onsdag 21 december 2011

Transmedia storytelling

The idea of telling stories in several different platforms in parallel has been called "transmedia storytelling". It has become increasingly popular, with books becoming movies and movies becoming book series. Or comic albums. Or computer games turning into books or movies - or books and movies turning into computer games. Or board games. And so on. I recently even saw that the popular board game "Settlers of Catan" had been turned into a book!

One example of transmedia storytelling is the Matrix universe/franchise which was documented in a chapter in Henry Jenkins' book "Convergance culture: Where old and new media collide".

Another example is the the popular real-time strategy game Warcraft and the popular online game World of Warcraft expanding into book series, comics, board games, collectible card games as well as an upcoming movie (info on the Warcraft universe/franchise here).

But those traditional forms of mass media are just the beginning though as there are also dedicated users/fans out there who extend these stories/universes by producing their own (user-created) contents such as for example fan fiction (literature), podcasts and other materials.

In terms of World of Warcraft, there are a number of popular (amateur) podcasts being produced such as "The Instance", "WoW insider", "All things Azeroth", "World of Warcast", "Blue Plz", "Rawcast" and "In the world".

In this thesis proposal you are free to explore the media franchise/universe of your choice. The specific research question will be formulated together with your advisor (me).

- A good start would be to read Henry Jenkins book "Convergence culture" and also make a visit to the Science Fiction bookstore in Gamla Stan.
- Also have a look at Giovagnoli, "Transmedia storytelling: Images, shapes and techniques" (2011) which is available online for free.

måndag 19 december 2011

E-sports/professional computer gaming

Computer gaming is not just a leisure activity, but has been "sportified", professionalized and commercialized during the previous decade. There are nowadays leagues and computer gaming/e-sport competitions as well a some professional computer gamers and many hopeful wannabes.

I was the advisor of no less than two bachelor's theses about different aspects of the commercialization of computer gaming last spring; Croona and Bleichner's "Starcraft: A spectator sport for a wider audience?" and Kjellnäs and Virtala's "The economy around professional e-sport players, with a focus on Counter-Strike".

I also did a study of my own some years ago. It resulted in a 2007 paper called "Exploring E-sports: A case study of gameplay in Counter-Strike" (pdf file).

I will also attend a workshop on sports and games/e-sports in the spring, although my own presentation will not be about competitive computer gaming per se, but rather about competitive computer programming and programming competitions (students who are interested in writing about this topic are of course also welcome to get in touch with me!).
Students who are interested in e-sports can have a look at the list of almost 20 examples of topics of interest in the workshop invitation. Do note that the topic of this specific workshop happens to be computer games + sports. By altering that formula, other topics could also be possible to explore, e.g. computer games + hacking = (game) mods and modding culture, lan parties (like Dreamhack) and hack days, programming competitions (ICPC, TopCoder, Google Code Jam) etc.

If you are interested in computer games there are many possible topics that could be explored in this area. I will personally have more ideas and suggestions after having attended the workshop in mid-february 2012.

I might complement this online thesis proposal with a literature list at a later point. Do start by having a look at my paper and at Croona and Bleichner's 2011 bachelor's thesis (linked above). Also keep your eyes open for T.L. Taylor's forthcoming book "Raising the stakes: E-sports and the professionalization of gaming" which is slated to be published in March 2012.

Here is a reading list on e-sports that T.L. has put together.

This is a Finnish Ph.D. student's blog about e-sports, "Mind games: Exploring the mental edge in e-sports". Do note the collection of links at the bottom of the page.

söndag 18 december 2011

Impact of social media on social behavior

At a seminar in my course on social media, a student talked about the experience of going to a job interview and being interviewed by someone who was a graduate from "his" educational program a few year earlier. The interviewer:
1) had checked him out in Facebook in advance (is that strange or normal nowadays?)
2) mentioned that they shared the same taste in music at the meeting (that must be strange, right?)

The fact that the interviewer knew and referred to his taste in music to him felt strange. This anecdote led to a discussion at the seminar about "Facebook etiquette" or "social media etiquette". See also this blog post about (the lack of) "social translucence" in LinkedIn.

I made the connection to Joshua Meyrowitz 1986 book "No sense of place: The impact of electronic media on social behavior". While it was possible 100 years ago to "know" some about the lives of others through literature, it was neither very easy nor very wide-spread. Meyrowitz' argument is instead that television (the "electronic media" that his book title refers to) has made it possible for vast numbers of people to "know" (or to think they know) about the lives of others through the magic of television drama. We can thus nowadays "know" what it's like to fight a war (Band of Brothers, Generation Kill) or live a life of crime (The Sopranos, Sons of anarchy), to be a policeman (The Wire, The Shield) or sit in a prison (Oz, Prison break), to live a life of glamour in New York (Sex and the City) or in suburbia (Despearate housewifes), to work for the president of the US of A (West Wing) or to be hit by the recession (Weeds, Breaking bad, Hung).

