Osterweil: "Game designers need to be in an ongoing dialogue with a broader public"
From Boston.com, The Education Arcade's Scot Osterweil on games, Dewey, and how we learn at conferences:
With Dewey's ideas as the bedrock of our own practice as learning game designers, we may forget how little those ideas have penetrated beyond our circle of colleagues. But at Sandbox Summit, I had a chance encounter with the head of a trade group that represents toy makers. He had never heard of Dewey, or the notion that we learn best by doing, and was fascinated and affected by Gardner's talk.
That trade group leader was gaining new insight into the audience his industry serves, reminding me again that game designers need to be in an ongoing dialogue with a broader public. It was the kind of teachable moment that is peculiar to conferences designed to open up conversation between industry and academia. I'd argue that only in a setting like that would we have made the human connection that made that learning possible.
Q: Are still images and motion picture beginning to merge?
A: It's funny--for our mobile app we actually render the animations as video, as a proper lossy video codec can shave off an order of magnitude worth of bits from the weight of the animation. Also, mobiles often struggle to play one-megabyte animated GIFs, in part due to a lack of native hardware decoding. I worry that one day I'll see animated GIF encoding/decoding becoming a SOIC feature, right alongside MPEG4. For rendering the animated GIFs, we use Imagemagick; for our video processing, we use ffmpeg.
More News This Week: Alum Named One of Financial Times 25 "Indians to Watch"; Costanza-Chock on Apps for Sandy
Parmesh Shahani, CMS graduate class of '05, continues to rack up the kudos, this round from the Financial Times in their list of 25 Indians to watch:
Bringing new insights to a stuffy 115-year-old Indian conglomerate isn't easy, nor is being an openly gay man in India's still-traditional business culture - but Parmesh Shahani manages both, in his role as the founder and head of an ideas and innovation laboratory within the $3.3bn Mumbai-based Godrej group.
Sasha Costanza-Chock, a professor of civic media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says disaster preparedness is about more than stocking up on bottled water, packaged meals and fresh batteries. It's also a matter of pooling technical resources to solve the problems that can arise quickly, like how to move supplies to those in need and relay reliable information about shelters and food.
In the hours before the hurricane struck, Mr. Costanza-Chock started Hurricane Hackers, an online hub where software engineers and developers could share ideas as the storm advanced.
"We were looking at ways to support and build together, even people from a distance who wanted to support relief efforts," he said.
Mr. Costanza-Chock emphasized the importance of realistic ideas that can be deployed quickly.
"It's easy to dream up fantastic solutions, but what works on the ground and will be useful in the moment are the ones that are the most successful," he said. "Whether it is beautiful or not does not matter."
In his experience, tools that are tied to a real need -- grounded in an organization with people working on the scene, and limited to a specific geographic area -- are those that have worked the best.
"The challenge is not to build the tools," he said, "but rather, how do you capture the attention and energy that people have and plug it in?"
CMS's Open Documentary Lab has teamed up with IDFA DocLab to create Moments of Innovation, an interactive exhibit and online research project exploring the long history of inventive documentary practices.
What I find most interesting about the project is how photography is being propelled forward by technology. The project shows viewers one of the first 'game changers' in photography, the $1 Kodak Brownie Camera that came out in 1900 and allowed the coining of the term 'snapshot.'
Ian Condry, a professor at MIT who teaches courses in Japanese pop culture, including a section on Miku, says the character serves "as a platform people can build on. She becomes a tool of connection who, through people's participation, comes alive."
"She's a wiki-celebrity," Condry, the MIT professor, says. "Enough people act on her that she takes on a life, but not of her own--everybody else's life."
Miku reinforces some of the lessons for civic media that we've heard before: people need to feel a genuine openness to participate; sharing and dialogue are key to building a community; free culture is more generative than controlled-IP systems; cooptation and commercialization are always risks, especially as popularity increases.
But Miku offers a particular schema of distributed creativity, different than both Wikipedia and human celebrities. Miku lacks a back-story. She has no pre-defined personality. She doesn't exist in a singular made-up fantasy world. This Wikicelebrity makes old-fashioned human celebs look like appliances, when the future is platforms.
Might this provide alternative ways of thinking about democracy and participation as well?
Acclaim for Junot Díaz's new short story collection, "This Is How You Lose Her"
One benefit to putting CMS and Writing and Humanistic Studies under the same organizational roof? Having Junot Díaz as a 100% formal member of the CMS faculty just as his latest, spectacular collection of short stories comes out. A sample of the glowing reviews...
GAMBIT at the center of GameSpot video on Boston's game development history
Our GAMBIT Game Lab was stoked to see the dozen or so mentions of its work, mission, and role in game development featured in a GameSpot video yesterday.
There really is something special about Boston when it comes to the two-lane road between MIT and small-to-medium-sized game companies like Harmonix, Dejoban, and others; practically speaking, GAMBIT is a kind of molten core at the center of the Boston gaming planet, a space where experimental games have a place to come to the surface at the same time the industry's top professionals pass their knowledge back in.
Prof. Fox Harrell discusses virtual self-identities with WGBH's Innovation Hub
From host Kara Miller's segment on "How Social Media Is Defining Us" (starting around the 2-minute mark)...
Social media is altering the way we communicate, purchase products — even how we define ourselves.
This week, we look at how social media is changing us — and the world we live in.
How are people choosing to define themselves online? What do they want others to know about them? And what do they want to keep secret?
Then, we look at how Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and a host of new platforms are forcing companies to change how they view customers. Gone are the days when TV advertisements ran the show. Now restaurants want you to recommend them to your friends. Pop icons like Madonna want to be liked on Facebook more than they want to be on talk shows.
Social media is changing the landscape and putting YOU at the center.
Learning Games Network receives $2m from Gates for adult-learning ESL game
From the Education Arcade's partner -- the Learning Games Network -- comes this great news:
The Learning Games Network, a non-profit spin-off of the MIT Education Arcade that bridges the gap between research and practice in game-based education, today announced a $1.99 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand Xenos, its flagship integrated social learning environment gaming platform, for Hispanic adults learning English (ESL) in libraries and workplaces. The goal of the Play Games-Learn English Project is to provide self-directed ESL instructional resources to adults in informal learning and vocational training settings. Pilot sites include the Boston and San Francisco Public Libraries and BJ's Wholesale Clubs.
Geek Dad on Amaranth Borsuk: "Why I Love Augmented Reality Right Now"
"Geek Dad" Daniel Donahoo writes on Wired.com that...
[Between Page and Screen] reminds me of when I first discovered hypertextual writing. It was fascinating to see how words and narrative could do different things and be twisted and turned and controlled by the reader. This project is the brainchild of literary experimenter Amaranth Borsuk and designer and developer Brad Bouse and is effectively a book of augmented-reality poetry. It is a joyfully self-referential art project that examines what takes place between the pages of the book that bring words to life on the screen when captured by a computer’s webcam. That capturing is a little stilted at time: the words flicker in and out as you try to move the image on the page in the right way. There is something enjoyable in the physical nature of the puzzle.
Mashable asks if our postdoc's augmented reality book could be, well, the future of books
Thanks to Mashable to be the latest to report on CMS/WHS postdoc fellow Amaranth Borsuk's project "Between Page and Screen", an augmented reality display of poetry floating above folio:
The future of books may be here. Augmented reality book Between Page and Screen is an innovative art project that seeks to renew the reading experience by combining the physicality of a printed book with the technology of Adobe Flash to create a virtual love story.
To see the technology in action, you simply lay the 44-page hardcover across a laptop with a webcam and words will suddenly appear, spin and rattle. Turn the page to experience the wordless book of poems and see the future of interactive reading.
Poet Amaranth Borsuk and developer Brad Bouse, creators of Between Page and Screen, started exploring augmented reality after seeing a business card developed with similar technology. A simple geometric pattern on the card once held up to a camera would turn up the card owner’s face.
Borsuk, whose background is in book art and writing, and Bouse, developing his own startup, were mesmerized by the technology. The married duo combined their separate love of writing and technology to create this augmented reality art project that would explore the relationship between handmade books and digital spaces.
Praise for "VANISHED" from the Alternate Reality Gaming Network
The Vanished team sought to invite players during the lead up to the game through outreach from the Smithsonian and press. Player recruitment expanded organically as players pulled in their friends to join the fun, while the home-schooling community provided its own influx of players. There was significant international participation, despite the game’s US-centric design focus. Over 6,700 player accounts registered, plus an additional 3,000 watcher/adult accounts; over a thousand players remained active through to the game's finale. The Vanished team attributed this high level of active participation to the tight player community that formed over the game’s eight week run.
One design goal for Vanished was to “squash the pyramid” by encouraging traditionally casual players to take a more active role. Typically, participation in high engagement campaigns like alternate reality games are expected to take the shape of an inverted pyramid, with casual players forming the base, supported by the efforts of the highly engaged few at the top. To encourage active collaboration, players at received one of 99 unique codes at the beginning of Vanished, and the players had to assemble every code to advance. Assignment was random, so players actively solicited others to speak up and become involved. As the game progressed, players received achievement points for their participation, which could be spent to unlock documents. Many documents required more points than any single player could afford, and so players had to pool their points together as a team. While presenting Vanished at GDC Online in October, Scot Osterweil and Feeley cited improvements to the traditional “90-9-1″ player percentages of casual-active-enthusiast to 69-25-6 - tripling the active participants, with a large number of players serving as heavy contributors.
The MIT alumnus and and creator of modern email (not to mention the word itself) told Fast Company that despite the USPS's dire announcement of post office closings and a 50% volume drop since 2001 -- in other words, despite the financial pressures placed on the USPS by the ascendance of email itself -- the postal service can go back to its roots and innovate its way out of waning relevance.
As he told Fast Company:
The first U.S. Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin, was a superlative innovator. Like Henry Ford, he laid down a production system with the USPS for the receipt, sorting, routing and transport of mail while setting quality standards of training and delivery.
That was not a mere operational process of tweaking or refining an extant [business] to generate more revenue or reduce costs--but an inventive process.
The U.S. Postal Service could offer an email management service to millions of businesses overnight, generating enough revenue to cover costs and make profit without layoffs. Global 2,000 companies and small to medium enterprises alike sorely need email management, which is a massive opportunity. They could also lead the charge in email validation and other solutions for a host of problems faced by email marketers.
Ayyadurai recently produced his own "History of EMAIL" visualization, a clear "what could have been?" and "what could be?" for the USPS.
From the Cape Cod Times following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that violent video games are afforded 1st Amendment protection:
"Violent video games can have bad effects, no effects, or good effects depending on the player, the game, and the context of play," [CMS faculty member Nick] Montfort wrote in an e-mail to the Times. "There are games that depict violence to show that war is horrific and should be avoided, for instance, and for some players game play can be a cathartic experience, or a way to take out aggression, rather than serving as an example to be imitated."
Responsibility ultimately falls on parents for all media consumption by their children, including game-playing, according to the MIT instructor. "Reading reviews and playing games at least a bit with your children is a good way to be aware of what these games are like, which ones aren't acceptable for children of certain ages, and how to help your children understand the views these games represent."
Interview with Fox Harrell: "How An Artist-Scientist Conjurer Thinks, Works and Lives"
Our thanks to Anne Khaminwa for conducting this great interview with Fox Harrell for the International Review of African American Art:
He occupies a charmed space in the academy, holding a joint appointment in the Comparative Media Studies Program, the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, and in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
One question underlies and unifies these pursuits. "How," Harrell wonders, "can I take advantage of what computers do well -- such as representing and transforming information -- to help us to better understand, and improve, the human condition?"
Harrell is interested in how computation can create powerful new forms of phantasmal media -- interactive narratives, computer games, social media, AI-based art, and "new forms unanticipated by any of those." He believes that digital media can transform users' ideas, improvise new aesthetic meanings, and critique society and culture.
Launch of science game "VANISHED!" featured in local broadcast
Local ABC affiliate NewsChannel5 stopped by yesterday to interview The Education Arcade's Scot Osterweil about his team's successful launch of "VANISHED!", an online mystery game that brings middle school science students together to work through an environmental disaster.
Conducted in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, "VANISHED!" has signed up more than 3,000 users just two days after it went live:
"No scientist got to be a scientist by memorizing flash cards," said Scot Osterweil, one of the website's designers at MIT.
"In the first day, we had kids posting saying 'this is really cool, this is like being a detective,' which is exactly what we wanted to see," said Osterweil.
Education Arcade's science game "Vanished" featured in Boston Globe
Middle schoolers across the country will have the chance to become detectives in two weeks. Scientific detectives, that is.
On April 4, developers at MIT and scientists at the Smithsonian Institution will launch a website called Vanished that will enable middle schoolers to help solve a mystery surrounding an environmental disaster.
The students will be asked to collect data, conduct research, consult peers, and draw conclusions as they try to figure out what happened, and why.
Vanished was formatted like a game in order to show that failure is OK in science.
"You fail on a game lots of times on your way to succeeding, and then you actually gather the evidence you need from your failures. So we see that kids are more naturally drawn to it,'' said Scot Osterweil, a creative director of the education arcade.
CMS affiliate and long-time supporter Junot Díaz, who will return to teaching at CMS this fall, reflected on his love of Tokyo at newsweek.com yesterday. He loves "all the bells and whistles of its modernity. The strangeness of it, the impossible overwhelming scale."
But Junot goes on to address how cities, loved, cannot love back. Tokyo fell twice in the 20th century, only to be lovingly reborn:
Cities produce love and yet feel none. A strange thing when you think about it, but perhaps fitting. Cities need that love more than most of us care to imagine. Cities, after all, for all their massiveness, all their there-ness, are acutely vulnerable. No city in the world makes that vulnerability more explicit than Tokyo. In the last century alone Tokyo was destroyed two times. Once by the Great Kanto Earthquake and again by the bombings of World War II.
Each time Tokyo has risen anew.
Today, as radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station drifts toward Tokyo, I am again thinking about the vulnerability of cities and of our love for them. Perhaps cities provoke so much love because they know that in that love lies their own endurance. After all, isn't it true that for all their vulnerability, as long as a city is loved by someone it will never truly disappear? Isn't that what it really means to love a city the way I love Tokyo: to carry within yourself the possibility, however faintly, of its rebirth?
"Augmented Reality Game Lets Kids Be the Scientists"
Our thanks to Stephanie Pappas of LiveScience for covering the sotry behind VANISHED, an augmented reality game for science students, developed by our research group The Education Arcade:
President Barack Obama may have urged Americans to celebrate science fair winners as if they were Super Bowl champions during his 2011 State of the Union address, but American students still struggle with science. Now, researchers hope to ignite kids' interest in science by drawing them into an activity long loved by children: computer games.
On April 4, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Smithsonian Institution plan to launch a first-of-its-kind "curated game" -- funded by the National Science Foundation -- that's designed to give middle-school students a peak into the process of science. The game, called "Vanished," is an environmental mystery game with a science-fiction twist, said Scot Osterweil, a game developer and creative director of MIT's Education Arcade. It's also an "augmented reality" game, meaning kids will do real-world experiments and activities that mesh with the fiction of the game.
"It is both a development and a research project," Osterweil told LiveScience. "What we want to see is whether, through this type of activity, kids evince real scientific reasoning."
Fox Harrell: "Creating identities in the real world is an active creative feat of imagination"
Our thanks to Liz Losh and DMLcentral for writing up Professor Fox Harrell and his CMS course on digital representation:
From ground-breaking work that he began in his Imagination, Computation, and Expression Lab at Georgia Tech, Harrell has progressed to receiving a prestigious NSF CAREER grant in 2009 that brings together work in computer science, digital media, and science and technology studies.
Professor Harrell's research starts with the observations that "creating identities in the real world is an active creative act of imagination." He says "everyday people construct and maintain real world identities through how we talk, what we like, what we wear, how we move, what we use, and more."
In asking how young people understand the function of a "computational identity," Professor Harrell described joint work that draws on his AIR research and development and TERC Research Scientist Dr. Sneha Veeragoudar Harrell's empirical study of students in virtual worlds. They identify three distinct dimensions to how life on the screen is experienced (Veeragoudar Harrell & Harrell, 2009; Harrell, 2010). First, there is the spectrum that ranges from an "everyday understanding" to the perception of "something extraordinary." Second, there is an axis that ranges from seeing the avatar as an "extension of themselves" to seeing it as a completely "separate character." Third, they describe a theoretical line that connects the pole of totally "instrumental" approaches, as though the avatar is merely a tool to achieve a specific end, to the one that emphasizes unpredictable experimentation with "identity play."
Big Spaceship director of strategy, Ivan Askwith, has left the Brooklyn-based digital shop for a position at Lucasfilm (a BS client, actually). Askwith had spent three-and-a-half years at BS, moving up the ranks from senior strategist to his aforementioned post. For now, the strategy team at Big Spaceship is reporting directly to CEO, Michael Lebowitz. An MIT alum, Askwith spearheaded strategic efforts and project launches for clients including Wrigley (Skittles, Starburst, Altoids, Life Savers and Orbit) as well as Google, USA, A&E, Adobe and Corona during his time at BS.
Alum Sam Ford talks with Mashable: "Why Does the Web Love Cats?"
Seems that every time we stake our claim as preeminent academics, we get sucked back in by LOLcats. CMS alum Sam Ford spoke this week with social media blog Mashable on The Million Dollar Question: Why Does the Web Love Cats?"why the web loves cats":
"Juxtaposing surprising meanings over cat images, a la the LOLcats phenomenon, allows us to engage in an activity humans have long been doing: projecting our thoughts onto the mysterious countenance of felines," says Sam Ford, director of digital strategy with Peppercom, research affiliate with the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium, and co-author of the forthcoming book Spreadable Media.
The money quote eventually belongs to Jack Shepherd, though followed by more thoughtfulness from Ford:
While dogs have had a few notable successes online, they nowhere near match their feline counterparts for popularity. Jack Shepherd, community manager at BuzzFeed has a theory why.
“Dogs are the equivalent of a creative professional trying to manufacture ‘the next viral sensation’ to advertise a brand – sure, they’ll have a hit now and again, but unless it’s really exceptional work, you’ll just ignore it, because you know they’re doing it to get your attention,” says Shepherd.
“When a dog gets in a box, it’s because he desperately wants you to think he’s cool. When a cat does it, it’s because it suddenly felt like the right thing to do at the time. More often than not, it totally was. I think it’s the very aloofness of cats that makes us want to caption their thoughts, or put them in front of a keyboard and see what happens. The many Keyboard Dogs were a failure not just because they came second, but because they were enjoying themselves far too much.”
Sam Ford, meanwhile, suggests that dogs are just too easy to read: “Throughout the history of civilization, humans have had a deep fascination with cats. While dogs’ forms of communication — and understanding of language — are more closely aligned with humans, cats are particularly fascinating because they are not necessarily as easy to read.”
“Thus, watching a cat’s exploits on YouTube can be all the more surprising, because we all know it’s harder to train cats to do something. Seeing video of The Moscow Cats Theater leads us to marvel, ‘How’d they do that?’” says Ford.
"Sharing Vs. Selling: A Lesson From Gospel Music": CMS alum Sam Ford in Fast Company
Sam Ford, a Comparative Media Studies alum, is a long-time researcher with our Convergence Culture Consortium, through which he's been working on a book entitled Spreadable Media. If this post from his Fast Company blog is any indication, the book should be great:
I grew up in a Baptist church, where my father was a deacon. Most Saturday nights when I was younger, we would go to our own church or a church somewhere else in the community to listen to a gospel singing. Often, my grandmother would come along, and we would listen to a quartet perform for a couple of hours in a little country church somewhere. While I didn't realize it at the time, there was a fascinating struggle between market and non-market logics at many of these gatherings. The church was primarily governed by non-market logic. There was no cost of admission. Generally, these bands were not paid to sing at the church. And no concessions are sold at a church gathering.
However, most gospel quartets made money on the side by recording cassette tapes of their most popular songs and selling them to churchgoers. Since a crucial tenet of the teachings of Jesus Christ advise separating the church from market logic, however, these transactions were considered unfit for a church sanctuary.
Most interesting of all, however, was the "love offering." Churches did not pay groups to sing, but the audience would take up a "love offering" for the group who came to sing. A collection plate would be passed around the congregation, and many would anonymously drop a contribution, not all that unlike the model used by street performers. The love offering was often presented as a spontaneous happening, but of course everyone in the congregation had come prepared for the moment of the love offering and probably had made sure they had they the appropriate cash quick at hand. And the love offering was also a point of potential contention, as the non-market logic of the moment collided with financial compensation.
Games can again engage with issues of the day: GAMBIT's Philip Tan speaks with USA Today
In a USA Today piece last week about the wartime realism of video game "Medal of Honor", the director of our Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab was asked to speak about game-makers' use of current combatants--in this case, of the Taliban.
Tan argues you have to play the game yourself to come to a judgment:
Insurgents still look the same and the single-player story mode doesn't change, ["Medal of Honor" developer Greg] Goodrich says. "As I have said a number of times, this is not a game about the Afghan war. This is a game about a community of warriors, individuals we wanted to pay tribute to and honor. It's telling their story from their point of view, and everything else is the backdrop."
Still, it is understandable some would misinterpret the game's intentions, says Philip Tan, executive director of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Video games may be helping games regain their pre-Industrial Age importance "as something that could engage with issues of the day," he says. Over time, games became frivolous, "so now when you have a game that is actually engaging with the issues of the day with a war that is actually currently going on, people are surprised."
It's unfair that the game was judged before its release, Tan says. "The game may be making a very poignant and important point about war with the Taliban," he says, "but the majority of people who are commenting haven't engaged with the game itself. ... It also seems like we are judging modern combat games by the visual and audio fidelity. These are things that actually push games in the direction of Hollywood. What they are trying to be is more like movies, and movies are allowed to do that."
"Taking an Axe to Dialogue Trees", more from GDC Online 2010, this time with Gambit's Marleigh Norton
"High-tech solutions, when they work," Gambit Game Lab interaction designer Marleigh Norton said at Game Developers Conference Online 2010, "are often trading one set of problems for another."...
The first idea was small talk. The rule of thumb when meeting people is to stick to small talk; stay away from sex, politics, and religion with people you don't know well, as it can lead you into trouble quickly. Turning that into a game mechanic, Norton looked for a way for gamers to consider the eloquence with which they have to discuss a topic to avoid having it blow up in their faces. She pointed to PaRappa the Rapper as an interesting way to handle the issue, with a beat-matching game determining how effectively the player is communicating.
As an example, she brought up a conversation with a barista at a coffee shop who happens to be wearing a T-shirt featuring the Flying Spaghetti Monster (an atheist answer to creationism). Asking for another napkin would represent a low-risk interaction, and the beat matching would similarly be simple with just a few face buttons on a standard controller. However, a line like, "A fellow Pastafarian! All hail his noodle-y appendage!" would require a more complex series of button pushes and directions to reflect the riskiness of such an interaction with a complete stranger. The player's performance on a risky line could lead to a subsequent dialogue tree that gives players the opportunity to come out ahead or dig themselves in even deeper.
"How Hitler's downfall mocks your ideals": IDG covers Alex Leavitt's Open Video talk
Alex Leavitt, researcher with CMS' Convergence Culture Consortium, spoke at the Open Video Conference last Friday to offer some perspective on the ubiquitous Downfall meme:
Leavitt estimated that the first use of this clip appears to have been posted in August 2006, in which it was used to communicate criticism about the Microsoft Flight Simulator software. The subtitles were in Spanish.
It has been difficult to estimate how many times this video has since been repurposed. Leavitt said he had no idea how many actual variants of this video have been made. "The fact that we can't measure how many there are across multiple video sites, communities and personal servers tells us how popular it has really become," he said.
In the clip, "Hitler's passionate anger [works] as a means of expression" for a wide variety of causes, he noted.
Talk by Gambit's Clara Fernandez-Vara covered by Gamasutra
Say the phrase "puzzle games" and many people think of games like Zuma or Tetris -- but add in everything puzzles have to offer wider gaming experiences, and the broad and storied genre encompasses everything from the classic Secret of Monkey Island to Ico and Portal.
How can games approach puzzles as successfully-integrated components of their experience? At the Game Developers Conference Online, Singapore MIT GAMBIT Game Lab's Clara Fernandez Vara says puzzles have something crucial to add: "that moment when we realize -- 'I got it' -- we feel clever, and feeling clever is fun."
In the aim to challenge players, she says, many designers can get bogged down trying to prove what good designers they are, but it's giving the player that sense of satisfaction and clever-feeling -- what Vara calls "insight" -- that should be the goal.
Education Arcade's Scot Osterweil responds to the New York Times Magazine's "Quest to Learn" article
We've come a long way.
The New York Times Magazine for September 19 has a lengthy article about New York City's Quest to Learn school, an experimental public secondary school that organizes learning around games and other 21st century literacies. The school was founded by our colleague Katie Salen of the New School's Parson School of Design. (An article on learning games that Katie co-authored with Eric Klopfer and me can be found here.)
The Times article does a nice job of describing the school's approach, which I won't summarize in this short piece. Of interest here rather is what the tenor of this article says about the progress that's been made over the last few years in the use of games in education. While the article is even-handed in presenting some counter-arguments to the value of game-based-learning, it strikingly doesn't bend over backwards to engage the most vociferous naysayers but rather addresses an audience that is presumed to be open-minded about the approach. It speaks to a moment when a growing number of citizens are ready to replace the current outmoded factory school with something better, though there is still confusion and disagreement about what should come next. It is a moment that seems ripe with possibilities.
If the article has a short-coming, it is that it undersells the long history of education reform efforts that brought us to this moment. If one doesn't read it carefully, one might assume that the purpose of games in education is to keep kids engaged (i.e., to bribe them to learn), or at best, to teach them wholly new 21st century skills. What is missing is the insight that play and exploration have always been the way we construct new ideas and concepts and that building such a scaffold of interconnected ideas has always been the source of our deepest knowledge and wisdom. This approach to learning does not just apply to generic cognitive skills such as problem-solving but also applies to what we traditionally view as academic disciplines such as math, science, and history. Successful practitioners in these areas have always engaged in playful and inspired ways of thinking and learning that look nothing like the rote memorization and repetition we call "school."
Games may therefore be new and innovative in the context of formal schooling, but the kind of learning we hope to foster is what has fueled human advancement throughout history. That is a case that we in this field must make more forcefully.
CMS in MSNBC.com: Why study soap operas and pro wrestling?
In 2007, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's comparative media studies program began offering a course titled "American Pro Wrestling." The same department also offered a course in 2008 exploring American soap operas.
"It was understood that wrestling is a very significant cultural phenomena," said David Thorburn, professor of literature and comparative media studies, when asked about MIT's decision to offer such a course. "The normal reaction for people, when they see in the curriculum things that come from their ordinary lives, like television or wrestling or sports events ... is to think the teacher is pandering to the students, or that the class is intellectually dubious. But it would make perfect sense if a film student or an anthropology student decided to take courses in this sort of thing. They would be learning about other aspects of popular culture."
New Scientist: Nick Montfort answers the question "Can video games be art"
CMS prof Nick Montfort says, in short, if you answer no, you haven't been paying attention:
People tend to mean several things by this question. First, can video games be sold by art dealers, appear in galleries and museums and be an accepted part of the art world? They already are: just look at the creations of Cory Archangel, Mark Essen and Eddo Stern. Second, can video games tackle difficult issues and sensitively present us with different perspectives? They already have: see the work of Terry Cavanaugh, Jason Rohrer, Molleindustria and Tale of Tales, and commercial games such as Bully (also called Canis Canem Edit) and Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit). Finally, can video games present an experience of aesthetic beauty that is particular to the medium? Indeed they do: see Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Rez, a game dedicated to Kandinsky and which I first discovered and played in the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York. It's a great time for those interested in this question to see what work is already out there.
"Can Video Games Be Art?" -- New Scientist, featuring responses from Montfort, Denis Dutton, Jaron Lanier, Jesse Schell, Ian Bogost, and John Sharp
"China's Cyberposse": CMS grad Jin Liwen in NYTimes Sunday Magazine
Chinese "netizens" have become modern-day vigilantes, revealing injustice and tracking down lawbreakers, according to Tom Downey in this week's New York Times Sunday Magazine.
He writes that "Human-flesh search engines -- renrou sousuo yinqing -- have become a Chinese phenomenon: they are a form of online vigilante justice in which Internet users hunt down and punish people who have attracted their wrath. The goal is to get the targets of a search fired from their jobs, shamed in front of their neighbors, run out of town. It's crowd-sourced detective work, pursued online -- with offline results."
Quoting a 2008 graduate of our S.M. program, Liwen Jin, Downey writes:
Jin Liwen, the technology analyst, came of age in China just as Internet access was becoming available and wrote her thesis at M.I.T. on Chinese B.B.S.'s. "In the United States, traditional media are still playing the key role in setting the agenda for the public," Jin told me. "But in China, you will see that a lot of hot topics, hot news or events actually originate from online discussions." One factor driving B.B.S. traffic is the dearth of good information in the mainstream media. Print publications and television networks are under state control and cannot cover many controversial issues. B.B.S.'s are where the juicy stories break, spreading through the mainstream media if they get big enough.
"Chinese users just use these online forums for everything," Jin says. "They look for solutions, they want to have discussions with others and they go there for entertainment. It's a very sticky platform." Jin cited a 2007 survey conducted by iResearch showing that nearly 45 percent of Chinese B.B.S. users spend between three and eight hours a day on them and that more than 15 percent spend more than eight hours. While less than a third of China's population is on the Web, this B.B.S. activity is not as peripheral to Chinese society as it may seem. Internet users tend to be from larger, richer cities and provinces or from the elite, educated class of more remote regions and thus wield influence far greater than their numbers suggest.
From the Boston Globe: "MIT lab helps designers reimagine video games"
Our thanks to Mark Baard of the Boston Globe, who stopped by Gambit's "Complete-Game Completion Marathon" last week to speak with our then-sleep-deprived staff about the incredible role Gambit plays in developing new modes of gaming.
GAMBIT's researchers, a collaboration of artists, historians, writing instructors, and educators, are mostly interested in breaking away from gaming conventions: the princess who needs rescuing, the shady merchant with the weapon you must get to survive the next chapter, the mushroom power-up.
They are also focused on teaching courses with heady titles like "Making Deep Games'' and publishing papers such as "Bioshock: A Critical Historical Perspective.''
"Everything done in the lab is based on some sort of research interest,'' said Eitan Glinert, who was GAMBIT's first graduate student, in 2007.
At GAMBIT, Glinert created a PC game, AudiOdyssey, in which the player stars as a club DJ trying to get people to dance. The goal is also to avoid getting the dancers so excited that they knock over the turntables.
Glinert said he deliberately emphasized audio quality over graphics, to discover whether "the visually impaired and the sighted can enjoy the same level and quality of game play,'' according to the objectives he listed on the AudiOdyssey download page. Researchers at GAMBIT are also conducting research into how people learn through playing games.
Players are using videogames in increasingly innovative ways. Lauren Silberman, a 25-year-old graduate student in MIT's comparative media studies program, wrote her master's thesis on athletes who use them to enhance their physical play -- on the football field, on the baseball diamond, on the basketball court. Of the athletes she interviewed who could play as themselves, more than 90 percent did so regularly. More and more, players at even the college level are able to practice with virtual versions of themselves. (The sims are so realistic that a class-action lawsuit has been brought by amateur athletes who want EA to share a portion of the revenue with them.) Briscoe, the University of Kansas wide receiver, told me that NCAA Football 10 -- the college-football equivalent of Madden NFL -- had successfully imported "a majority" of his team's plays into its virtual playbook.
Baseball players have gotten in on the act, too. When Vladimir Guerrero, All-Star outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels, began his Major League career with the Montreal Expos, he would spend hours playing a PlayStation baseball game as himself.
Center for Future Civic Media speed-develops tech for Haiti
CMS's sister group, the Center for Future Civic Media, was uniquely positioned to respond to communication needs in Haiti following last week's devastating earthquake.
Center researchers, led by director Chris Csikszentmihalyi, have been aiding this first majorly tech-heavy humanitarian response, helping ensure developers open their tools to one another. It sounds minor at first, but nearly every news outlet and NGO has ramped up its technological capability in recent years--but without consideration for standards for sharing information in the middle of a crisis.
In the response to the earthquake in Haiti, many organizations have created sites where people could find one another, or least information about their loved ones. This excellent idea has been undermined by its success: within 24 hours, it became clear that there were too many places where people were putting information; each site became a silo.
People within the IT community recognized the danger of too many unconnected sites, and Google became interested in helping. Google is now running an embeddable application at: http://haiticrisis.appspot.com/
We recognize that many newspapers have put precious resources into developing a people-finder system. We nonetheless urge them to make their data available to the Google project, and standardize on the Google widget. Doing so will greatly increase the number of successful reunions.
I am not affiliated with Google -- indeed, this is a volunteer initiative by some of their engineers -- but this is one case where their reach and capacity can help the most people.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the reasoning behind this request. Any questions about the widget or its functionality or features are best directed to Google.
Meanwhile, the Center is maintaining an open thread on its website to track the Haiti-tech response. If you have ideas to share, please contribute and it will get re-shared to important mailing lists.
On a personal note, Google's people-finder at http://haiticrisis.appspot.com/ has already helped me (Andrew) find a former Tufts colleague based in Haiti during the quake and report back to her coworkers that she indeed returned safely to the Boston area on Saturday.
So the crisis is ongoing, but the fast-response civic technology the Center is studying and implementing--it works, even at this scale.
Montfort talks with the Examiner about interactive fiction
Nick Montfort, CMS affiliate and Associate Professor of Digital Media in MIT's Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, spoke last week with Michael Tresca of Examiner.com about interactive fiction and his 2005 book Twisty Little Passages:
MT: With the notion of fantasy rooted in cooperative play (starting with Lord of the Rings and extending through MUDs and MMORPGs), where does IF fit? Or is it the personal isolation, trapped in one's imagination so to speak, that makes it more suitable for horror and conspiracy-style settings?
NM: In standard interactive fiction, you don't have a group of people, each of whom control a character. But that doesn't mean that people play IF by themselves. They can play together online, sharing the same session; they can play together in person, sitting in front of the same screen; they can play "by themselves" but consult comments on forums and newsgroups and look at walkthroughs that other people have written; and they can play in their own session but communicate with others by email, by phone, in person, or by other means.
MIT's new Reporter's Notebook features Gambit's Jason Begy and his game "Pierre: Insanity Inspired"
The MIT News Office, continuing its inexorable march toward even higher-quality reportage, recently introduced a "Reporter's Notebook" feature, first-person accounts by News Office staff about the cool things they come across on campus.
First up was our grad student/Gambit Game Lab researcher Jason Begy talking to News Office writer Peter Dizikes about a game Begy helped design, "Pierre: Insanity Inspired". Dizikes helps explain Begy's and "Pierre's" interest in establishing what level of challenge or frustration players of video games will put up with:
Begy surveyed the results. "We would look at that and say, 'Well, there's certainly going to be a learning curve,'" he noted. Whether that curve charts upward, or downward in the face of frequent negative feedback, is another matter. "Pierre" is considered a difficult game.
By systematically studying how games function, GAMBIT is part of an emerging field: academic gaming studies date to the late 1990s, though scholars in the field believe they are simply looking at a new expression of an ancient social activity. "Of all the cultural forms that academics study, games are among the oldest, but they get the least attention," Begy said.
I'm interested in the fact that appropriation is one of the literacies-this one seems particularly specific to internet culture and is something that all internet journalists grapple with all the time. How do we learn to successfully "sample and remix" content generated by others?
We've found that appropriation is a particularly complex skill when it comes to schools. Teachers are concerned with the apparent ease of plagiarism and confusions around copyright and fair use. We tend to talk about appropriation in terms of remix culture because most young people are more familiar with it. In the Teachers' Strategy Guide, we even talk about Herman Melville as a remixer because of the way he incorporated elements from many sources, including the Bible and scientific texts, with a classic story of revenge in his novel Moby-Dick. With remixes we don't just mean a creative work that borrows pieces from others, but a creative work that builds on and transforms the meaning of the original source or sources. We see in the process of making remixes a way for students to think about media critically, become an author, and understand their audience.
That being said we understand educators and students want to know more about their rights around copyright and fair use. NML made several required challenges in the Learning Library that explore real-world situations and provoke discussion around the state of copyright and how our use of new media is challenging it.
"10 Things Corporations Can Learn from Pro Wrestling" and more from Sam Ford via Fast Company
CMS alum and Convergence Culture Consortium researcher Sam Ford this week worked as a guest blogger at Fast Company, writing about spreadable media as well as his favorite topic, pro wrestling:
If we buy into the fact that corporate America needs to understand popular culture to really be able to relate to its audiences and communicate effectively--Grant McCracken's idea of the "chief culture officer" that I wrote about last week--then what better place to start than pro wrestling? It's very existence feels like an anomaly, with fans loading arenas by the thousands and gathering around television sets by the millions to watch (primarily) men performing the illusion of one-on-one sporting competition, while most fans know that what they are watching is for show.
I've found wrestling often acts as a carnival mirror to our culture, stretching and magnifying the underlying fears, prejudices and tension points amongst us. However, I think wrestling provides all sorts of learning that corporate America should pay attention to as well.
Today's New York Times Thursday Styles section features an article on FarmVille, Facebook's most popular game made up of players tending their virtual farms. Does its popularity signal a wish for quieter times? "Some academics," by which the Times means Philip Tan of the Gambit Game Lab, think so:
Some academics have gone so far as to suggest that their collective popularity points to a widespread yearning for the pastoral life.
"The whole concept of 'I'm sick of this modern, urban lifestyle, I wish I could just grow plants and vegetables and watch them grow,' there is something very therapeutic about that," said Philip Tan, director of the Singapore-M.I.T. Gambit Game Lab, a joint venture between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the government of Singapore to develop digital games.
Of course, real-life farming is quite a bit messier and more dangerous than FarmVille (perhaps just one reason that FarmVille players outnumber actual farmers in the United States by more than 60 to 1). Yet some of the game's biggest fans are farmers.
"I was having all these deaths on the farm and hurting myself on a daily basis doing real farming," said Donna Schoonover, of Schoonover Farm in Skagit County, Wash., who raises sheep, goats and Satin Angora rabbits (real ones!). "This was a way to remind myself of the mythology of farming, and why I started farming in the first place."
"Breaking Down Advertising's Walls": CMS researcher Sam Ford in Fast Company
Sam Ford is a CMS grad, a CMS researcher, and a director of the communications company Peppercom. He's also now a blogger at Fast Company.
In his first post, Ford writes about convergence culture's reasonable obsession: breaking down walls between media.
My movement from an academic working with industry to an academic within the industry was driven by my interest in how companies and their audiences converse; what better place to study that conversation than public relations? In my position today at Peppercom, I remain especially interested in why and how the industry and the academy should collaborate around media and the humanities. My posts here at Fast Company this week will focus on this theme: what can the industry learn from the academy, and vice versa?
"Video games are hard,'' said Eric Klopfer, the director of MIT's Education Arcade, which studies and develops educational video games. "People don't like to play easy games, and games have figured out a way to encourage players to persist at solving challenging problems.''
The games aren't just hard--they're adaptively hard. They tend to challenge people right at the edge of their abilities; as players get better and score more points, they move up to more demanding levels of play. This adaptive challenge is "stunningly powerful'' for learning...
The article also cites a recent paper out of UC-Irvine which showed that three months of playing Tetris made teenage girls' brains more efficient. "Parts of the cortex, the outer layer of their brains responsible for high-level functions, actually got thicker."
However, no one knows for sure if that kind of improvement leads to long-term, generalized smarts. "Until now, people have been asking can you learn anything from games?'' the Globe quotes Klopfer as saying. "That's a less interesting question than what aspects of games are important for fostering learning.''
CMS is a top place to find "tech-focused advertising talent": AdAge
Advertising shops are scouring for creative technologists: a rare breed familiar with technology and conversant with new forms of media, but also able to translate that know-how into compelling digital-branding vehicles.
Look beyond portfolio schools to the growing group of programs that incubate tech-minded talent. Favorites include the Rochester Institute of Technology, the aforementioned Hyper Island, a Swedish digital-ad school, MIT's Comparative Media Studies program and New York University's interactive telecommunications program. Also expected to be a breeding ground for new digital talent is Boulder Digital Works, a new stateside graduate program featuring mini-courses from Hyper Island.
...for [Maggie] Lemelin, 36, it's really about Nana.
"It's just a little piece of being back in my grandmother's living room,'' the Rowley resident says.
That connection will be lost, for many viewers, after the nation's longest-running soap succumbs to the woes that have plagued daytime dramas for years: low ratings, changed viewing habits, an audience that no longer hits advertisers' target demographic. Soaps are in peril, but they're also deeply loved, and draw the kind of loyalty that's seen in fans of comic books and professional wrestling, says Sam Ford, who taught a course on soaps last year in MIT's Comparative Media Studies program.
"I think we have an inherent love of a story that's bigger than we are,'' Ford says.
If you need a break from math at MIT, "Introduction to Videogame Studies" might appeal to you.
"Students play and analyze videogames while reading current research and theory," reads the course description, which says students are expected to beat the games too, "in consultation with the instructor."
Intro to Video Games comes in at number six, just ahead of Cornell University's course in tree climbing (which fulfills a physical education requirement) and Ohio State's Harry Potter course, where students are "expected to read all seven books".
Of course none of them quite top the paradox inherent in FoxNews' #9 pick: a $4,875 course at Occidental College on stupidity.
Since running yearly summer internship programmes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 2007, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab (GAMBIT) has trained 77 students from various local tertiary institutes in games research and development. Of these, 41 of them have since found employment in the Singapore games and media industries while the remaining is largely still serving national service.
That's a remarkable accomplishment and testament to the GAMBIT program. GAMBIT staff added their thoughts:
We here at the Cambridge office are very excited by this announcement, and look forward to working closely with our partners across the ocean to find more job placements for our highly skilled and talented students.
Color (or the Lack of It) at Comic-Con...And Beyond
Grad student Florence Gallez, who interviewed Henry Jenkins at Comic-Con for the upcoming issue of the CMS newsletter In Medias Res, pens an opinion piece for The Tech about the lack of diversity at the same conference:
[W]hen it comes to race, all is not well in Comic-land and in the entertainment world it inspires -- a fact I was reminded of at Comic-Con at every turn. It was clear that some great minds are hard at work on improving the situation, but evidence of concrete change was hard to come by. Just take that very Souvenir Book and count the featured non-white "past Comic-Con office-holders and supporters" who have shaped the past 40 years, and you will see that one hand largely suffices.
Ethnic Caribbean actress and Star Trek star Zoe Saldana puts the lack of diversity more bluntly: "There aren't enough African-American superheroes. Or Asian-American superheroes. Have you ever met a superhero named Juan Gonzales? I would kill for that."
Three CMS blogs make list of "100 Best Blogs for New Media Students"
Via Associated Degree, a clearinghouse for continuing education programs, comes an impressive list of blogs for new media students, including three CMS blogs:
New Media students are on the verge of an exciting and evolving field of study. With topics ranging from social networking to innovative art forms to gaming to Internet policy and politics falling under this umbrella, there is plenty for students to learn about and stay connected with. Adding these blogs to your favorite reader will help you keep current on all that is happening in the world of New Media.
Center for Future Civic Media Co-Director inverviewed about online activism
Center Co-Director Chris Csikszentmihalyi spoke with the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Washington Post earlier this month about using the web for activism---and its both radically great and oddly superficial potential for effecting change.
Csikszentmihalyi was featured as an expert in the Plain Dealer's blog post about lax Ohio drilling laws, where "natural gas companies drill wells 100 feet from homes." He leads the Center's ExtrACT project, which uses web-based and mobile tools to help landowners organize themselves against predatory drilling companies. From the article:
[Ohio] urges residents approached by gas companies to contact a lawyer, research drillers and check safety records. That's tough, since the state does not keep track of complaints or violations, and the technical jargon is difficult for most people to understand. So, the accountability group is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create an online database that tracks citizens' experiences with the drilling industry.
That way, homeowners can compare promises and payouts, which depend on contracts and wells' productivity.
"Many, many people who have signed a lease often feel they didn't know enough about it at the outset," said Chris Csikszentmihalyi, who is working on the [ExtrACT] project at MIT. "There's an information imbalance. . . . If you're an oil and gas company, you know exactly how much everyone in the neighborhood is settling for."
Meanwhile, Csikszentmihalyi coined the phrase "click-through activism" to describe, for the Washington Post, those participants in an online cause "who might excitedly flit into an online group and then flutter away to something else."
In some ways, [Csikszentmihalyi] says, the ease of the medium "reminds me of dispensations the Catholic Church used to give." Worst-case scenario: If people feel they are doing good just by joining something -- or clicking on one of those become a fan of Audi and the company will offset your carbon emissions campaigns, "to what extent are you removing just enough pressure that they're not going to carry on the spark" in real life?
The Post asks how a Facebook group is supposed to overcome such short attention spans, ones where status messages switch in less than a week from mourning Neda to Farah Fawcett to Michael Jackson. "A better scenario for Internet activism, Csikszentmihalyi says, would be if causes could break down their needs into discrete tasks, and then farm those tasks out to qualified and willing individuals connected by the power of the Internet." Which is exactly what Csikszentmihalyi does for groups at the Center for Future Civic Media.
NML's Van Someren interviewed for Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning
Project New Media Literacies has produced videos to help teach kids how new media creators go about creating. The MacArthur Foundation, an NML sponsor, featured the videos on its Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning blog:
In the challenge "Expressing Characters across Multimedia," youth practice the skill of "transmedia navigation" by first learning about storytelling, and then watching a video with NBC's Heroes creators Mark Warshaw and Jessie Alexander. The two discuss how they use the characters in the show across different media, such as in a graphic novel or even through toys.
Students then explore how the character Claire Bennett navigates and is featured in different media platforms, including the television show, in her Myspace account, and as an image in a graphic novel.
