Monday, May 05, 2003

Media in Transition 3: Television in Transition V

Christian McCrea: Games, Agency, and Television

Christian McCrea is a doctoral candidate at the University of Melbourne, where his thesis examines the deployment of narrative, celebrity, desire, and success in computer games. Here is a rough transcript of the paper McCrea presented at MiT3:

My presentation is called "Whose Screen Is It Any Way? Games, Agency, and the New Television." There is something about games that connects with convergence, but I'm not going to talk about technological convergence, but I am going to talk about behavior and habit convergence.

Games studies is a very new academic field. Right now it's not even a field. But in the next year, we're going to see 10-12 books and collections about games studies. There's one group of theorists that say we need a very specific approach to games. They're mythologists and formalists. The people at MIT focus too much on the cultural content of games, looking at narrative and interactive. A lot of good work has been done. I'm not going to focus on this too much.

My investment is to assess the moment of game play as having a moment of narrative in and of itself. I want to erase the difference. What am I doing at a TV conference? The computer game console all require TVs to operate. Games are part and parcel to the history of TV itself. The TV is not a single text. It's a receptacle. And real convergence is happening at the back of the TV set. The logic of game play is part of our television experience.

When we play a computer game, we have two options: to move forward or to fail. Most games require you to move forward. We often judge game characters and our interactions with them not on how convincing they are but on what capacity they have to react to us. Games give us incentives to succeed.

How might this idea affect how televisions are used? What has changed in television? How has the text changed? How is the home changing? The screen places new demands on our leisure time. Screen culture demands of us agency and activity. What does this mean for a generation of children?

The practice of anime fandom in the west is best described as procreation. They'll take anime series, copy them onto tape, and add subtitles themselves. It's operating on the fan level. And it's basically writing on the screen. They interact with it. These groups take pride in one translation over another. This writing on the screen allows others to access that media.

Media piracy is something that academia has been ignoring to its own detriment. Pirates have new opportunities to incorporate media. People act surprised that a generation of media-savvy kids steeped in antiauthoritarianism copy and distribute music as much as they do. Media piracy is a natural instinct to access our media histories.

I also want to look at things like the DVD, the first important sign of media collectivity. The viewer becomes an archivist. We don't just want to watch something, we want to collect all of it.

These aren't distinct phenomena. It's part of a broader cultural movement. There's something attractive to the idea of communities and groups of people who are able to interconnect to access more and more media. The logic of agency, success, and the archival impulse are seeping into our culture in many ways. TV is the most important aspect of this cultural shift.

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