Being Cranky and Criticising Clicktavism

If you know me, dear reader, you’d know I’ve got an opinion about pretty much everything and I love the chance to voice that opinion. Take this, cyber activism.

First, to answer the question of the lecture, I do not prescribe to any social/political cause group on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr. The closest that I come to anything similar is a couple of different mailing lists from social cause groups and political parties, but this is mainly for the sake of keeping informed about the different opinions and policies offered by these groups.

I should be honest, though, I don’t have a Facebook or Tumblr. I had one once but it slowly drove me crazy, in no small part due to the political and social and those that follow or endorse them on social media. I would be confronted on the odd occasion that I logged onto my computer by someone I knew touting a party or movement they had no idea about. People felt they had to prescribe to a movement simply because it was becoming popular and, through this almost self imposed peer pressure, groups would snowball into a seething mass of, what at least would appear to be support. What originates simply as a passing thought and a hit of the ‘like’ button manifests en mass and appears as a great swell of public opinion when, in reality, that opinion is apathy and the great swell is 30 seconds of reading and liking occurring between a bad meme and a quiz to find out which Game of Thrones character you would be (apparently I’d be Tywin Lannister).

The often referenced example of this is the Kony campaign. An ill-planned and researched  (if we are to believe it was not merely designed for fiscal gain) movement propagated on social media that appeared well supported but ultimately, though the lack of research and commitment from its organisers and it’s supposed supporters, became nothing more than an embarrassment for those that originally endorsed it. That said, the Arab Spring exemplified the potential for social media in politics and I can hardly ignore that. Suggestible is that the two cases differ because Kony 2012 attempted to bring change, in a large part, through movements on social media. During the various movements of the latter example, social media was simply used to coordinate, organise and spread ideology for a physical revolution (Meuleman, Boushel 2013).

I think that’s just about all the rant I can fit in this word count.

References

  • Harding, L. 2012, “Kony 2012 in review”, Journal of Human Rights Practice, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 461-462.
  • Meuleman, B. & Boushel, C. 2014, “Hashtags, ruling relations and the everyday: institutional ethnography insights on social movements”, Contemporary Social Science, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 49-62

This Is Not The Narrative You Are Looking For

Mods are generally separate to the offical games industry and, therefore, any IP involved; be it solely that of a video game or that of a trans-media narrative expressed in part by a commercial video game. That being, official endorsement of a mod by the creators and holders of tran-media narratives is rare, regardless of how detailed and congruous with the lore of a text that mod might be.

That doesn’t stop fans trying, though. Examples of mods that tie into or expand upon transmedia texts abound. For example, the mod Star Wars: Ascendancy (based on a game called Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion) is set in the star wars universe just prior to the battles on the ice planet hoth, which featured heavily in the 1980 Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back. The mod is incredibly detailed and beautifully reworked to depict the star wars universe, but lacks the official endorsement that would make the mod a permanent part of the Star Wars trans-media narrative. As one of it’s defining characteristics, Modding is non-commercial. The commercial powers that controll the Star Wars IP and narrative would not endorse a mod because it would be delivering it’s IP to another company (in this case the original developers/publishers of Sins of a Solar Empire).

Fighter Update: Cover All Angles

Stills from the upcoming ‘Star Wars: Ascendancy’ Mod

Making a completely seperate video game that ties into a trans-media narrative is wholly easier, cheaper and less legally confusing. Star Wars, to use the example again, is a text that has taken advantage of this perfectly. Beyond the branded games such as Star Wars: Battlefront, which for the most part lack narrative tie in, games like the proposed 1313 (now cancelled in the Disney aquisition of LucasArts) would feature a transnarrative backstory for one of the universes’ most famous characters, Boba Fet.

Video Games have an increasing and diversifying role in transmedia narratives (Paul,  2010), but Video Game Mods, due to their core principles as non-commercial and fan-produced , can never achieve the same role. Regardless of how well a mod works into or expands upon a trans-media narrative, it can never be apart of that narrative.

 

 

References

  • Schreier, J, 2014, ‘Before it was cancelled Star Wars 1313 was Going to Be about Boba Fet’, Kokatu Australia, published 5/4/14, viewed 7/5/2014
  •  Paul, J. 2010, “The path to transmedia”, Strategy,  pp. 32.

     

Bruns’ Four Key Characteristics of Produsage… with Zombies.

As modding became more popular and the internet more accessible, web based communities sprung up to support the production of mods and to distribute content. Each site and community became a ‘hive’ and a hub for production, consumption and prosumption of mod-based content.  Video Game modding perfectly correlates to Bruns’ “4 key characteristics of produsage” and, in my humble opinion, is one of the ultimate examples of such. On top of that, I get to talk about one of my favourite mods which perfectly serves as case study; DayZ.

In his 2007 paper, