video games – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “Bodies” That Matter Tue, 20 Oct 2015 13:42:26 +0000 Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn, contributor Kyra Hunting outlines the anthology's "Bodies" section in order to argue that critical consideration for women's media cultures facilitates a deeper understanding of embodiment in relation to community practices, self-presentation, and technology. ]]> Post by Kyra Hunting, University of Kentucky

As a feminist scholar (and fashion fan) I frequently find myself returning to the problem of the body. Traditional trappings of femininity like make-up and nail polish and “feminized” interests like dance, fashion, and romance offer the body as a site of creativity, pleasure, and identity play but also something that is monitored, shaped, and disciplined. The contributors to the “Bodies” section in Elana Levine’s edited collection Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early Twenty-First Century explores this tension by examining how pregnancy apps, fandom-centered fashion blogs, nail-polish blogs, and televised gospel performances all negotiate the complex intersections of technology, gender and embodiment.

That this section is called “Bodies” (plural) is significant, because–despite looking at very different media forms with disparate relationships to the idea of the body–all four pieces in this section explore an investment in how these media work to provide community for their users. Throughout the chapters in this section there were four key threads: an exploration of how these female-targeted media dealt with tensions inherent to the presentation of the female body, the way in which the imagined user and their investment effected the platform, how the technology interacted with these concerns, and the fostering of a female community around these technologies.



In “Mothers, Fathers, and the Pregnancy App Experience” Barbara L. Ley lists the facilitation of a community of mothers (and to a lesser extent fathers) to-be as an important feature of pregnancy apps, alongside their prominent informational and organizational features. “Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance, Dance All Night! Mediated Audiences and Black Women’s Spirituality” by Beretta E. Smith-Shomade looks at how a community based around shared spirituality can share profound religious affective experience through the viewing of gospel and religious performance on television. My own chapter “Fashioning Feminine Fandom” touches on how fashion blogs organized around specific fandoms (Dr. Who, video games, or Disney for example) bring together a community of (mostly female) fans interested in expressing their fandom through sartorial engagement. Some of these communities have become significant enough to hold real-world meet-ups.

Michele White’s “Women’s Nail Polish Blogging and Femininity” also addresses the community dimensions of beauty blogs, exploring how they become spaces for not only creative expression but for communities that guide and support one other’s nail art. White notes that while these communities often discursively emphasize the creative elements of nail art, some advice-giving practices end up reinforcing more problematic gendered messages about the woman’s body as a constant project to be worked on towards a normative “ideal.”



Body Presentation

It is the discussion of the photographing of nail polish bloggers hands that seemed to evoke this disciplining of the female body in White’s work, as the quality of the nails themselves (not their designs) are evaluated. She found one blogger’s advice to others on how to photograph their nails so they did not appear “fat,” indicating that even when the goal was creative artistry it is difficult to present the female body without opening it to such scrutiny.

Similarly, Ley found that while pregnancy apps generally provided their users with helpful prenatal information, health advice, and tools, at times some of these tools, like weight and behavior tracking functions, had the potential to facilitate a similar scrutiny of the pregnant body. Ley, in her focus on reviews of these pregnancy apps, draws attention to a key issue in the analysis of feminized popular culture–the experience of the media’s actual users–when she notes that for most reviewers these trackers were not experienced as disciplinary but rather gave the users a sense of control and made some tasks easier. My chapter looks at how most fan-centered fashion blogs de-center a focus on the body altogether. Unlike the majority of fashion blogs, fan-centered fashion blogs generally present images of outfits without showing wearers of these outfits. Because there is no body being photographed, it is the use of clothing and accessories to express an interpretation of a media character that is evaluated as opposed to the appearance of a woman’s body, the fit of the clothes, etc. I also argue that fan-fashion blogs can function to unmoor characters from their embodied associations by interpreting macho super-heroes as prom outfits or hyper feminine Tinkerbell as athletic wear or androgynous jeans and t-shirts.



Here, removing the image or specific referent of the body allows this form of fashion blogging to play with fashion with minimal discussion of body type, weight, or evaluations of attractiveness. Smith-Shomade’s chapter emphasizes the possibility of the female bodies’ presentation outside of the contexts of objectification and surveillance by looking at how women in Gospel-competition television shows like Sunday Best present an embodied experience of faith that can be shared by viewers.


unnamedTechnological Medium

Smith-Shomade considers the impact the television medium itself has on facilitating an intimate affective connection between the person performing on screen and the viewer allowing them to share an embodied spiritual experience. Here the media form–the television screen–can connect multiple bodies and spirits. Ley’s chapter mentions how the intimacy of the smartphone screen and its visualization of the fetus as separate from the mother’s body through the app can reinforce problematic political narratives about the fetus but also allows the user to “share” her pregnancy with others in a new way through its visualization on the device.

The contrast between White’s and my own chapters also show how the significance of the technological differences between the presentation medium chosen for each blog (posting a photograph vs. building a collage with Polyvore) affects the ways in which the female body is or is not scrutinized.

Thematic Focus

Finally, each contributor considers how the thematic focus of each platform under discussion shaped its relationship to gender and embodiment. For Smith-Shomade the emphasis on faith and spirituality structures the context in which both the viewer and the text present the female singers, understanding them not simply as performers to be scrutinized but as participants in a faith community in which these kinds of spiritual experiences present an important space for African American women to take part. I argue that the emphasis on fandom as the focus that shapes the bloggers’ creative engagement with fashion both allows for fashion blogs that emphasize creativity and interpretation and de-emphasize consumption and beauty paradigms while carving out a space for a femininity and female fans to connect in traditionally “masculine” fandoms gaming culture. Ley attends to this issue by considering how pregnancy apps often marginalize or diminish the role of the father in the pregnancy experience and assume a married, heterosexual, cis-gendered user base, which ultimately has ideological problems and consequences for the apps’ usability for some reviewers (like fathers).

These four threads provide only a glimpse into the pieces featured in the “Bodies” section of the anthology, but they illustrate the significance and complexity of the issues identified in these chapters.



James Bond: A Transmedia Anomaly? Thu, 30 Jul 2015 11:00:06 +0000 Post by Matthew Freeman, Bath Spa University

This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. This week’s contributor, Matthew Freeman, completed his PhD in the department in 2015.

 From Russia With Love

Screen capture from the James Bond 007: From Russia With Love video game of 2005.

A couple of years ago, Jonathan Nolan, co-screenwriter of the popular Dark Knight (2005-2012) movies and brother of acclaimed Hollywood director Christopher Nolan, spoke candidly about the process of writing a real ending to the Nolan Batman saga. “It’s the right way to tell a story, to blow the whole thing up,” Nolan insisted. “It’s better than trying to spin the thing out indefinitely like the Bond franchise. They’ve successfully pulled it off with Bond, but at certain costs. I think with almost every other franchise it’s a mistake to try and keep those plates spinning. You want stakes.” Nolan here reflects on the process of telling serialized stories and the problem of constructing narratives with meaningful character arcs and payoffs in a world where movie stars are signed up for multiple sequels and franchise-filmmaking is the order of the day.

Nolan’s postulation got me thinking. In this age of Hollywood franchises and transmedia storytelling, where story progression, character development and narrative coherence across multiple films and peripheral media extensions have become a logical means of sustaining audience engagement in a crowded marketplace, to what extent is James Bond–one of the oldest, most enduring and most popular of all media franchises, one that spans books, movies and video games–something of an anomaly? After all, while Marvel et al. now build coherent universes for their pool of characters to roam, in the Bond movies actors change faces, story threads are dropped from one film to another, and the death of characters more often than not goes unnoticed in the hearts of heroes. And that’s not even to consider Bond in other media besides film, in works whose own narratives contradict, stray and repeat old ground as often they narrate new adventures. Don’t the Bond franchise’s constant contradictions and straying repetitions directly oppose the common ideology of how media franchises are typically built in the 21st century? For according to Henry Jenkins, “everything about the structure of the modern entertainment industry [is] designed with the single idea of transmedia in mind.”[1] Transmedia, of course, speaks about the sort of narrative coherence, story progression and expansive character development I mention above.

How, then, has this noted loss of narrative coherence, story progression and character development across the Bond franchise affected how audiences engage with it? Is transmedia even a possibility for a franchise as contradictory, longstanding, episodic and fundamentally un-serialized as Bond? This is a property that celebrated its 50th anniversary, at least cinematically, fairly recently–and did so in style with 2012’s Skyfall, a film that earned more money than any Bond movie previously and will be followed by this year’s Spectre. Inevitably, spin-off video games preceded Skyfall, as they have done for years. But do the various Bond films and accompanying video games actually unfold in the same storyworld–and do fans even require them to do so? Are the video games consumed as coherent extensions of the Bond films or rather as distinct versions of some alternate Bond universe? And if the latter, is James Bond a minor anomaly in today’s transmedia landscape–and what might all of this tell us about the nature of media franchises?

Daniel Craig as Bond in advertising for 2012's Skyfall</i..

Daniel Craig as Bond in advertising for 2012’s Skyfall

I explore such questions in a chapter in Claire Hines’s upcoming collection Fan Phenomena: James Bond, and it might well be that a franchise like James Bond doesn’t actually engage with popular strategies of transmedia storytelling at all. Instead, we might say that Bond makes use of a fixed temporality that engages fans across multiple media via strategies based around nostalgia and retroactive continuities.

Nostalgia is hinted implicitly even in the titles of some Bond video games. The USP of 2012’s 007 Legends was that, as one review put it, the game “trades in nostalgia, and does so in spades.” Perhaps a more explicit example of how nostalgia works in Bond video games to encourage fan engagement despite the lack of so-called transmedia storytelling can be found in 2005’s James Bond 007: From Russia With Love. Here, the game was billed as “the first game to let you play as Sean Connery’s 007.” Released at a time when the Internet was filled with fans’ bewilderment about Daniel Craig’s casting in Casino Royale (2006), James Bond 007: From Russia With Love worked to pacify fans by returning them to a safer memory of the Bond of the past. “Starring a beautifully-realised digital double of Connery circa 1963,” Empire wrote, James Bond 007: From Russia With Love featured every major set-piece from that 1963 film, allowing players to extend their engagement in the Bond storyworld across media precisely by curtailing the storyworld’s extension: the audience’s engagement in the present was driven by a return to the past.

This mark of nostalgia says something about the audience for Bond in the 21st century. A game like James Bond 007: From Russia With Love might be seen to embody Bond fans’ almost perpetual desire to keep Bond in the past. In other words, is part of this character’s appeal the fact that he doesn’t actually change, or age, or progress, or remember, or look ahead? Living Bond as a site of nostalgia–either via rereading old books, re-watching old movies or reliving old memories via video games–has provided Bond producers’ with a seemingly endless means to capture audiences’ engagement across media. By keeping Bond in the past, forever unchanged and untainted, fans too can return to that world over and over again.

The idea of moving a story backwards rather than forwards may contradict today’s more conventionally transmedial franchises. Yet when encouraging Bond fans to cross multiple media, the Bond franchise gets even messier when one drills down. Indeed, over the years Bond video games have made use of retroactive continuities to engage audiences across media. Essentially, retroactive continuities–or retcons for short–refer to the deliberate changing of previously established narrative facts. Retcons are common in comics, which comprise long histories of many series that continue over many editions, and so sooner or later the makeup of the story must be radically reshaped to attract new audiences.

Screen capture from 2012's 007 Legends videogame.

Screen capture from 2012’s 007 Legends video game.