"Originally the video collection was somewhat static," says Anna van Someren, Creative Manager, Project New Media Literacies. "But we've pushed it a lot farther now. We wanted to move toward a new framework - the Learning Library - that allows users to interact with the material. It's a much more community-based, dynamic experience now."
Boston Phoenix highlights Media Lab work, including Center for Future Civic Media
In 2006, Alyssa Wright, then a Media Lab student studying mapping, tackled a similar goal: she created a walking memorial in Boston to commemorate civilian deaths in Iraq. Shocked at the "astronomical" discrepancy between the actual civilian death count (she estimates it was up to 250,000) and what Americans thought the death count was (around 9000, she says), Wright wanted to make an impact. So she hit the streets with an exploding backpack.
"We really don't have a sense of what it's like in someone else's shoes, but technology can bridge that gap," says Wright, who tracked media-reported deaths in Baghdad and overlaid them onto a map of Boston. When she wandered into an area of the city that corresponded with a Baghdad death, her backpack exploded with white confetti, each piece inscribed with the name of someone who'd died.
These days, Wright is channeling her tech-meets-art-meets-protest angle into Hero Reports, a Manhattan-based Web operation that tracks courageous moments among everyday people by collecting e-mails, phone calls, and letters, and then mapping positive news. It's a direct counterbalance to New York City's "See Something, Say Something" campaign, which encourages people to look at each other with suspicion.
Hero Reports is not just a Web site. The project, which she began at the Media Lab's Center for Future Civic Media, also uses an open-source mapping platform, which allows for greater customization. Most of all, it shows how technology can change social engagement and political decisions. Which is exactly what Wright wants.
CMS/NML's McWilliams writing for The Guardian (UK)
Jenna McWilliams, education researcher and curriculum specialist at Project New Media Literacies, recently picked up a new side-gig: columnist for The Guardian online.
Her first two posts are up now--the first on the film State of Play and its ignorance of how journalism works in the digital era--and the other, published yesterday, questions Rupert Murdoch's recent proclamation that news online will inevitably revert to a pay-per-view model. A taste:
The technology guru Clay Shirky writes that "It's not a revolution if nobody loses," and the first losers in this particular revolution were broadcast media outlets (TV, newspapers, magazines) and cultural elites whose social status relied on the ability to control who had access to the news, what stories they had access to, and what they did with that information.
If Murdoch is right that "the current days of the internet will soon be over," it will only be because a small handful of corporations own the vast majority of media outlets. My sense, though, is that he's wrong: That even if newspapers return to a pay-for-view model, the people will rise up against and then roll right over it by making the same content available for free elsewhere online and developing new uses for social media that subvert the efforts of Murdoch and others.
So keep an eye on Jenna's Guardian pieces. And be sure to comment quickly--the Guardian is running its own experiment by allowing comments only for the first two days after publication.
"I am a first-generation 'Star Trek' fan, and I've long argued that many of my deepest political convictions emerged from my experience of watching the program as a young man growing up in Atlanta during the civil rights era," declares Henry Jenkins, co-director of the MIT comparative media studies program and author of "Convergence Culture." "In many ways, my commitment to social justice was shaped in reality by Martin Luther King and in fantasy by 'Star Trek.'"
Obama, Jenkins points out, positioned himself in the primaries as a man "at home with both blacks and whites, someone whose mixed racial background has forced him to become a cultural translator." In this sense Obama even surpasses Spock, whose struggle to reconcile his half-human, half-Vulcan genes is a continual source of inner conflict. [. . .]
"The Vulcan side of Obama, the core of his character, and his character, hasn't changed [since the election]," Jenkins believes. "He's tough, he's cool and he's rational." His appeal stems from the self-aware integration of all aspects of his personality: black and white, wonk and poet, athlete and aesthete.
Five MIT students have received a 2009 Anthony Sun Fellowship Award to pursue international internships this summer through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI).
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science senior Scot Frank will continue his pioneering work on a low-cost solar cooker in western China. Physics senior Charles Agoos will work with a China Educational Technology Initiative (CETI) team to help expand OpenCourseWare programs in Taiwan and Fuzhou, China.
A sophomore in architecture, Katelyn Snyder, will work on historical preservation in the Old City of Acre (Akko), Israel.
Chris Moses, a brain and cognitive sciences junior and president of STeLA, the Science and Technology Leadership Association, will join a research team at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan.
A graduate student in comparative media studies, Madeline Clare Elish, will explore the intersection of art, science and technology at the Medialab-Prado in Madrid, Spain.
MISTI Director Suzanne Berger, the Raphael Dorman and Helen Starbuck Professor of Political Science, presented the awards on April 29 at an annual gala honoring the more than 360 MIT students who will intern in nine countries this year through MISTI.
Berger also acknowledged the European Club for its contribution to MISTI internships in Europe, and she thanked Josep Maria Cervera of the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce for its founding sponsorship of the MIT-Spain Program.
MIT Energy Initiative Director Ernest Moniz, the Cecil and Ida Green Distinguished Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, discussed the importance of international experience and the global response to climate change in his keynote address.
An image taken by Eric Schmiedl, a senior in the Comparative Media Studies program, will be included as part of a web gallery for American Photography 25, one of the most prestigious photo competitions in the country. Fewer than 1 percent of the 10,000-plus images submitted were chosen for the honor. Schmiedl's image was originally taken for the cover of a student-driven calendar meant to raise money for an Institute scholarship.
Ellen Hume in the American Prospect, "Defining Public Media for the Future"
Ellen Hume, research director of the Center for Future Civic Media, discussed public media at prospect.org with Jessica Clark of American University, Kinsey Wilson of NPR, Rey Ramsey of One Economy, and Sascha Meinrath of the New America Foundation:
Ellen Hume: I totally disagree that there isn't a vibrant investigative journalism role that's being played. If you look at what local newspapers continue to do with their hands tied behind their backs, there are still people being exposed and going to jail. It's popular to say that investigative journalism is dying, but it's actually resurging in new ways in projects like ProPublica. Now, to say it's all well and good and financed, I wouldn't argue that. But I think that investigative work is really hard to do, and it's hard to imagine it's going to be done by flash mobs and that sort of thing. There is important investigative work that's being done, and sometimes it takes an institution to do it.
But are we going to have radio stations and licenses? Or are we going to be taking our audio bits, posting them using cell phones and other devices onto Web platforms and accessing them in whatever stream we want -- the way we do now with YouTube and other platforms? I think that the station is kind of history.
Rhizome highlights Driscoll/Diaz "chiptunes" research as required reading
The influential arts website Rhizome, part of NYC's New Museum, is the latest to tout CMS grad students Kevin Driscoll's and Josh Diaz's collaboration on chiptunes, music inspired by videogame soundtracks.
I was discussing the Boyle phenomenon this morning with MIT professor Henry Jenkins, an expert on pop culture and fandom and the author of "Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide." He says the reaction might have been smaller without Twitter, a new way of spreading news more quickly than ever to communities with shared interest. (I personally first heard about her from a poster on our weekly "American Idol" chat.) And he thinks the YouTube video of Boyle's "Britain's Got Talent" audition -- 100 million views and counting -- wouldn't have the same weight on this side of the pond if we didn't already know Simon Cowell. Part of the thrill, he contends, is watching Cowell's reaction shift from trademark sneer to deep appreciation. He also notes that "Britain's Got Talent" has a tradition of finding true underdog talents; before Boyle, after all, there was Paul Potts. "You have a feeling that that show has a 'genre expectation' of finding that story," Jenkins told me. Boyle worked because "she was just so quirky and so good."
To media observers, the speed and scope of Boyle's online ubiquity is a testament that the marriage between old media (her performance first aired on British television) and new media (it then made its way to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook) is broadening the reach of all media, from one channel to another, from person to person.
"There's a lot of talk about things going 'viral' online. But 'viral' suggests that someone has created a virus and that people are unknowingly transmitting it, as if they had no choice but to carry the virus. But that's not really what's going on with Susan Boyle," said Henry Jenkins, co-director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program and author of "Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide." After watching Boyle's audition video on Wednesday, he sent an e-mail to a group of friends -- "Take a moment to feel warm and fuzzy," he wrote in the e-mail's subject line -- and logged on to Twitter to alert his 1,798 followers about Boyle.
"What we're really seeing with Susan Boyle in a very powerful way is the power of 'spreadability,' " Jenkins continued. "Consumers in their own online communities are making conscious choices to spread Susan Boyle around online."
From the earliest hardware hacking days of the Atari 2600, to the landmark creation of the SID chip (right, used most famously in the Commodore 64) to the concurrent Amiga cracking/tracking/demo scenes, Driscoll sets up the aesthetic roots of what would later be embraced by the likes of upstart (and still prolific) netlabel micromusic.net.
Similarly, for a new Web-based prealgebra game aimed at middle school students called Lure of the Labyrinth, game developers from the Boston-based FableVision and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology worked closely with a group of teachers to design and develop the game from start to finish.
Spearheaded by Maryland Public Television as part of the Learning Games to Go initiative, which aims to create learning games that support students' prealgebra and reading skills, the game is aligned with Maryland State Voluntary Curriculum standards as well as national standards.
"[Teachers] have every reason to be skeptical" of using games in the classroom," said Scot Osterweil, the creative director of the game at MIT's Education Arcade, a research initiative at the university that investigates learning through games. "From our perspective, the goal was to come up with something the teacher can adopt without taking a big risk," he said.
Henry Jenkins interview from SXSW with the Austin American-Statesman
Austin American-Statesman: I work at a daily newspaper, and everyone around here's talking about the future of our business, and one idea that's been floating around the past few weeks is this idea of getting people to pay for access to newspaper Web sites. And one entity that keeps coming in for criticism is Huffingtonpost.com, which repurposes newspaper copy for free. But I can't help but think that this critique misses certain benefits that something like Huffington brings to the sites it appropriates content from -- that it makes some of this material more 'spreadable,' as you say. Do you think that's the case?
Jenkins: I think that the notions of spreadability that I'm talking about have real implications for news and journalism. All of these mechanisms, it seems to me, encourage people to engage with the content of the news. The whole system would fall apart if there weren't professional journalists in the mix, generating content, setting agendas, doing the investigative reporting and field work necessary for real public conversations to take place. But historically newspapers are very poor spaces for serious back-and-forth communication between citizens. I think what we're seeing are emerging models which allow citizens to take that media into their own communities, to talk about it among themselves, to organize around content that's particularly significant to whatever group they belong to, and to generate their own kinds of commentary that responds to and reflects the issues of the day. And I do think that that's actually in the long-term interest of the mission of journalism, if not the business plan of newspapers.
The problem is how to bring those two things back together.
Of course there are good reasons to shake employees' personal networks when hiring. People who play together well are likely to work together well. (Henry Jenkins, a professor at M.I.T., has suggested that companies may one day recruit whole groups that form around online games.) In addition, an employee understands that a friend's performance affects their own reputation, and consequently will avoid referring incompetents and perpetual procrastinators. Nothing kills a relationship faster than working all night to correct the screw-ups your gormless chum introduced into a major project.
Recent developments in what MIT media theorist Henry Jenkins calls "media convergence" point to significant effects of "transmediation" where religious stories may unfold across multiple media platforms. With the proliferation of Web-based and mobile communication devices, the production and dissemination of viral e-mail, instant messaging--and now tweets--may accelerate the speed and intensity of message spread and traction.
To this point, one pastor has blogged about how he had prayed about a prayer request that he had received on Twitter, and in turn retweeted the message to everyone who followed him on Twitter.
"I've been following the blogosphere for a long time," said Henry Jenkins (@henryjenkins), the head of MIT's Comparative Media Studies center. As a human-to-human communications medium, he said, "I've never seen the scale and volume of the flow of information that Twitter is facilitating."
Ian Condry at Hip-Hop Worldwide: More Than a Nation
Among the events popping off at Harvard's newly interactive archive: a week-long global hip-hop film festival, a Hip-Hop Worldwide panel featuring renowned anthropologist Ian Condry and rap-journalism godfather Davey D, and a series of meetings and lectures addressing hip-hop's constructive role in the global AIDS crisis. In other words, topics not addressed on the latest T-Pain and G-Unit albums.
Nick Monfort on Atari and video games in the Boston Globe
IDEAS: We live now in a world where people often are sitting alone in a room playing something. Very different from the Atari philosophy, which, to me, was about games as a social experience. The games were always better with two players.
MONTFORT: I wouldn't want to argue that the Atari way was better. But it has a different concept of how people will play together. Maybe we forgot some things that were good about play experience. Maybe we want the computer to be a device that is more like a hearth that members of the family come around and use to interact with each other.
When MIT Professor of Anthropology Stefan Helmreich set out to examine the world of marine microbiologists for a new book, his research took an unexpected twist.
Helmreich, who has been recognized for his innovative cultural anthropology work, had decided to study scientists who chase some of the world's smallest creatures in some of the world's most forbidding places. So he spent long hours interviewing microbial biologists such as Penny Chisholm, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies at MIT, and Edward DeLong, professor in MIT's Department of Biological Engineering and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and an associate member at the Broad Institute.
From the Boston Globe article "'MST3K' crew is back for more movie mocking," describing the Mystery Science Theater 3000 event put on by CMS's Generoso Fierro and Jason Begy:
Three and a half hours into their appearance at MIT last month, Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu were determined to match their fans' dedication. They had given a nearly two-hour presentation on their creations - the bad-movie-bashing sci-fi comedy TV series "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and their current movie-mocking project, Cinematic Titanic - and almost all of the hundred or so fans stayed to stand in line for autographs. Hodgson and Beaulieu indulged a group that had made drawings of the "invention exchange" sketches from the show and beamed proudly at a kid, barely out of elementary school, wearing a "Mystery Science Theater" sweatshirt.
CMS alum and current instructor Sam Ford had his course "American Soap Operas" Slashdotted:
from the stranger-than-fiction dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Wikipedia apparently wasn't enough. There had to be a course on the much needed subject of soap operas at MIT. Here's the Course Description: "The television landscape has changed drastically in the past few years; nowhere is this more prevalent than in the American daytime serial drama, one of the oldest forms of television content. This class examines the history of these "soap operas" and their audiences by focusing on the production, consumption, and media texts of soaps. The class will include discussions of what makes soap operas a unique form, the history of the genre, current experimentation with transmedia storytelling, the online fan community, and comparisons between daytime dramas and primetime serials from 24 to Friday Night Lights, through a study of Procter & Gamble's As the World Turns."" All I really need to know I learned from my evil twin, who fathered my unborn child, who has a extremely rare disease that only one of my many CIA contacts, who is also sleeping with my wife, can cure.
Directed by Jay Scheib, "Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre's 20th Century" is based on the band's 2007 album of the same title, on Chunksaah Records. The music veers from piano- and guitar-driven rock to tense chamber arrangements, and the lyrics draw from Lorre's films and Stephen D. Youngkin's 2005 biography, "The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre." ("I don't act, I just make faces," goes one song.)
But Mr. Scheib, a theater professor at M.I.T. whose multimedia work "This Place Is a Desert" was in Under the Radar two years ago, said the show was not strictly biographical. "It ended up being more about how the band's live show is influenced by Lorre's life and times than any kind of a biopic," he said.
New York Times on the Gambit Game Lab: "See Me, Hear Me: A Video Game for the Blind"
The Singapore-M.I.T. Gambit Game Lab ("gambit" for gamers, aesthetics, mechanics, business, innovation and technology) brings together computer geeks of Cambridge and computer geeks of the Asian city-state. The point: to develop video games for the global market from the outset, not translate them from one continent to another.
Eitan Glinert, there as a master's candidate in computer science, got to thinking about one market lost in translation. "People with disabilities were being left out of progress in the gaming market," says Mr. Glinert, 26. For his master's thesis, Mr. Glinert wanted to make a game that would work equally for the visually impaired and for the seeing, so they could play together.
Governmental repression is only one of the subjects of Capozzola's broader but more academic study. Wartime mobilization, he argues, redefined the citizen's relationship to the state. A Selective Service Act touched unprecedented numbers of American men; federal officials scrutinized conscientious objectors and registered German aliens; and agencies issued vast streams of pro-war propaganda. Yet "Americans consistently needed less outright repression than the wartime alarmists claimed," for countless people eagerly volunteered to police themselves and their communities by physically attacking strikers, burning books, and even lynching suspected traitors. During the war, the "actions of repressive state institutions, private organizations, and spontaneous crowds left more than seventy Americans dead and thousands terrorized by tar, flame, or the noose," Capozzola writes. Uncle Sam "invoked a culture of obligation," and many Americans readily complied.
io9: "What Is David Bowie Doing In Dr. Manhattan's Sweet Pad?"
On November 21 2008, the Futures of Entertainment 3 conference took place at MIT, and moderator Henry Jenkins joined Alisa Perren (from Georgia State University) and super-designer Alex McDowell at MIT to discuss the work behind making Watchmen so beautiful. For over 100 minutes, they talked set design, easter eggs, how some movies fail in the marketing department (Fight Club) and how they've all remained pretty on top of Watchmen to keep things like the toys (which will be featured in the movie) top notch.
But most interesting were the stills McDowell shared with the crowd that allowed us into Dr. Manhattan's apartment and inside a few other rooms in Watchmen. Even though Zack Snyder admits he followed the comic-book panel storyboard style of directing, there were a few places that weren't terribly fleshed out in the novel, where Snyder could have a little fun.
Drill, baby, drill may be what's on the minds of gas companies, but if you're a landowner of a potential gas site, you probably have a lot of questions.
Thanks to a new software application that's being test marketed by MIT, landowners may now extract data to see if the gas companies' proposals to drill are fair and safe. The software tool, called the Landman Report Card (LRC), will help landowners in any state navigate the government and corporate databases, as well as get feedback from other landowners who've been in similar situations. And they can do all this before agreeing to a drilling contract.
The term "land man" refers to an oil company representative who often times shows up on the doorstep of unsuspecting property owners who've been targeted as having prospective drill sites.
"People often will sign the day the land man shows up at the door," says MIT professor Chris Csikszentmihalyi. "There are lots of negotiations that people can do, that they often don't know they can."
Surely, the most tantalizing thing about the show is its impressive cast of artists and co-creators: Boston-based experimental director and MIT professor Jay Scheib concocts a media-rich environment in which Stein's renderings of past, present and future can simultaneously unfold.
From Project New Media Literacies, Wyn Kelly discussion how her thoughts on Melville's Moby-Dick changed after she worked with Ricardo Pitts-Wiley on the play, Moby-Dick: Then and Now. View the video at MIT Tech TV.
Landman Report Card highlighted in Good Clean Tech, PC Magazine
Fortunately, MIT is working on a suite of software applications that helps aggregate all the necessary information about land deals, along with input from citizens in the affected areas, in a clear, user-friendly format. The so-called Landman Report Card (LRC) will be the first program to be tested with landowners in Colorado and Ohio. MIT then hopes to extend the tests to New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- states where the all-familiar "Drill, Baby, Drill" is drawing too close for comfort.
Since the franchise was rebooted with 2006's "Casino Royale," however, there have been Draconian cutbacks to Q branch. That may be because movie audiences may be too jaded to appreciate fantastical doohickeys, said Geoffrey Long of the Singapore MIT GAMBIT Game Lab via email.
"Given the two-plus years of development time required to take such a film from script to cineplex, it's become incredibly difficult for sci-fi to keep coming up with mind-blowing yet somewhat feasible new gizmos and gadgets," said Long. "If Bond does indeed have an amazing supercomputer in 'Quantum,' I for one will be keenly interested in seeing what it can do - and then seeing if my own laptop can outdo it."
CMS alum Parmesh Shahani on promoting brands in Bollywood films
This perhaps marks the beginning of a trend where marketers and film-makers move from plain vanilla deals that toss brands into a script to ones that are integrated seamlessly into the story.
"The film, through the reach of Bollywood, will be our ambassador abroad," says Verve's editorial director Parmesh Shahani. "And in many ways, our ambassador here as well."
The magazine, on its part, has taken the deal a notch further, with its November issue dubbed as a Dostana special. It has at least 40 pages devoted to the subject, including the magazine cover inspired by the Karan Johar film, interviews with Chopra, director Tarun Mansukhani, fashion shoots on film sets in Miami and at Film City in Goregaon, and fashion and beauty features inspired by the Dostana theme. The film also gets a special mention in the editor's column.
Education Arcade's "Hi-Tech Who Done It!" in the MIT Technology Review
Hi-Tech Who Done It! is part of a research project called the Education Arcade that aims to make computer and video games a valuable component of teaching. The undertaking is a collaboration between MIT and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and will ultimately bring together a consortium of educators, game designers, publishers, and policymakers to develop sophisticated games that range from quick demonstrations that illustrate points made in lectures to semester-long projects that support the content of courses. The educational games will be aimed at motivating high-school students or helping advanced-high-school or first-year college students learn complex concepts. Teachers will also benefit, as the Education Arcade is developing a website that will serve as a clearinghouse for lesson plans coordinated with existing commercial games, projects and programs to help students learn to create games, and online forums where teachers can share best practices with their peers.
Henry Jenkins cited in Washington Post article "What's Wrong with Studying Video Games?"
So studying "video games themselves" isn't [complicated]? All the social science projects and behavioral research into games and violence and/or aggressive behavior as well as their potential cognitive learning benefits and rhetorical/theoretical relationships between players and virtual worlds is all tantamount to some implied catch-all screw-off drug trip? (Not that I agree with the implication's analogue here in terms of the oft and unimaginatively scapegoated Pink Floyd.)
Anyone care to tell that to academics like Ian Bogost and Edward Castranova and Henry Jenkins? All the folks working not just in game design, but the study of ludology and/or narratology? Game luminaries like Will Wright and Peter Molyneux and Shigeru Miyamoto, who've made it their business (never mind quite a bit of cash) to figure out what players are thinking and feeling when they play?
Greenblatt, Henderson, and Thorburn, from the MIT Communications Forum, on if:book
Greenblatt continued to say that last year Harvard passed a vote that faculty would be required if they wrote an article to allow access to a digital version for Harvard, so that all their scholarly work would be universally accessible digitally. "As a general principle, the idea that the work that we do should have value digitally and have universal access," is what Greenblatt said he had been calling for for years.
For three days this week, Oct. 23-25, educators, journalists, researchers, and all those interested are invited to Philadelphia for "Rebooting the News: Reconsidering an Agenda for American Civic Education." The goal? To finds ways to bring young people back into a civic mindset--helping them learn how to navigate the news in ways that make them feel more connected to their world.
[. . .]
Ellen Hume from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Future Civic Media, along with Renee Hobbs, a professor with the Media Education Lab, are among the participants. So far, attendees include journalism professors, students, researchers, and news professionals in radio, online, and print.
The main message to come out of the German TV festival and confab, which wrapped Monday, was that big industry bugaboos including Internet piracy and TiVo-like time-shifting technology won't mean the end of TV.
"Television is a parasite that lives on the back of other platforms," said MIT professor and media historian William Uricchio in his keynote. "The panic I'm seeing now (with regards to the Internet) has happened to TV before ... with the advent of the remote control and the video recorder."
While Uricchio acknowledged he thinks the traditional ad-supported TV model is on the way out, other Cologne Conference speakers provided some hope with examples of other profitable ways to produce drama content.
Osterweil in Yusef's Christian Science Monitor article, on video games in the classroom
Scot Osterweil, the creative director of the Education Arcade, a games and learning research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wants games incorporated into classrooms in manageable ways - and for them to become more than just "automated tests tricked out as games."
The key, he says, is good game design and a realistic understanding of how much game play teachers can allow in their classes, given limited time and resources.
"Let kids play games outside the classroom, but get 'game skills' into classrooms," he says. "Also, use kids' experience of games to deepen their understanding and get academic ideas into a play space."
From the Boston Phoenix: "Junot Diaz reads a new short story at the Brattle Theater"
Four women from Harvard Book Store stood at the back of the Brattle Theater last night, before the crowds arrived, giggling. "I have the biggest literary crush on him," said one, referring to the evening's reader -- MIT professor, Boston Review fiction editor, Pulitzer Prize-winner -- Junot Diaz, a man, it appeared from listening to the women's chatter, with many charms.
"Oh my god," said another, "sometimes I imagine just walking around Cambridge and bumping into him. 'Oh, are you Junot?'"
Move over Batman and Spidey, Gotham has a new hero: average New Yorkers whose random acts of civic courage are being logged on a new Web site called Hero Reports. A collection tool designed to lend statistical weight to compassionate acts, Hero Reports was launched by MIT Media lab student Alyssa Wright with support from The Center for Future Civic Media.
Benjamin Mako Hill at the 10th annual Open Source Conference
Benjamin Mako Hill from the MIT Center for Future Civic Media presented on the ways that errors in everyday technology can present opportunities for encouraging the right kind of thinking. He used ATM crashes as an example of how typically invisible thinking becomes visible to users, stimulating immediate public discussion. Open Source Software can be used to further decentralize control over the technology that has such a powerful role in our lives. See more examples of tech errors analyzed on Hill's site.
Henry Jenkins to speak at Games for Change conference in NYC
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Chris Crawford (original founder of the GDC), Prof. Henry Jenkins (MIT), and Prof. James Paul Gee (University of Wisconsin-Madison) are all confirmed speakers for the upcoming Games for Change NYC conference, to be held June 3 and 4.
Games for Change is a conference about using video games and game technology for altruistic purposes.
Henry Jenkins, the "Mud-Wrestling Media Maven from MIT"
CMS co-director Henry Jenkins is the subject of an extensive profile in the latest issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The piece begins:
If this profile of Henry Jenkins III were a YouTube video, it would begin with footage of the influential scholar mud-wrestling his wife at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If it were a podcast, the introduction would note that Jenkins has been called the Marshall McLuhan of the 21st century. And if this were an interactive graphic, it would trace the millions of dollars in research grants he has won from foundations, companies, and the government of Singapore.
The online version includes links to all of these things before diving into Jenkins' testimonial before Congress following the Columbine incident, his history with and ongoing engagement in fandom, the reception of his books in industry as well as academia, insight into his family life, the 'origin story' of his academic career and some possible clues as to where that career might be headed.
The piece can currently be publicly accessed here; the print version can be found on page B20 of The Chronicle of Higher Education Volume 54, Issue 3.
CMS, Media Lab Take Top Prize in Knight News Challenge
CMS and the MIT Media Lab were awarded $5 million to fund a Center for Future Civic Media where researchers will experiment with new technologies to empower community news. Read the Boston Globe story.
Students examine how technology has transformed wrestling into a multimedia business, and how the styles and storytelling methods have changed over the years.
Why study wrestling? Ford hopes students "use the class to learn more about how to critically analyze, discuss, and write about the popular culture they consume." And he's not the only one who sees the academic value of it.
MIT's student paper, The Tech, also recently posted a summary of our last colloquium featuring WWE wrestler and bestselling writer Mick Foley.
The Mick Foley colloquium is now available online as part of the CMS Colloquia Podcast.
Inside WWE, the official news site for World Wrestling Entertainment, reports that Jim Ross, announcer for WWE's Monday Night Raw, is "excited" about his chance to guest lecture at MIT for our students.
“I’m really interested and excited to see what questions these very bright men and women are going to have after having studied sports-entertainment all semester,” said JR. “You’re looking at some of the most elite college students in America and the world going to MIT.”
"Good Ol' JR" Jim Ross is visiting MIT for two days and will give a public lecture as part of the CMS Colloquia Series, entitled: "This One's Gonna Be a Slobberknocker". This is also part of a series of wrestling events brought to us by CMS graduate student and lecturer Sam Ford as part of his Topics in CMS course, American Pro Wrestling.
Jenkins on Ninjas, Politics, and the future of Democracy
BBC News online recently posted a summary of CMS Director Henry Jenkins' keynote speech at this year's Beyond Broadcast conference held last week at MIT and co-hosted by Comparative Media Studies (along with Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Yale Information Society).
In his keynote, Jenkins utilzed examples of participatory democracy online (a key theme of the event), such as the popular Ask a Ninja series of online videos. The article summarizes Jenkins' speech:
Even in a US primary election season, where would-be presidential contenders raced to announce their candidacy in online videos, Mr Jenkins' keynote speech was an eye-opener.
The point, set out more fully in his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, is essentially this - that politicians should not ignore the fun, frivolous side of the net because the web enthusiasms of the young: games, online video, machinima and mash-ups are the new online-tools that sooner or later will be used for political purposes.
Our Research Fair this past February 22nd was a great success! Thanks to all that came and all that participated!
Our hard work was noticed by the MIT News Office, which wrote:
CMS fetes digital games, cultural research
The students, staff and faculty of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program showed they could walk the walk and talk the talk of transformative media technology when they turned the Stata Center lobby into an attention-grabbing interior landscape on Feb. 22.
[O]n hand to chat and answer questions were representatives of the Convergence Culture Consortium, New Media Literacies, the Educational Arcade, Hyper Studio and other programs within CMS, itself part of MIT's literature section.
CMS and the Singapore-MIT International Games Lab profiled about Game Design and Creation
CMS Director Henry Jenkins and Singapore-MIT International Game Lab Executive Director Philip Tan recently talked to Wired's Chris Kohler about the Game Lab and the games industry.
Jenkins on creativity in the games industry:
"Studio-based production, across all media, has had two effects: ensuring a relatively high standard of production and capping opportunities for innovation and individual expression," Jenkins says. "As the costs of games get pushed higher and higher, many wonder where fresh new ideas will come from."
Jenkins and Tan about the industry's reception of outside input from academia:
"The game industry isn't particularly fond of reading research papers from academia," but its leaders do pay attention to games, says Tan.
Jenkins says the university connection will foster greater innovation: "We see the lab as a space where we can move swiftly from pure research into compelling applications, and then partner with the games industry to bring the best ideas to market."
Henry Jenkins on Gaming Communities as reported on by Forbes Online
In this recent interview with Forbes writer David Ewalt, CMS Director Henry Jenkins talks about gaming culture and its participatory nature.
Game culture, whether it's Machinima or skins or online tips, creates strong incentives for people to become active participants in the community, to create something and to give something back. Games are a beautiful illustration of where we are as a society. A participatory culture is one where there are incentives for people to participate and create, and to share with others--and where there is strong social support for each person taking their first steps into becoming a creative artist.
CMS Director Henry Jenkins Talks Games with Gamasutra
CMS Director Henry Jenkins recently sat down for an in-depth interview with Gamasutra. Topics ranged from the public's perception of video games as art, to the recently announced Singapore MIT International Game Lab. The interview also explored the benefits of using video games as teaching tools, and the concept of media convergence. Jenkins evens hints at which games he enjoys, and why.
The MIT News Office Reports on the Futures of Entertainment Conference
The Futures of Entertainment Conference, (held November 17th and 18th) drew network executives, game designers, academics, and the general public, and the MIT News Office was there to cover the event. The conference was sponsored by the Comparative Media Studies Program and the Convergence Culture Consortium. Read on to find out more about what industry experts had to say about the future of televison, transmedia storytelling, and other forms of media we consume today.
CMS Director Henry Jenkins Speaks with Mediasnackers
In Mediasnackers podcast number 54, Jenkins discusses such topics as the current youth media climate, the growing divide between young people and educators, (or people who work with the young) his latest book, and the future of media. The podcast is approximately twelve minutes in length.
CMS Director Henry Jenkins talks with Business Week about New Media Literacies and the MacArthur Foundation
Business Week writes about the MacArthur Foundation's "five-year initiative to study online culture and media literacy, and its impact on modern youth" and our role within it.
The participation gap. In 2005, Henry Jenkins, the director of the Comparative Media Studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received $500,000 for research that was published to coincide with the launch of the new initiative. His paper, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, examines what Jenkins calls the "participation gap."
While educators used to worry about the "digital divide"--whether all students had equal access to computers and technology--they should now consider the "participation gap", or whether students who can only use computers in the school library have enough time to develop the same media literacy and skills as peers who spend hours designing, communicating, editing, networking, and learning on their home computers.
Based on the results of his research, Jenkins' Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT will receive a further $1,800,000 to develop a media-literacy curriculum in conjunction with the Center for Urban School Improvement in Chicago.
Curriculum products will include a library of day-in-the-life videos of people who have excelled in digital media and a Remixing Melville project, in collaboration with the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Students will use video, sound, and other multimedia tools and techniques to re-imagine Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick in the context of their own lives--an innovative way to introduce classic literature.
CMS Director Henry Jenkins Profiled in the Boston Globe
CMS Director Henry Jenkins was recently profiled in the Living Arts section of the Boston Globe by staff writer Joseph Kahn. The story touches upon recent issues such as his new book, and current research as well as providing an overview of his life and career thus far.
CMS Director Henry Jenkins Delivers the Keynote at the Serious Games Summit in Washington DC
CMS Director Henry Jenkins delivered the keynote speech at the Serious Games Summit on Monday October 30th, and David Ewalt of Forbes covered the event. Jenkins spoke on such topics as convergence culture, The Education Arcade and their project "Revolution," and the ramifications of the "Super Mario Brothers Generation" coming of age. Ewalt's article discusses more about the goings on at the summit, and includes excerpts from Jenkins's speech.
CMS Professor Beth Coleman's Machinima Group as Reported on by the MIT News Office
Beth Coleman, assistant professor in Comparative Media Studies and the Writing Program has assembled a group of student researchers to look at Machinima, (the art of using 3D gaming engines to produce original cinematic pieces). The MIT News Office has been following their progress.
The Mac Arthur Foundation Launches it's Digital Media and Learning Initiative and CMS Director Henry Jenkins is There.
The John D. and Catherine T. Mac Arthur Foundation launched it's five-year, $50 million initiative yesterday to determine how digital technologies are affecting the way our youth learn, play, socialize and participate in civic life. The launch was held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and attended by CMS Director Henry Jenkins who published the white paper; Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century . To find out more you can read about the event as reported on by Business Wire, or check out the Mac Arthur Foundation's new Digital Media and Learning site to read the paper by Jenkins.
CMS Director Henry Jenkins in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio
CMS Director Henry Jenkins discusses Convergence Culture, the phenomena and the book in this interview with Wisconsin Public Radio. Here, Jenkins tells Jim Fleming that "The Matrix" is a good example of what we can expect from a convergence culture - a story that is told in more than one medium. Listen in on the interview here. The Jenkins portion of the interview begins at the 22:00 mark.
MIT and the (Comparative) Media Studies program have been the subject of Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury for the past week. Director Henry Jenkins has noticed this and recently posted commentary on his blog, Confessions of an Aca/Fan
I can say that we in the Comparative Media Studies program are delighted that Ms. Doonesbury is so enthusiastic about wanting to get into our classes. We hope she makes it one of these days. We'd love to see her become a major. A growing number of frosh are arriving at MIT wanting to major in our program. We are now the largest Humanities major at MIT.
CMS Director Henry Jenkins mentioned on Slashdot.org
CMS Director Henry Jenkins Blog mentioned on Slashdot.org. This post is in regards to Professor Jenkins recent post of an interview with Todd Allen entitled "Comics and Micropayments."
MIT on Comics and Micropayments
Posted by Zonk on Friday September 22, @09:27AM
from the micro-comic-entertainments dept.
Snotty Pippen writes "Henry Jenkins, Chair of MIT's Comparative Media Department, has posted 'Comics and Micropayments: An Interview with Todd Allen.' Todd Allen is a professor/consultant with a book on the business of comics. The two discuss a number of online business models and web comics, ranging from the print-to-web migrants like Girl Genius and Finder to the print-to-web download of Flying Friar; the long tail as a driving source for reprints & back-issues; and PayPal's effect on micropayments. All-in-all, a fairly comprehensive round-up of the industry."
The New York Times reports on MTV's latest online venture, Virtual Laguna Beach, "an online service in which fans of the program can immerse themselves -- or at least can immerse digitized, three-dimensional characters, called avatars, that they control -- in virtual versions of the show's familiar seaside hangouts." They turn to Henry Jenkins for context:
To design Virtual Laguna Beach and the other forthcoming 3-D online communities, MTV enlisted Makena Technologies, the creator of There.com. Henry Jenkins, a professor at M.I.T. and the author of "Convergence Culture," said such virtual communities were a natural next step for mainstream media companies seeking to deepen their connections to fans.
He said "Laguna Beach" was an interesting choice for the first venture because it had a heavily female audience and because the show itself was such a blur of real, unreal and sort of real. "It's just layer upon layer of reality and fiction," Mr. Jenkins said.
"A decade ago, published fan fiction mostly came from women in their 20s, 30s and beyond," he writes. "Today, these older writers have been joined by a generation of new contributors, who found fan fiction (while) surfing the Internet and decided to see what they could produce."
An article in The EyeOpener Online turns to Henry Jenkins for background and context in an article on the growing realization that women constitute a significant percentage of the video-game-playing market:
Henry Jenkins, sociology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the industry has always been populated by men.
"The video game industry has always been overwhelmingly populated by men, and there is a dwindling number of women who are actually involved," he says.
"The video game industry is based on intuitive design space, which means that the game designers will come up with games, develop games that they are interested in playing. This means that since men are dominating the development field regarding video games, the games that are put on the market will cater towards mainly men," he says.
Jenkins says having more women in the industry will lead to a shift towards the conceptualization of gender-neutral games such as The Sims, rather than igniting a second boom in "girl games" of the '90s, such as Barbie's Dream World.
"The more women who are involved in the making of games, the more say and influence women will have in shaping the flow of thought and the flow of ideas for developing new games ... Electronic Arts and Maxis (maker of The Sims) are very dominant, and are improving." Jenkins says.
In today's New York Times, Professor Henry Jenkins weighs in on the topic of pop cosmopolitanism as it relates to the rising global popularity of Korean pop music:
Inevitably, non-Asian Americans are discovering such easily accessible foreign culture, too. Because of the "multidirectional flow of cultural goods around the world," there is a "new pop cosmopolitanism," according to Henry Jenkins, professor of comparative media studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In an essay in "Globalization" (University of California Press, 2004), Jenkins writes that "younger Americans are distinguishing themselves from their parents' culture through their consumption of Japanese anime and manga, Bollywood films and bhangra, and Hong Kong action movies."
In an article on the disappearing line between real and virtual (MMORPG) economies, The Boston Globe turns to Professor Henry Jenkins for a quick perspective:
As the Xbox generation spends more time online, immersed in multiplayer online games with thousands of other people, the value of their characters increases. So something that one can't touch -- a cute elf, a powerful warrior, or a butt-kicking ogre -- accumulates real-world value. Call it the world of Dungeons & Dragons and Dollars -- or, as one professor calls it, an ''illusionary economy."
''For the players, these characters are not without value," says Henry Jenkins, director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program. His upcoming book, ''Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide," touches on this virtual commerce among online game players. He compares this underground character trade to buying your way into any coveted group.
'You are buying the power to participate," he says. ''The game world is kind of like a social or country club. So it's somewhat similar to buying access to some sort of entertainment or some membership to participate instead of building it from the ground up. For the people who participate, it's not just about the fantasy of slaying dragons but about the reality of forming strong bonds with other people around the world, and that's what gives real economic value to buying these characters."
The past few years have seen the emergence of multiple platforms like satellite TV, broadband cable, and wireless, which are delivering all kinds of content to a plethora of devices. Convergence is no longer about what content you access through which device but how long do you engage with that content.
The Convergence Culture Consortium (C3) at the famous MIT sums it up succinctly, "There are three core concepts that are central to the way that we at C3 think about the current media landscape. Transmedia entertainment, participatory culture, and brand extension describe the same process as experienced by the creative artist, the media consumer, and the marketer."
Via gamingblog.org, a reference to a now-restricted article in The Harvard Business Review where Professor Jenkins offers a few interesting quotes:
Gamers become very good at making rapid decisions based on limited information. Online games make constant demands on your attention; there are multiple problems emerging at the same time, and players get very good at making reasonable predictions and charting actions based on information as it comes in...
Collaborative play is quickly becoming dominant in this medium. Most people who play alone are just rehearsing the skills they need to participate in group activities. Users of multiplayer or alternative-reality games learn to work with other people over distance, to share knowledge, to resolve disputes quickly, and to stay on task.
An article on Knight-Ridder tackles the omnipresent games-and-violence debate, and looks at the possible social benefits of video gaming. Accordingly, there's an obligatory mention of CMS's Education Arcade, and a soundbite from Professor Henry Jenkins:
Video gaming, like television a half-century ago, has taken a permanent seat in the house of kid culture, especially for boys. The question no longer is whether games are worthwhile -- they're here -- but how to harness their awesome appeal to benefit coming generations.
"You've got a technology that clearly captures the attention of American young people," said Henry Jenkins, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, academics are building video games that classrooms can use to teach principles of magnetism and the history of colonial America.
An article on SyFy Portal picks up on Professor Henry Jenkins' recent article for FLOW ("I Want My Geek TV!"), and more or less reiterates each point of the article as a quote attributed to Henry. Still... nice to get the word out!
Professor Henry Jenkins is among the academics quoted in The Los Angeles Times' article "At Work at PlayStations, addressing the increased prevalence of academic programs training students for positions in the video game industry:
"If you look at the games sector, what you see historically is they've hired two groups of people: programmers and graphic artists. But games are becoming a storytelling and entertainment medium. Neither of those groups have the vocabulary to talk to each other very well because they come from much different worlds," says Henry Jenkins, director of comparative media studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a program that doesn't have a formal game-design component but frequently places graduates in the industry. "We're training technologists to think like entertainers."
Jenkins is one of many university professors who draw the comparison between today's emerging interactive entertainment curriculum and the film schools that emerged in the '70s.
"The Spielbergs and Lucases, what was different about them coming through film school rather than the ranks … is they understood every part of the film production process. They weren't technical skill people but they had a conceptual framework that allowed them to bring all the pieces together.
"In the same way film schools changed Hollywood," Jenkins adds, "game studies will change the games industry."
The Baltimore Business Journal mentions The Education Arcade in a short article about the "Learning Games To Go" project being completed in collaboration with Maryland Public Television.
Edited (Dec 2, 2005): Another mention in The Baltimore Daily Record: read the article. They do love us in Maryland... or maybe it has something to do with the involvement of Maryland Public Television. Probably us, though.
Education Arcade Works with MPT on "Learning Games To Go"
Maryland Public Television (MPT) has announced that CMS's Education Arcade is among the key partners in their new collaborative initiative, "Learning Games To Go":
Joining MPT in this initiative are the Center for Technology in Education (CTE) and the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University, The Education Arcade at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), several Maryland school districts, cutting-edge technology developers and education experts. The group will apply the latest research and practice to "serious games," content that is entertaining but has educational goals, in order to reach today's media-savvy youth and improve the low performing levels of middle school students in math and literacy skills.
Professor Henry Jenkins was recently the guest speaker in an Electronic Arts workshop designed to encourage and foster creative thinking within the company. Fast Company reports:
This past September, the guest speaker was Henry Jenkins, a director of the comparative media-studies program at MIT and a passionate gamer. Imagine the motion-picture industry in its infancy, when it had been around for only 25 years, he told the group. "That's where you are now," said Jenkins. "Video games will be the most important American art form for the 21st century."
The challenge for EA's game creators is figuring out how to build an industry and how to create lasting art. In a previous workshop, Jenkins talked about narrative structure, character development, and memorable moments in Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Poe. "What can you put in a game that will endure?" he asked.
Over two days at the Vancouver studio, EA's creative leaders pondered these and other issues. The nature of fandom. The propensity of rule breaking and how designers might encourage this to enhance a game. And the importance of leaving space in a game for imagination, or the "meta game." Meaning that the game continues in the player's mind even when the console is switched off.
"MIT Hosts Conference on Cultural Significance of Games"
By Dan Teven
The Computer and Video Games Come of Age conference opened today, giving Massachusetts Institute of Technology students the chance to hear an impressive list of guest speakers. Although the conference is free and open to the public, it was not widely publicized. About half of the approximately 450 attendees seemed to be from MIT, with a minority contingent from Boston-area game development houses like Looking Glass, Turbine, GameFX, Stainless Steel Studios, and Harmonix.
The conference is co-sponsored by the Interactive Digital Software Association and MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies, a first-year department that's not to be confused with the famous Media Lab. There were no holographic game interfaces or wearable computers to be found. In fact, it felt more like a "GDC Lite", with an overly long keynote by 3DO's Trip Hawkins but without the technical sessions or the hangover.
Trip's big theme? Computers need to become more natural to use - and they will.
For both content and style, the speakers from academia acquitted themselves better than those from our industry. However, many respected developers have yet to speak, such as Hal Barwood, Peter Molyneux, Gabe Newell, David Perry, Bruce Shelley and Warren Spector.
The best session of the day belonged to Geoffrey Goldstein, a psychologist from the University of Utrecht. After debunking the notion that games are addictive, Goldstein explained the difference between aggression and mere aggressive play. Boys running around and yelling on the playground are engaged in aggressive play, because they don't really mean to hurt each other. On the other hand, girls who say "let's have a party on Friday night and not invite her" are actually the aggressive ones!
Doug Lowenstein of the IDSA talked about demographics, revenues, and piracy. Lowenstein's best moment was his story about walking into a software store in Singapore, realizing that everything around him was pirated, and noticing a "Shoplifters will be prosecuted" sign by the register.
MIT's Henry Jenkins introduced the conference by citing Gilbert Seldes. In the 1924 book, "The Seven Lively Arts," Seldes argued that comics, jazz, and cinema should be taken as seriously as ballet or opera. Jenkins drew many parallels between video games and these forms of expression, and in particular, between games and cinema. (We've all heard the movie comparisons before, but I suppose we should be grateful, because Seldes also tagged vaudeville and musical revues as "lively arts".)
The conference concludes today, with sessions on the Aesthetics of Game Design, Games and Education, Games as Popular Culture, Games as Interactive Storytelling, and The Future of Games.
More information and proceedings from the event can be found at http://web.mit.edu/cms/games
(With thanks to Dan Teven and Gamasutra for the article.)