MIT7 Media In Transition: unstable platforms

May 20, 2011
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unstable platforms: the promise and peril of transition, the seventh biannual incarnation of the MIT Media in Transition conference, was held last Friday through Sunday.  The conference featured more than 175 papers by presenters from 24 countries. Podcasts of the plenaries “Unstable Platforms,” “Archives and Cultural Memory,” “Power and Empowerment,” and “Summing Up, Looking Ahead” have been made available by the Comparative Media Studies program.

Every account of a conference is individualized, and this post adds another perspective to blog posts such as those written by Saul Tannenbaum from a citizen journalist perspective and Nick Montfort’s recap of the “Computer Histories” panel.

Below, I focus on some of the presentations that made me think deeply about moments of media transition.

Chuck Tryon discussed the marketing of premium VOD services and digital lockers that are depicted in marketing campaigns as contributing to family harmony and individual empowerment. I was especially interested in his analysis of the Ultraviolet digital locker that allows consumers to buy “enduring access.” Tryon noted that Ultraviolet seems to be targeted to families; in marketing discourses it is treated as a service that allows/creates “family harmony,” but Tryon noted that advertising messages may reinforce gender roles surrounding spectatorship while potentially “promoting individualized consumption.”

Jennifer Holt’s paper on “regulatory hangover” (when technology outpaces regulation) looked back to the FCC’s Computer 1 Inquiry in 1966 in a move to historicize convergence in policy discourses and insist that “convergence” or “new media” policy needs to be central to the FCC’s contemporary mission. Holt insisted that national agencies such as the FCC need a new framework for multiple platforms for voice and data services. Her discussion of the importance of thinking about the regulatory challenges of platforms and pipelines and her analysis of “dumb pipes/smart devices” was especially insightful.

The panel I was on featured great papers by Nina Huntemann (who talked about playtesting, quality assurance, and usability studies in the gaming industry), Mia Consalvo (who analyzed the discursive frameworks that are being built around social games by designers and major industry players), and Randall Nichols (who reminded game studies scholars to take consoles and the cycles of hardware development more seriously).

Pilar Lacasa’s use of Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera and Sims-based machinima to teach Spanish schoolchildren about the language of images struck me as a really innovative way to teach media literacy.

Clara Fernandez-Vara’s presentation on the potential advantages and problems of relying on emulators to preserve and play games designed for past consoles and older hardware systems raised questions about how we construct and write gaming histories. I was particularly struck by her discussion of what we do with peripherals such as the Nintendo light gun used on games such as Duck Hunt that only work on CRT screens. Peripherals are integral to the embodied experience of play, but what happens when peripherals don’t work on new screen technologies? What are the limits of what emulators can do to archive and preserve games and the gaming experience?

Jaroslav Svelch discussed how Army sponsored youth computer clubs in Czechoslovakia helped create gaming cultures during the 1980s. Svelch’s discussion of how Indiana Jones was rescripted as a freedom fighter behind the Iron Curtain and of how text adventure games traveled within the nation was fascinating.

These are just a few of the fascinating talks that were presented this past weekend on the MIT campus.

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