The Bond video games have been reshaping the narrative makeup of the films for years, seemingly as a way to attract fans across media. Take 2012’s 007 Legends as a case in point. This game was praised by Empire not only for the way it allowed fans not only to revisit Bond’s past, but also to experience a mixed-up version of that past: “For the most part the efforts to effectively reboot the major story beats of Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Licence to Kill, Die Another Day and Moonraker through the eyes of current 007, Daniel Craig, are admirably effective.” This was a game that distorted ideas of nostalgia by allowing fans to relive their old memories of Bond adventures in very different ways, effectively altering the legacy as story beats of Bond’s past unfolded in new and alternative ways.

While an example like 007 Legends shows just how effective incoherence and inconsistency can be when encouraging fans to migrate from one source of media to the next, the game indeed highlights the Bond franchise’s anomalous status in today’s transmedia entertainment landscape. Whereas games like 2003’s Enter the Matrix thrived on the way it expanded the Matrix story across movies and games in strikingly coherent ways–with the subplots of the films carefully woven into plot threads of the game–Bond’s use of retcons in video games works on the basis of historical revisionism and contradiction alone.

Bond’s entrapment as a source of nostalgia may indeed carve him a rare niche in today’s entertainment industry, one where the prospect of re-engaging with a so-called “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” offers a unique contrast to today’s more intricately transmedial communities that involve coherent world-building.

Bond has garnered an enduring popularity across multiple media not in spite of but because of the character’s adherence to the past. Bond thereby serves as a lens through which to study models of transmedia franchising at a time when other popular heroes constantly move forward.

[1] Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006), p. 104.


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Unpacking Rust, Race, and Player Reactions to Change Mon, 15 Jun 2015 14:25:10 +0000 Rust courted controversy by assigning players unchangeable, racialized avatars. Adrienne Shaw unpacks how game design helped produce some of that player outrage.]]> Rust 3

Post by Adrienne Shaw, Temple University

Having recently published a book on representation in video games, several people have asked me about the “Rust controversy” (and a blog post is easier to manage than multiple email threads). One of the more surprising findings from my book and prior audience studies projects is just how little some people (take note internet: some people) say they care about representation in games. The actual core argument of the book, however, is that media scholars (among others) need to be more attentive to when and how people come to care about representation. Looking at when and how people care about representation helps us better interrogate the limits of the kinds of diversity we have seen in games. And fights over representation, moments when people really care or militantly don’t care about representation, illustrate that really well.

So Rust… The original story broke back in March, when the post-apocalyptic massively multiplayer online (MMO) game released an update that assigned a randomly raced avatar to all players, which could not be changed. Prior to this, all the avatars looked the same: a bald white guy. Responses to this change varied. Some welcomed the injection of aesthetic diversity in the game; others were pissed. Some of this anger was expressed as racist language, some felt the change was “social justice” activism through design, and many just wanted to know how to change what the avatar looked like.

A lot of other smart people have already written about these various player reactions: go read these great pieces by Megan Condis, Kishonna Gray, and Tauriq Moosa now! I want to focus on a slightly different issue than they do however: the role the design of Rust played in helping create those negative reactions.

Rust 4

First, I think it’s a mistake to say that Facepunch Studios experimented here. They took an existing game and changed it pretty dramatically and suddenly. There is a long history of gamers (terminology note) reacting poorly to changes in their favorite franchises (example). Most of the coverage of Rust’s change conflates the effect of making people play as a specific avatar with changing an existing game. MMO players, especially, become really attached to their avatars; there are decades of research on this (start here). Certainly, players of Rust before this update didn’t have choices for what their avatar looked like, but now that there are appearance options I suspect players think they should have more choice (bracketing out for a moment the fair critique that they were willing to accept a default white male option, because that’s what many games typically offer). Self-representation — that is having the chance to represent yourself how you wish, whether the thing on the screen looks like you or not — is a longstanding part of MMOs. That people took the Rust change so hard, and manifested those emotions as racist chat and play behavior is unsurprising (which is not to condone the racism expressed in those comments).

Second, in my book, I talk about the distinction between characters and avatars, and in online spaces especially people are known through their avatars. Rust lead developer and owner of Facepunch Studios, Garry Newman’s comments on the matter demonstrate a misunderstanding of the contextuality of how and when what the avatar/play character embodiment affects when and how people care: “People have a strange need to play someone similar to themselves in games,” he said. “That’s not something I understand. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed Half-Life more if Gordon Freeman didn’t have glasses or a beard.” From my own research, certainly those games (narrative-driven, solo player games) are the ones in which players do not always care much about playing as a character “like them” because there are other ways (narrative mostly) for them to connect to those characters (or not). People who feel emboldened to demand things of games, moreover, do wish that on a broad level there was more diversity within those narrative-driven assigned character games. Players do often care about how they are being represented in contexts in which they are being represented to others through an avatar, like an MMO. And they really care in games that imply they have a choice, which is among the many reasons people care strongly about what relationship options are available in games.

Rust 2

Finally, the way the race was introduced in the game actually helped make it feel arbitrary. Indeed, in the announcement of the change they call race arbitrary: “It’s quite pleasing to see different races working together in game, and makes you realise how arbitrary race is.” Race in the game is an aesthetic addition so people can tell each other apart visually. That isn’t what race is, which is why “color-blindness” has never been an actual anti-racist goal. Robert Yang discusses his own approach to this issue in designing Cobra Club. What would be even more interesting than randomized races is if someone created a game where you are born into a body that affects the way you interact with the world. Now that would be an interesting experiment in how people react to being thrust into an identity that may not be like their own. There is a model for this in fact, in Marsha Kinder’s Runaways, and if anyone has info on what happened to that game please leave a comment.

None of this is to say that Facepunch Studios should be condemned for trying something new. New players will come to the game expecting to be assigned a body. And that’s interesting, and might lead to some unique in-game interactions that change how we understand avatar-player relationships (I sense a dissertation being formed in the distance). The danger, though, is that more risk-averse studios will see the negative response as evidence that players aren’t ready for more diversity in games. There are plenty of games out there for those players who aren’t ready for more diversity; I think the rest of us are ready for something new.


Mario is Mobile!: Or (Nintendo’s Platform Panic?) Fri, 20 Mar 2015 15:18:33 +0000 MarioIsMobileWithin the context of video game culture, Nintendo’s corporate identity has been clear: Nintendo makes games. Whereas competitors Sony and Microsoft represent larger global technology corporations in which gaming is but one portfolio among many, Nintendo has distinguished itself through its singular focus on its home and handheld gaming consoles and making games exclusively for them.

In recent years, part of this identity has become Nintendo’s resistance to the convergence of gaming and mobile technologies. Despite consistent analyst and investor pressure for Nintendo to take advantage of the explosion of gaming on phones and tablets to help offset a downturn in console performance, Nintendo resisted, with President and CEO Satoru Iwata going as far to suggest in 2013 that “If we think 20 years down the line, we may look back at the decision not to supply Nintendo games to smartphones and think that is the reason why the company is still here.”

It was therefore surprising when Nintendo announced a partnership with Japanese mobile platform developer DeNA to move into the mobile gaming space. There had been no warning that Nintendo’s philosophy on this issue had changed, even at a recent investor briefing in Tokyo. Suddenly, Nintendo has plans to have games available for mobile platforms by the end of the year, with Mario, Link, and other Nintendo characters in games competing with the likes of Clash of Clans and Game of War. While initial speculation questioned if Nintendo would play any type of development role, or if their biggest franchises would be involved, when the dust settled it was clear: developers at Nintendo are at work creating mobile games utilizing a limitless range of Nintendo IPs, which DeNA will make available across a wide range of platforms.


The gameplay of the Fire Emblem series—and other Strategy RPGs from developer Intelligent Systems—is a logical fit for touch-screen gaming.

There is no shortage of response to this news: indeed, the level of mainstream press engagement with Nintendo’s decision reveals the degree to which Nintendo franchises have the potential to do extremely well in the mobile space. Within the gaming enthusiast press, meanwhile, sites immediately began speculating on what franchises would be a great fit for mobile gaming, imagining games like the Strategy RPG Fire Emblem as perfect fits for the mobile space. However, at the same time, others—like WIRED’s Chris Kohler—pointed out that those imagining a game like Fire Emblem on mobile platforms are overlooking the realities of mobile gaming, and that Nintendo is more likely to develop streamlined F2P (Free to Play) games that cost less to make, have endless revenue potential, and don’t directly compete with Nintendo’s existing handheld games (like an upcoming Fire Emblem title set to release on Nintendo 3DS later this year).

Nintendo, for their part, is remaining vague. The announcement notably came without the reveal of a single mobile game, and in a feature interview with TIME Iwata offered little detail regarding Nintendo’s specific plans beyond the fact that “we believe that we will be able to use smart devices in a very unique way so that they can be a bridge to our dedicated game systems, and at the same time, that we will be able to deliver unique experiences to the users of smart devices.” When pushed on the types of payment models, Iwata was similarly cagey, leaving the door open for “free-to-start” games —a term less common than “free-to-play,” and most recently associated with “Full Game Demos” on consoles—while simultaneously noting that “it’s even more important for us to consider how we can get as many people around the world as possible to play Nintendo smart device apps, rather than to consider which payment system will earn the most money.”

Nintendo's relationship to licensed mobile gaming could be previewed by a Mario-themed version of iOS title Puzzle & Dragons, which developer GungHo is bringing to Nintendo's 3DS later this year.

Nintendo’s relationship to licensed mobile gaming could be previewed by a Mario-themed version of iOS title Puzzle & Dragons, which developer GungHo is bringing to Nintendo’s 3DS later this year.

Here, I would argue, we see the inherent tension in Nintendo’s announcement. The reason no games were announced is because this is a business decision as opposed to a gaming one. Nintendo is effectively licensing their IPs onto mobile devices as a way of extending their franchises to new audiences—Iwata’s emphasis on global reach makes clear that this decision is about using the proliferation of mobile devices as a new awareness platform, with no plans to port existing games onto the systems (which has been a pattern for other game creators like Final Fantasy developer Square Enix). In this way, it is framed similarly to an animated film deal Nintendo was allegedly pursuing with Sony (as revealed in the midst of 2014’s Sony Hack), with mobile devices less a new gaming platform—signaling Nintendo abandoning exclusively developing for its own hardware platforms—than a new way of leveraging and promoting existing IP. This business decision was well-received, with Nintendo stock leaping 27% following the announcement.

At the same time, though, Nintendo is still committed to games. And so while from a business perspective it would make sense for Nintendo to treat mobile as a space of licensing, with other developers creating games using its franchises, the company’s larger commitment to being a “game company” doesn’t allow them to do so. In addition to announcing Nintendo’s next piece of hardware—Project NX—to renew their commitment to their own platforms, Iwata is promising Nintendo’s innovation will extend to mobile gaming, telling TIME that “while we want more people to become familiar with Nintendo IP through Nintendo’s smart device game apps, at the same time, we aim to provide smart device consumers with unique experiences with our game apps.”

Whether or not Nintendo can transform licensed mobile gaming into a space of innovation remains to be seen, but for now discursive transformation is the next best thing. Nintendo needs to acknowledge the evolution of mobile gaming as a threat against their existing handheld gaming business, but they are doing so in ways that frame mobile gaming as a lesser space that Nintendo needs to elevate, and which exists to compliment—rather than threaten—existing distribution models. The long-term tenability of this position remains unclear, but the increased mobility of Mario and the rest of Nintendo’s brand is set to give us our answer.


Kollecting Kim K. Skills: Kardashianized Celebrity in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood Fri, 25 Jul 2014 13:30:38 +0000 Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, the celebrity legitimizes her image while also propagating her brand by redefining fame as an accumulation of skills.]]> “In order to win at life, you need some Kim K skills, period.” – Kanye West

In a recent GQ interview, Kanye West attributes new wife Kim Kardashian with teaching him to better manage his celebrity. However, analogous with popular discourses defining the couple as shallow and fame-obsessed, West’s verbiage ultimately doesn’t say anything. West never defines “Kim K. skills” as more than some kind of intangible communication skills, but expects that the interviewer, and subsequently the general public, will know exactly what he means. Though only mentioned peripherally by West, Kim K. skills are, however, delineated in the new mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Through the game, Kardashian legitimizes her celebrity while also propagating her brand by redefining fame in her image – as the accumulation of “Kim K. skills.”

Kim’s avatar demonstrates the first Kim K. skill in the game’s initial sequence: charm is the key to everything. She charms you into reopening a boutique so she may outfit herself for an upcoming event. Your only option is to help Kim, which is rewarded when she invites you to the event. As you progress through the game, charm becomes a form of currency. You cannot connect with new people outside your current celebrity rank unless you use your hard-to-come-by K Stars to charm them. Whenever you choose “charm” as an action, your relationship grows stronger, which increases your celebrity.

Charming people to like you underscores another Kim K. skill: perceived relationships are paramount in achieving fame. Charm gets you into Kim’s event, but it’s your association with Kim that makes the paparazzi care. As a result, Kim sets you up with a manager and a publicist to help you work towards A-List stardom. Your relationships with these intermediaries are static, but they give you opportunities to improve your public personae. Other in-game relationships, however, are necessary to level up. Bars and clubs are populated with people of varying celebrity rank who can increase your celebrity. Whether you choose to network with or date new contacts, relationships are only cultivated in professional capacities.

Kim K. - Dating Level Up

Your network can join you at personal appearances, and dates happen in public to be seen and subsequently tweeted about. The game allows players to integrate their real-life networks, as you can interact with your friends’ avatars.  Even negative relationships gain fame. When a celebutant expresses jealousy over your relationship with Kim, she sparks a feud that establishes your Twitter following.

In addition to social currencies, the way to celebrity is through accumulating stuff. Kardashian herself comes from wealth, and the association between money and fame is integral to game play. Though the game itself is free to download and play, it becomes quickly apparent that advancing is easier by investing real money. Various reviews have reported how easy it is to spend real money on the game. The types of currency are in-game dollars, energy points, and K Stars. You earn money from constant modeling gigs and paid appearances. Energy is needed to do anything, and is easily expended causing you to wait until it’s replenished or trade precious K Stars for more. K Stars only come from leveling up or from in-app purchases.

Kim K - K Star Store

The dollars one earns are inadequate to keep up with Kim. Players increase their celebrity status with new outfits, homes, cars, and buying gifts to improve relationships, but most lifestyle enhancers can only be purchased with K Stars.

Kim K - Kim K. Clothes Store

Although many items have high price tags, acquiring them creates momentary relief before anxiety sets in again about what else you need to augment your celebrity lifestyle. And, as mentioned, K Stars also act as social currency.

The most ubiquitous Kim K. skill throughout the game is the power of personal branding. Kardashian’s brand is everywhere: the revamped Hollywood sign; each Kardash boutique interior mimics its DASH counterpart; the K Stars.


Kim herself is the most important brand and celebrity signifier. She is your entry point into the celebrity game/game-play and her approval makes you worthy of attention. The game reinforces the celebrity system and Kim’s position in it, both of which depend on hierarchies to establish their value. Likewise, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood addresses the specific dichotomy informing reality TV celebrity personae: that stars need to be approachable and authentic to attract viewers, but ultimately need to remain separate to be special. Celebrity reinforces capitalism because celebrities constantly remind regular people of what they don’t have and should want. In the game, you need virtual and real money for the Tribeca loft and new Louboutins to project a celebrity lifestyle despite whether or not you can afford it.

Even when you get to the A-list, you still need to accumulate fans to increase your ranking. Curiously enough, Kim Kardashian is not a rankable celebrity. Players don’t compete with her, as she is above the celebrity system because her celebrity is established. Kardashian is the definitive arbiter of Kim K. skills, and ultimately unreachable in her version of celebrity.


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Fort McMoney: Media for the Age of Oil Mon, 03 Feb 2014 21:51:31 +0000 604The scene: The black-gold boom town of Fort McMurray, Alberta. It’s winter. Average temperatures in this northern Canadian city hover around -17 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit); but today it’s much colder, -30 degrees. A desolate wind whistles across the wide, slushy highway. You just watched two raggedy men pick empty cans and bottles out of the dumpster behind a squat apartment building. Now you have a choice: to follow them into the city, then veer off into City Hall to attend a City Council meeting, where an agitator disrupts the proceedings to call for better traffic conditions in the congested city; or hang out a little longer by the side of the road with some questionable characters as they drink themselves warm. Or you could consult your dashboard, where you can check your influence levels and debate whether you think these men should have been warned about the job prospects in the oil patch, declining steadily as foreign laborers arrive ready to work for union-busting wages.

Welcome to Fort McMoney, an interactive web documentary designed to raise awareness of the conflicts among industrial, political and environmental interests in the development of oil. The film slash video game, which debuted in late 2013 and takes place over multiple weeks, is coproduced by Canada’s National Film Board, Montreal’s Toxa and the French/German TV Network Arte. The film’s unsubtle title indicates the stakes: visit the town, gather your evidence, and take a stand on whether Fort McMurray, the canary in the oil mines, should be allowed to develop unbridled. Your success at navigating the game is measured in terms of influence: every person you meet, every place you visit, and each survey you answer in the game raises your influence levels, giving you more leverage in the game’s regular “referenda” on oil politics. This round’s debate topic — Should Oil Be Nationalized? – currently has over 18,000 votes for and 6,645 votes against.

The docu-game is an intelligent and well timed intervention into the North American oil debate. Canada’s headlines pit the “ethics” of Canadian oil against the environmental activism of its deterrents. President Obama’s decision over whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline (which would transport oil from Alberta to the U.S.) looms.


The combination of documentary and video game attracts diverse media audiences (for instance, I don’t play video games, but I love documentaries) and the choose-your-own-adventure aspect demonstrates more directly differing points of view and the effects of various decisions. From a distribution perspective, the game is genius: Fort McMoney’s tri-national media partners Le Monde (France), The Globe and Mail (English Canada) and Radio Canada (French Canada), and Süddeutsche (Germany) are not just mouthpieces but interactive participants, as journalists from each media outlet play the game and report on their experiences. These media also pledge to publish substantive features on the politics of oil. Connective media platforms are in on the act: players get about 10 minutes of free viewing/play and then are asked to register, either through their Facebook accounts (bye-bye, personal information) or via email addresses; and the “help desk” is essentially the director David Dufresne’s Twitter feed.

If Fort McMoney’s innovation and intelligence is clear, the ultimate intention of the game remains an open question. Writing about his creation via The Huffington Post in November 2013, film director Dufresne is confident that the viewer/player’s experience will be transformative. “The world’s future is being shaped by energy issues. And gaming is a lever for raising awareness,” he asserts. “The Fort McMoney experience will be a kind of web-era platform for direct democracy.”

We need not rehearse here the problems inherent in the celebratory rhetoric of interactive media as a panacea for social and political blights. Regardless, whether intended as promotional hype or sincere evaluation, Dufresne’s claim to direct democracy deserves careful scrutiny. Matthew Hindman’s The Myth of Digital Democracy (Princeton UP, 2008) makes a compelling case for the failure of the Internet to develop the idealized public sphere. Hindman redefines the digital divide from a hierarchy of access to a hierarchy of voice, where even the most compelling ideas can be ignored, hamstrung by economic, social or algorithmic barriers to information. One hopes that Fort McMoney’s creative approach can be sufficiently amplified by its media partners and players to cut through the noise.

Perhaps a more dire problem lies not with Fort McMoney’s medium but with its message. Fort McMoney presents a vision of a sad city stretched to its limits by the ebbs and flows of oil. While the game’s players debate whether taxes should be higher, workers better treated, and environmental concerns alleviated, there is no space to say, “Stop. This shouldn’t be happening at all.” The film does not (cannot?) challenge the political, economic or cultural conditions that gave rise to this carbon democracy in the first place. Nor does it offer alternatives, asking what political possibilities might exist, what other arrangements of people, money and energy might be assembled, that could help foster less destructive situations.

This line of argument is not intended as critique. Fort McMoney presents a more radical scenario and more compelling overtures to debate than our dominant political parties and institutions have managed. The docu-game is not meant as policy prescription but as a stimulant to attention and reflection. In this sense it is a welcome intervention into the bread-and-circus routine in North American oil politics. But if democracy is understood merely as a set of conversations and referenda over already existing arrangements, this falls short. One hopes that Fort McMoney will inspire us to do more than vote for a slightly less dystopic vision of Canada’s canary.


Deadline Extended: The Velvet Light Trap CFP: On Sound (New Directions in Sound Studies) Fri, 16 Aug 2013 13:00:40 +0000 469965_183965278386198_892219135_oThe Velvet Light Trap has extended the deadline for its forthcoming “On Sound (New Directions in Sound Studies)” issue to September 1, 2013. Though the initial call was very successful, the Editorial Board especially welcomes any additional submissions that address sound-related issues and topics in radio, television, video games, digital/new media, and other non-film media.

The medium of sound, long placed in a secondary position to the visual within media studies, has experienced a considerable increase in scholarly attention over the past three decades, to the point that “sound studies” is now a distinct field of scholarship. Within media studies, sound-related research today expands well beyond the film and television score or soundtrack to include a broad range of scholarship on radio and popular music.  And while sound studies still tends to cohere around media studies departments, an increasing amount of sound media research is interdisciplinary in nature. A “sonic turn” is under way across the humanities and social sciences with sound studies work now coming out of philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, science and technology studies, cultural geography, American studies, art history, and cultural studies.  Recent issues of differences (2011) and American Quarterly (2011) and anthologies like The Sound Studies Reader (Jonathan Sterne, 2012) are just a few examples of this expanding range of interest.

This issue of The Velvet Light Trap aims to build upon many of the new lines of inquiry that are coming out of this intersection between sound media and various other scholarly perspectives. In that spirit, we are seeking essays for an issue on the research and study of sound in and across a range of media.

Potential areas of inquiry may include, but are by no means limited to:

  • analysis of music, voice, and sound effects in film, radio, television, video games, podcasting, and other digital or “new media,” including significant developments in audio aesthetics and style
  • convergence of sound and visual media
  • sound art and experimental forms of sound media
  • materiality of sound, including sound reproduction and other technologies of sound
  • media industries, production cultures, and issues related to sound labor, audio production practices, or the commodification of sound
  • histories of audio media and archaeologies of mediated sound
  • aural representations of identity, power, difference and the politics of sound media
  • mediation of voices and language, noise and silence, and muteness, deafness, and other issues of the body and disability
  • listening practices and sound media in perception and everyday life
  • psychoacoustics and cognitive studies of sound media
  • architecture, acoustics, and space, including “soundscapes” and sound media in relation to public health and public policy
  • theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of sound media

Submissions should be between 6,000–7,500 words (approximately 20-25 pages double-spaced), formatted in Chicago style. Please submit an electronic copy of the paper, along with a one-page abstract, both saved as separate Microsoft Word files. Remove any identifying information so that the submission is suitable for anonymous review. The journal’s Editorial Board will referee all submissions. Send electronic manuscripts and/or any questions to All submissions are due September 1, 2013.

The Velvet Light Trap is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal of film, television, and new media studies. Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas-Austin coordinate issues in alternation. Our Editorial Advisory Board includes such notable scholars as Charles Acland, Richard Allen, Harry Benshoff, Mark Betz, Michael Curtin, Kaye Dickinson, Radhika Gajjala, Scott Higgins, Barbara Klinger, Jon Kraszewski, Diane Negra, Michael Newman, Nic Sammond, Jacob Smith, Beretta Smith-Shomade, Jonathan Sterne, Cristina Venegas, and Michael Williams.


E3 Preview: Big Changes for the Gaming Industry Mon, 10 Jun 2013 13:00:33 +0000 E3 LogoE3, the massive videogame industry trade fair, begins this week, and with it will come a slew of announcements promising gaming will forever change. This is absolutely correct. But the most important change for videogames on the horizon is not in graphical fidelity, innovative gameplay, or (god-forbid) story-telling and quality. No, the biggest change coming to videogames is not in how we play games, but how we buy them.

Earlier this year, Sony and Microsoft announced their additions to the newest console generation, the PlayStation 4 and XBox One, respectively. Coming this holiday season, E3 will certainly be a showcase for both consoles, providing another stage for both companies to win over consumers, as well as stockholders, game developers, and industry publishers. And it is those last two that seem most at odds in Sony and Microsoft’s plans. Based on their previous announcements, let’s take a look at what we can expect from this year’s E3.

Let’s start with Sony. The biggest takeaway from the PlayStation 4 announcement, and its subsequent marketing and press materials leading up to E3, is a focus on game developers. While in-house or 1st party development teams are still a large market force (just ask Nintendo, hurting for 3rd party developers), a recent industry survey shows 53% of game developers recognize themselves as independent. This shift in the way games are being made has Sony positioning themselves to take advantage. As Andrew Groen notes in an article in Wired, “There’s a war brewing for the hearts and minds of the videogame industry’s independent developers. The weird thing is, Xbox doesn’t seem interested in fighting it.” Groen quotes independent developers like Braid‘s Jonathan Blow and Retro City Rampage‘s Brian Provinciano who found working with Microsoft to be excruciating and unnecessarily difficult, with restrictive demands and guidelines, as well as errors while publishing that have cost these developers money. Sony will be taking this message of developer-friendliness with them to E3, where they will be giving out shirts with the tagline “No hurdles, just games,” followed by the PlayStation symbol, a pixelated heart, and the word “Devs.”

Turning to Microsoft, if I had to sum up the reaction to Microsoft’s May 21 reveal of the XBox One in just one word, it would be confusion. Industry reporters used words like disaster, desperate, and uncertain. Most of this stemmed from Microsoft’s lack of clarification on crucial issues like persistent online connection, used-game functionality, and privacy concerns over the ‘always-listening’ nature of the Kinect motion-sensing camera/microphone. Perhaps Microsoft realized the situation when this past Friday it made a post on its XBox Wire titled “How Game Licensing Works on XBox One.” In the document Microsoft attempts to clarify some of these points of confusion, emphasizing how games are always installed and registered directly to your unique XBox ID (whether purchased digitally or a physical disc), how game trade-ins and reselling will be up to the publisher to decide whether to enable this functionality, and that the XBox One must be connected to the internet once every 24 hours to allow games to be played. This time the reaction was a bit worse with one reporter claiming the XBox One “just had a very bad day.”

What Microsoft is trying to do with the XBox One is apply similar digital rights management (DRM) we see used on digital-commercial platforms like Steam and the App Store to a console that still supports physical, disc-based media. By tying game purchases to individual users and accounts, they are taking the physical out of the equation, much in the same way software is already registered to individual devices (Remember, this is still Microsoft). However, this ignores the several thousands of console users who do not have dedicated internet access or simply choose to use physical copies. Consider the entire video game rental business, which is completely unsupportable by the XBox One at launch. According to the post, “Loaning or renting games won’t be available at launch, but we are exploring the possibilities with our partners.”

To be clear, Sony has not been forthright with their system’s DRM and may well take on a policy similar to Microsoft’s. Hopefully Sony will reveal that at E3. But the question remains why Microsoft would risk alienating a large portion of their users? Just as Sony is looking to appeal to game developers, Microsoft is wooing game publishers. Used games have been a scapegoat for hurting sales and profit margins, and Microsoft may appeal to publishers by giving them that control, while avoiding being the ‘bad guys’ themselves by outright banning the second-hand market.

Both Sony and Microsoft have a lot of questions to address at E3. Their answers will change the course the video game industry follows, having nothing to do with the actual games and everything to do with the economics of the market.


What Are You Missing? March 17-March 30 Sun, 31 Mar 2013 13:00:25 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1) The Supreme Court has been busy (and not just with DOMA). The High Court handed down multiple rulings with major impact for the entertainment industries. First, the Court extended the “first sale” doctrine to content purchased overseas but resold in the US, in a case brought by Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thai-born student sued for copyright infringement by Wiley & Sons when he resold textbooks purchased in Taiwan. The ruling has already spurred some in Congress to call for revisions to copyright law, with testimony from the U.S. Register of Copyrights calling for the “next great copyright act” involving clarifications and revisions to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act enacted 15 years ago.

2) While the industry may have lost that case, they did come out ahead in another, as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Comcast in an antitrust suit filed by Philadelphia-area subscribers claiming they were being overcharged. This could extend beyond the realm of television/cable providers, as the ruling impacts the ways cases can be pursued by a class group.

3) As regular WAYM readers might recall, last week News Corp and Disney were both considering buying the other out for control of Hulu. Now, reports show both sides are considering selling to a third party. Potential buyers being tossed around are investment firm Guggenheim Partners, Yahoo, and Amazon, tough no official comments have been made. So at this point, anything (or nothing) could happen.

4) In other streaming news, HBO GO, the online streaming service from HBO that is currently only available to those with a cable subscription (with the extra HBO fee), may ‘go’ broader, with HBO CEO Richard Plepler mentioning interest in teaming up directly through broadband providers. This would make HBO the “first premium cable network to bypass cable” and go directly to its Internet-based audience. This could be a big step, and a tacit admission of new competition in the form streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon.

5) This past week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report detailing the results of an “undercover shopper survey” on the enforcement of entertainment industry ratings. In an age where video games are often singled out for their impact on children, the FTC found the ESRB’s rating system and video game retailers the best, noting an 87% success rate of underage children being denied buying M-rated games. All areas found marked success, however, as box office, DVD sales, and CDs all showed improvement over the past years (See graph/report for more details).

6) The Game Developers Conference (GDC), the “world’s largest and longest-running professionals-only game industry event,” took place this past week, featuring booths, panels, and demos of the latest and greatest out of the video game industry. Although events like PAX and E3 draw larger audiences and media coverage, GDC has become another site for industry outsiders, like Disney and Warner Bros., to become more involved. Highlights include Activision’s uncanny valley-crossing graphics demo and independent game Journey taking home several awards including being the first independent to win Game of the Year.

7) Upfront season is really heating up, starting with News Corps cable network FX announcing the launch of a new sister channel, FXX (The extra X is for… I don’t know). FXX (launching in September) will specifically target a younger demographic, 18-34, and will be bolstered by moving current FX comedies It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League, as well as new comedy programming and reruns of popular shows like Sports Night and Arrested Development. Back on the FX front, network president John Landgraf also announced the acquisition of a 10-episode adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, a bid they hope puts them in competition with more premiere cable fare like HBO and AMC.

8) More from the upfront front, Participant Media announced the creation of ‘pivot’ (stylized in lower-case), a new cable network formed from their purchase of the Documentary Channel. The new channel will mostly be filled with non-fiction programming aimed at Millenials, with shows from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Meghan McCain already lined up. Participant Media is exploring options for offering the channel via broadband, trying to hook this young generation with both relevant technology and content.

9) A new report out this week from UCLA and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) revealed women and minorities are still underrepresented on television writing staffs as well as in producer roles. UCLA sociologist and the report’s author Darnell Hunt revealed that while some progress was made, it was at such a slow rate, the effects are marginal or nearly nonexistent.

10) Variety isn’t gone, but it won’t be the same. The 80-year-old Hollywood daily trade magazine published its last print edition on March 19. Variety will live on, both online in its revamped (paywall-free) website and in a new weekly magazine that debuted March 26.

And we return to The Silly Side, looking at the inherent weirdness that comes from entertainment industries:


What Are You Missing? Jan 20-Feb 2 Sun, 03 Feb 2013 16:01:24 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. The big news in Hollywood last week that caught many by surprise: Kevin Tsujihara was named CEO of Warner Bros. The studio is hopeful he’ll bring stability, but especially digital distribution savvy. Also shooting for stability is MGM, which is reworking its credit line to free up more money, while 20th Century Fox also cut a new financing deal. Unrelated bonus link: a Nielsen demographic study of movie audiences.

2. Fruitvale was a big winner at Sundance, which Variety critics thought was a successful, if commercially inclined, festival this year. Also of note was the equal gender balance of directors in competition, a first for the festival. This is representative of a higher percentage of female directors active in independent cinema than Hollywood studio filmmaking, according to research shared at Sundance by USC researchers.

3. There are still some Blockbuster stores left to shutter, and sadly, 3,000 jobs will be lost in this latest round of closings. Stores are also closing in the UK. Dish is still backing the Blockbuster brand, though, with a new On Demand redesign coming. But iTunes rules the online On Demand world right now, while discs fight to maintain home video sale prominence.

4. The music industry is having trouble making streaming royalties worth it to musicians. Too bad they can’t all enjoy a Super Bowl sales bump from being a halftime performer or make $8 million in ad deals like “Gangham Style” (though you have to watch out for sound-alikes) or have fans who are big pirates.

5. The company that supplied my very first video game console one lovely Christmas morning way back when has filed for bankruptcy, though apparently Atari hasn’t been what it used to be for awhile now, and it will even sell the iconic logo. Some other gaming bummers: THQ is being dissolved, Disney is closing a game studio and laying off fifty people while shifting to a focus on mobile and social gaming, and weak Wii U sales and 3DS piracy are hurting Nintendo.

6. Despite those bummers, the video game industry’s many challenges, and EA posting a recent loss, EA executives are optimistic about the future of console gaming. There’s a new Xbox coming with more processing power, and we’ll soon hear more about a new Playstation, though some think Sony should just move on from that platform’s legacy.

7. Samsung is warning that major smartphone growth is over, but maybe the company’s just bitter that Apple has surpassed it as top US phone vendor. The iPhone is declining in Asia, though, and Apple is losing tablet ground globally to Samsung and others. Apple’s still doing good work with tax loopholes, though. And at least it’s not BlackBerry.

8. France is having none of your English-language “hashtag” business on Twitter. For the French, “mot-dièse” will be the word for # on Twitter. (Mot-dièse means “sharp word,” though a sharp symbol leans the other way than the hashtag symbol, but hey, quoi que). France is also demanding that Twitter identify users who tweet with racist and anti-Semitic hasht…er, mots-dièse. Back in the US, Twitter’s dealing with a porn problem on the new Vine platform and is trying to censor porny hashtags. I doubt the French would respect that. #prudes 

9. GIFs are on the decline?!


10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Soap Contract Conflicts, Glee’s Song Theft, Super Bowl Ad Issue, Netflix Strategies, More on Netflix, 30 Rock Reflections, Spoiling Super Bowl Ads, CNN Changes, TWC & Dodgers, Aereo Update, The Following Criticism, Pilots Updates.


Programming note: Because I recently took on some new time-consuming duties, like Associate Online Editor for Cinema Journal, I’ve regretfully had to step away from WAYM for the time being. But don’t fear: WAYM will still be here! Eric Hoyt’s media industries course will be taking over for the rest of the semester on the regular bi-weekly schedule, and I can’t wait to see what they can do with it. (Sage advice: When in need of a good link, Lionsgate and porn are always there for you.) See you later!