Meyrowitz' more general examples were that nowadays and through television:
- Women can know more than ever before about the lives of men (and vice versa).
- Children can know more than ever before about the lives of adults (sex, marital problems, divorce, economical problems etc.).
- Ordinary people can know more than ever before about those in power (politicians, captains of industry etc.).

Sometimes we don't have a "true" picture of those other groups, but we still feel we know a lot about other people and we still know a lot more than what was possible in former times. But the knowledge Meyrowitz refers to is general knowledge of different groups of people (women and men, policemen and criminals, rich and poor people etc.), but nowadays you can also know a lot about individual persons by searching on the Internet. Meyrowitz wrote a book about the impact of electronic media (TV) on social behavior. The question in this thesis proposal is "what is the impact of social media (Facebook etc.) on social behavior?".

- Read Meyrowitz' book carefully while all the time thinking of what "equivalent" but updated questions for today would be. What are the similarities and what are the differences when reading Meyrowitz book but thinking and applying it to the present situation (e.g. replace TV/electronic media with Internet/social media).
- Do a study based on qualitative interviews. Let your readings in the area guide you as to what questions you should ask your informants. It would probably be best to interview young social media users (e.g. high school or university students or perhaps younger professionals).


torsdag 15 december 2011

Para-social Facebook relationships

I have had a longtime interest in so-called para-social relationships, i.e the perception that you have a relationship with someone (a celebrity of some kind) even though you have never met that person in real life. A para-social relationship is a one-way relationship that has been (mass) mediated by radio or (most often) television and movies. People (fans) can feel they have a relationship or even a "special" relationship to an artist (actor, singer), a sportsman or perhaps a politician. Which they of course don't have, since they have never met. Or do they?

The term "para-social interaction" was coined in 1956 by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in their article "Mass communication and para-social interaction: Observations on intimacy at a distance".

So what are the implications of "para-social Facebook relationships" that we can have with people who don't actually really know us, i.e. when it feels like you know someone because you have checked up on or followed that person on Facebook and even though he/she doesn't know who you are? What happens when, at a party, you already know the name and the face of a friend's friend - even though he/she has never met you and has no idea of who you are? Do you pretend not to know him or mention that you "know her" from Facebook? This example is based on an issue that came up in a seminar discussion on my course on social media, and most students stated that they (would) pretend not to know/recognize the other person. To not do so might feel creepy, "stalkish" to the other person. What happens in the opposite situation - when they know who you are, but you don't know them? Or when (if) both "know" each other although they had never met before (physically).

With social media (Facebook) you can keep tabs on a friend's friend; you can follow them on Facebook, read what they do and watch pictures from their latest vacation or party without them ever realizing it. The border between following someone on Facebook and stalking them online can sometimes be fine...

So what happens when social media (Facebook) allows us to have para-social interaction (interaction as if we are friends/acquaintances even though it is a "one-way relationship") with ordinary people who are not celebrities and who have no reason to expect others to know them or to know about them? What does Facebook do to the concept of para-social relationships, and what do para-social relationships do to the whole concept of relationships in the age of ubiquitous social media? How do people reason about these issues and concepts? What do they feel is the proper "etiquette" in terms of these issues?

Beyond "relationships" with persons who have never met us, we can also have "relationships" with people we once knew but no longer keep in touch with. We can follow someone on Facebook and feel like we (still) have a relationship with her and like we "keep in touch" with him by reading what he did yesterday. But feeling as if we (still) have a relationship must surely be an illusion if we never speak on the phone and never meet for a cup of coffee, right? How do (young) people reason about these issues?

We thus have three cases:
- "Traditional" para-social relationships with celebrities that are mediated through mass media (radio, tv, movies).
- Facebook-mediated para-social relationships with non-celebrities/friends of friends - people we feel we have a relationship to even though we have never met then.
- Facebook-mediated para-social relationships with former friends - people we feel we have a relationship with even though we in fact don't meet them (any longer).

For someone who wants to write a thesis on "para-social Facebook relationships", I suggest the following methods (to be discussed depending on the question you will explore):
- Search for and read as much as you can about "traditional" para-social interaction/para-social relationships and what has been written about para-social interaction in the age of the Internet/social media.
- Think about and analyze similarities and differences between traditional and Facebook-mediated para-social relationships (this will be your "theoretical contribution" to the field).
- Do a study based on qualitative interviews. Let your readings in the area guide you as to what questions you should ask your informants.

The exact research question that you will explore and appropriate methods to explore this question should be discussed with your advisor (me) before you start your work. The emphasis should be on the changing character of para-social relationships in the age of the Internet and social media. How do informants feel and think about these issues? When (in what situations) does para-social (imagined?) relationships create problems? How are these problems solved? Or can they instead solve what used to be a problem, but isn't any longer?

- There are numerous studies and articles about para-social relationships. Search for and read those that seem suitable.
- There are also books on the phenomenon, for example Richard Schickel's "Intimate strangers", Sherry Turkle's "Alone together" and Fredrik Strage's "Fans".
- The theme has also been treated in movies such as (for example) "The fan" and "Taxi driver".


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