comes in convenient video podcast form below:
But you can also listen to the audio-only version of the podcast here:
From Nintendo's first Famicom system, Japanese consoles and videogames have played a central role in the development and expansion of the digital game industry. Players globally have consumed and enjoyed Japanese games for many reasons, and in a variety of contexts. This study examines one particular subset of videogame players, for whom the consumption of Japanese videogames in particular is of great value, in addition to their related activities consuming anime and manga from Japan. Through in-depth interviews with such players, this study investigates how transnation fandom operates in the realm of videogame culture, and how a particular group of videogames players interprets their gameplay experience in terms of a global, if hybrid, industry.
Mia Consalvo is a visiting associate professor in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. She is the author of Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames and is co-editor of the forthcoming Blackwell Handbook of Internet Studies.
The final presentation (and my favorite of the bunch) is given by Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor at the University of Virginia. He talks about The Googlization of Everything, a point in the convergence of real and digital culture by one company: Google. Phrased in one of William Uricchio's questions during the Q&A, in its attempt to "informationize" the world, Google has had to face "the pushback of culture." As I wrote earlier this week, Siva argues that on top of being its users, we act as Google's product. Our concerns over privacy (Google Maps' problems photographing Japan), property (Google Book Search scanning), and pride (transforming ourselves into Google's "data") therefore conflict with our understanding of ourselves as the customer versus the product.
Listen to his podcast below, or download it here.
Google seems omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. It also claims to be benevolent. It's no surprise that we hold the company to almost deific levels of awe and respect. But what are we really gaining and losing by inviting Google to be the lens through which we view the world? This talk will describe Siva Vaidhyanathan's own apostasy and suggest ways we might live better with Google once we see it as a mere company rather than as a force for good and enlightenment in the world.
Siva Vaidhyanathan, cultural historian and media scholar, is currently associate professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia.