Virtual Worlds

September 22, 2010

C3 Thinking, Transmedia Worldbuilding and The Deep World of Avatar

Many media studies scholars and creative professionals depend on the C3 blog (as well as Prof. Jenkins' blog, the CMS Program website and the blogs of our fellow CMS research projects) for the ideas which they can then apply to the intellectual, creative or market problem they are trying to get to the "next level". As I think everyone who has been on the team of this research project would agree, Prof. Jenkins' "framing and naming" of otherwise complex concepts into remarkably accessible written language and his always inspiring and engaging speaking style are at the core of his pedagogical style and intellectual modeling of how we do what we do here at C3 and CMS.

It is this C3 early warning system and pattern recognition of emergent cultural patterns, logics and phenomenology (in our case surrounding the circulation and distribution of old and new media) on which the success of the C3 research project is built.

Of course, because we frame it or name it, that does not mean we own it. In his opening remarks at last year's FOE4, Prof. Jenkins was quick to make this very point, specifically regarding the discourse on Transmedia:

"Transmedia seems to be a word that means lots of different things to lots of different we may refer to "cross-platform entertainment" or... "Deep Media" which is Frank Rose's term. As far as I am concerned, I don't care what you call it. What we're involved in is a shift in the way entertainment operates in our culture, but a shift that's been long term and I'll explain that it has a deeper history and I think the focus on newness maybe misleads us. But I am interested in the phenomenon and each of these words talks about different aspects of the phenomenon in different ways. They get at it in different ways. Maybe we should have a discussion about what those differences are. But I am not invested in a vocabulary war about what we christen this thing. I think it's much more interesting that we talk about it and try to figure out what is going on."

We know there is a remarkably passionate and loyal C3 blog community who is very appreciative of the way "C3 Thinking" inspires them, assists them and moves forward their media industries scholarship and creative projects to a whole new level. Call it what you want - brainstorming, ideation, praxis, pre-production, concept phase, theory and practice, research, outlining, strategic design, storyboarding, index card/post-it note hell, development or pre-visualization - "C3 Thinking" intervenes on and contributes to all of these early-stage project design processes (books, films, games, television programming, etc).

This blog entry is an effort to embrace Prof. Jenkins' most recent framing and naming endeavor - now known as the Seven Core Principles of Transmedia Storytelling. I thought it would be helpful to our readership to organize occasional blog entries in a very specific fashion around each of these core principles (Spreadability vs. Drillability; Continuity vs. Multiplicity; Immersion vs. Extractability; Worldbuilding; Seriality; Subjectivity; and Performance). I will also try to strike a balance in presenting the information for those who are internalizing core concepts surrounding transmedia for the first time and seasoned transmedia veterans.

I begin here with Worldbuilding (back story, story development, production design or concept development - again, call it what you will): it is easy when writing a script, designing a film or conceiving of a game to flinch on a true commitment to the design of and deployment of a deeply textured world filled with detail that does not directly service the core narrative or primary narrative objectives. Time and budget are usually the biggest elements working against building a deep world.

The reality is great worldbuilding must precede the storytelling. An early commitment to detail will communicate information beyond the purely functional elements required for the primary narrative - allowing entries points for transmediated narrative extensions of the primary media text and for the other core principles of transmedia to take further root.

With this primacy of a commitment to worldbuilding in mind, the following worldbuilding discussion is in the form of a video case study. First, two Charlie Rose interviews with James Cameron: Dec. 17, 2009 and Feb 10, 2010 where he discusses in detail the challenges of worldbuilding and a CBS 60 Minutes video segment (embedded below) about James Cameron and the production of Avatar - which depicts what was done with the unlimited creative, time, fiscal and human resources to build the deep, textured, detailed world of the primary cinematic text that is the 3D Film Avatar.

After this video piece, find two streaming videos of a conversation between Prof. Jenkins and Tron creator Steve Lisberger from back in February 2010. We include these 2 videos (of a total of 21) in this case study because the first video sets up a discussion of worldbuilding. The next video follows up with a discussion of the basic functions of transmedia extensions, what they might add to the upcoming Disney release Tron Legacy and ends with why Avatar is less successful at deploying transmedia than, say, District 9.

The hope here is that this overall discussion of the mode of production of Hollywood motion pictures at the level of the 'big tent pole' production will inform narrative best practices and economies of scale for other transmedia project in various other creative industries.

Most importantly, there are some interesting missed opportunities contextualized in this discussion which should be seized upon by transmedia theorists and producers both for further theoretical exploration and creative deployment.

For further brainstorming, see:

Prof. Jenkins' FOE4 Keynote entitled "The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling", along with Henry's essay explaining each principle.

All 21 Videos, produced by Mike Bonifer, of Prof. Jenkins conversation with Tron creator Steve Lisberger:

Talking TronsMedia with Steven Lisberger

More Talk of TRONSmedia

April 20, 2010

Choose Your Fictions Well

By now, hopefully, you have read Peter Ludlow's account of recent events in Second Life and perhaps have also followed along with the comments and disputes that have surrounded this post. By now, hopefully, you've started to form your own opinion about what happened, why it happened, what it all means, and perhaps, what constitutes the borders between griefing and anti-griefing in this context. The following set of comments were crafted between Ludlow and myself as we reflected on these events and what they may tell us about the interplay between fantasy and politics in virtual worlds. We hope it will provide a springboard for further discussion both on this blog and elsewhere.

Continue reading "Choose Your Fictions Well" »

January 8, 2010

Three Converging Presentations: Digital Migrants, Western Otaku, and Our Google-ized World

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:

Or download it!

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.

May 19, 2008

Dumbledore for a Day: The Things You Can Do in Second Life

dumbledore 1.jpg

A while back, I shared with readers of my blog my experiences in Teen Second Life, thanks to an organization called Global Kids. I recently wrote a follow-up post that I wanted to share with C3 blog readers.

I've gotten a chance to work more closely with Barry Joseph, Rafi Santos, and others from the Global Kids organization over the past year or so and each encounter has left me even more impressed with their respect for their young participants and their imaginative use of virtual worlds to focus young people on issues impacting the real world.

Continue reading "Dumbledore for a Day: The Things You Can Do in Second Life" »

January 29, 2008

Around CMS: Jesper Juul, Beth Coleman, and Market Truths

I wanted to start out this morning by passing along a few interesting stories that readers and colleagues have passed my way of late. The first comes from a few games-related stories here at MIT.

For those who are not familiar with his work, Jesper Juul received his doctorate from the IT University of Copenhagen and is the author of Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. He is now a video game researcher here at the Program in Comparative Media Studies, in the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.

Continue reading "Around CMS: Jesper Juul, Beth Coleman, and Market Truths" »

October 24, 2007

Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (4 of 4)

This is the final section of a four-part series featuring an interview with Damon Taylor and Daniel Krueger from Electric Sheep, who helped produce tonight's launch of the CSI:NY television series crossover into Second Life.

Sam Ford: Electric Sheep is using this collaboration for the launch of OnRez, your viewer of the Second Life universe. What is it about the CSI:NY/Second Life collaboration you all are producing that made this the best opportunity to launch OnRez?

Daniel Krueger: I can't speak for our software development team, but I think that it's always been something that Electric Sheep wanted to do, as far as making an easier interface for navigating Second Life. It's not traditionally a very intuitive space for new users, so we wanted to make something simple for new users to come in with. We launched it with this project because we wanted to provide the easiest way for CSI:NY viewers who have never used Second Life to be able to come into the virtual world. It's really a perfect opportunity to launch OnRez.

Continue reading "Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (4 of 4)" »

Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (3 of 4)

The following is the third part of an interview series being published today regarding tonight's launch of the CSI:NY television series crossover into Second Life. This interview, with Damon Taylor and Daniel Krueger from Electric Sheep, looks at the motivations, implementation, and plans for extending the popular crime drama series into a virtual world.

Sam Ford: What is Electric Sheep Company's involvement in this project?

Damon Taylor: We are the vendor working with CBS to develop this, and it all started out as a relationship between Electric Sheep and CBS, working with Anthony E. Zuiker, who has become convinced that virtual worlds provide an opportunity for television companies or entertainment companies in general to create and provide content in ways that has never been done before. This has been a six-month planning process, culminating today. Our contract with CBS is to do this for six months, so we will be operating this experience for the next half-year. With content being updated every four weeks, we will be moving this story forward, along with a second television show next year that will tie back into the whole storyline.

Continue reading "Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (3 of 4)" »

Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (2 of 4)

What follows is an interview with Electric Sheep Company producers Daniel Krueger and Damon Taylor about their involvement in the CSI:NY/Second Life collaboration that launches with tonight's episode of the crime scene investigation drama on CBS. For a background on the crossover, look at this post from earlier today.

Sam Ford: To start off with, what do the two of you believe are some of the most compelling aspects of the CSI:NY/Second Life crossover that's taking place tonight, and what are the benefits for CBS and CSI:NY, on the one hand, and for Second Life other other?

Damon Taylor: This experience is compelling for users from two different perspectives. One of those perspectives is new users of Second Life, who are new to virtual worlds in general. The other perspective is for existing Second Life users. Potential new users who are fans of CSI:NY will care about this crossover because it will give them the opportunity to wrestle with CSI content in a way that has never been made available to them before. We have endeavored and achieved a true cross-platform experience where these fans can watch the television show, see the storyline that began on the TV show continued in-world, and then see the storyline jump back to the TV show next February when there is a sequel show that wraps up the storyline that starts tonight.

Continue reading "Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (2 of 4)" »

Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (1 of 4)

For those who haven't heard, tonight is the launch of a particularly compelling transmedia experience, the first time a major television franchise has driven its viewers into a virtual world to fill in the gap of a cliffhanger mystery that will not be resolved until next February.

CSI:NY, the New York version of the Anthony E. Zuiker television franchise, will feature an episode tonight in which a murder mystery takes the crime scene investigation team deep into Linden Lab's Second Life, with the mystery not being resolved until the concluding episode next year. The activities that take place in SL will build off what happens on the show and are planned to give fans the opportunity to get acquainted with a virtual world and also to have a new place to interact with and around the television franchise.

Continue reading "Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (1 of 4)" »

September 27, 2007

Union Strike in Second Life

A lot of discussion focused on Second Life of late has been about the overhype--how the economic and cultural implications of late have exaggerated the impact that this space is having. I, however, take the same approach that Henry Jenkins has at times, noting that Second Life is interesting inasmuch as it is a testing ground for interesting behaviors. In short, it's an interesting place to study, even if it is not necessarily a major piece of the economic puzzle for the mainstream.

The latest example of interesting things happening in Second Life? See this post from Wagner James Au, who reports from Second Life, about labor union protests spilling over from the first life into this world. Workers who are part of the RSU Italian labor union are in a struggle with IBM, and the picketing and other protest behaviors have made their way into the virtual world.

Continue reading "Union Strike in Second Life" »

August 2, 2007

Second Life and the Dangers of the Expectations of Immediate Profitability

For those of you who have been following discussions here at the Convergence Culture Consortium for some time, you know that we've been thinking about Second Life in one way or another for a while. In fact, folks throughout MIT have been. Our recent conference Media in Transition 5 took place in Second Life, for instance. And then there was the three-way Second Life between Henry Jenkins, Beth Coleman, and Clay Shirky. Clay brings up some of the questions about the validity of Second Life that have been raised more broadly in the press recently, while the CMSers look at the use of Second Life through all the "overhype."

Be sure to read this piece from Paul Hemp at Harvard. Paul has spoken at our internal retreat here before and is a very keen thinker in this space.

Continue reading "Second Life and the Dangers of the Expectations of Immediate Profitability" »

July 31, 2007

Followups on Coverage of Gambling, Viacom, Decency, and Fairness

I wanted to spend a few minutes this afternoon going through some recent news that provides updates for issues I have written about continually here on the blog. These include the Second Life gambling issues, the Viacom/YouTube case, and the indecency and Fairness Doctrine bills currently making their way through Congress.

1.) Gambling in Second Life. Word has officially been released that Second Life has shut down gambling inside the virtual world. I found out about it from Raph Koster's blog, as the new policy was released through the Second Life blog. The blog's Robin Linden writes that, even though there is no official gambling service in Second Life, they are still required to operate under governmental laws that regulate online gambling.

Users on Raph's blog debate issues such as whether poker is a game of chance, whether Second Life is better off or not with the gambling gone, and what this might mean for SL longterm, especially if the door for government intrusion stays open.

Continue reading "Followups on Coverage of Gambling, Viacom, Decency, and Fairness" »

May 20, 2007

Media Industry Jobs in a Convergence Culture

Several of the researchers in C3 have just finished or are in the process of finishing their Master's thesis projects, which means many of us now have the prospect of graduation staring us in the face. Here at C3, we have had the great opportunity to not only work academically as researchers while graduate students but also to interact with the media industry and work with folks at our corporate partners on a variety of initiatives, meaning that a majority of the people coming out of C3 are interested in maintaining a relationship to both academia and the media industry moving forward.

But, as job hunts loom on the horizons and as colleagues start to land jobs elsewhere, we all have to consider what it means, in both the industry and academia, to come away with expertise in issues such as understanding fan communities, transmedia storytelling, new advertising models, and the variety of other focuses that C3 research has taken.

Continue reading "Media Industry Jobs in a Convergence Culture" »

May 18, 2007

Second Life Survey

C3 Affiliated Researcher Shenja van der Graaf is currently conducting an academic study on Second Life, focusing on " the innovation-related practices of Second Life members so we can study the composition and structure of the Second Life community and the extent to which members receive resources and support from Linden Lab and other members."

For those interested, she is looking for people interested in taking a survey, available here.

April 20, 2007

Endemol and Electronic Arts Team Up for Virtual Me

An interesting deal has been struck between a major television producer and a major video games producer with the intent to create a project that will create gaming versions of various game shows and reality television products, in an attempt to create more interactive gaming experiences for extant media properties.

Endemol will be partnering with Electronic Arts to create gaming situations through which players can create avatars to participate in virtual versions of popular Endemol shows, such as Deal or No Deal and Fame Academy and will launch through one of Endemol's biggest hits, Big Brother.

The collaborative project has been initially titled Virtual Me. As Mark Hefflinger succinctly reports it on the Digital Media Wire, "The companies will form an integrated team to create entertainment for TV, online and other platforms."

The press release touts that the concept "bridges the divide between traditional TV and videogames." It goes on to say that "the two companies will create an integrated team to share expertise in their respective fields and develop entertainment formats and experiences for a wide range of platforms, including TV and online."

Continue reading "Endemol and Electronic Arts Team Up for Virtual Me" »

April 8, 2007

Gambling Inside Second Life: What Are the Legal Issues?

Debate continues to be raised about the nature of Linden Labs' Second Life versus the real world, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation attempts to decide whether casinos inside the virtual world are as illegal as unsanctioned gambling operations in "first life."

According to Adam Reuters' story, hundreds of casinos exist in Second Life, and the three largest casinos "are earning profits of US$1,500 each per month, according to casino owners and industry watchers. Growth is estimated to be about 30 percent a month."

The question right now is the culpability of Linden Labs if the government is to crack down on these gambling sites. At issue is the fact that the Linden dollars can be exchanged to and from U.S. dollars, as evidenced by the daily measurement of the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Linden dollar measured on the Reuters Second Life Web site.

Continue reading "Gambling Inside Second Life: What Are the Legal Issues?" »

February 7, 2007

Three-Way Second Life, Virtual World Debate from C3's Jenkins, Coleman, and Clay Shirky

An interesting conversation has been happening all around me on virtual worlds and Second Life featuring C3 Director Henry Jenkins, C3 Principal Investigator Beth Coleman, and Clay Shirky at NYU. The conversation is part of a 3x3 posting in which each of the three wrote an independent piece on their respective blogs the first week with their own thoughts about the current states of Virtual Worlds, and Second Life in particular, followed by a round just completed yesterday that consists of each responding to the points the other two made in the initial rounds of posts.

It may sound confusing, but we've ended up with quite an insightful conversation about virtual worlds. Given C3's dedication to covering virtual worlds and facilitating a discussion about the present and futures of companies like Second Life (see the Not the Real World Anymore panel from our November Futures of Entertainment conference) and the involvement of two C3 members, I wanted to highlight the conversation and direct everyone to this series of posts.

Continue reading "Three-Way Second Life, Virtual World Debate from C3's Jenkins, Coleman, and Clay Shirky" »

February 5, 2007

AOL Pointe Getting Strong Reviews in Second Life

The number of brands extending into Second Life in one form or another continues, with AOL launching its major foray into the virtual world.

AOL's site within Second Life, an island "for fun engagement and interaction around AOL content," features movie trivia, interactive competition areas for Second Life avatars to play lone games or in groups to win Linden dollars, and even skateboarding, according to the beta for the site.

AOL Pointe launched as a beta in late January and then launched as a full site at the beginning of February.

Reports from Tateru Nino on Wagner James Au's New World Notes site, providing first-hand coverage of Second Life, covers the beta test run at the time of AOL Pointe's launch.

For Tataru, the the AOL Pointe island gets a strong review. Tataru writes, "I was expecting a big business branding-exercise that would leave me with a bit of a foul taste in my mouth, and in that respect I was a bit disappointed-- within a few minutes I was entertained and engaged. There's no mistaking that it's AOL, but this doesn't seem to be basic push-marketing or marketing at all, in the conventional sense. Could this be someone 'getting it?'"

Tataru hypes the site as a theme park, feeling that it's providing for a niche that is missing in Second Life with that themed atmosphere and a wide variety of theaters and other public screens for media content to play on-demand in the virtual world, as well as traditional linear channels playing within AOL Pointe.

Continue reading "AOL Pointe Getting Strong Reviews in Second Life" »

January 12, 2006

Lessig on Second Life Jan 18

CC activist, IP lawyer and Internet scholar Larry Lessig will make an in-game appearance on Second Life next week. He has had a customized avatar kitted out for him and there will be virtual books for him to sign.

Date: Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Time: 5:30PM - 7:30PM Pacific Standard/Second Life Time
Place: Borrowdale/41/56 (the Pooley Auditorium) cute avatar pix and more details.

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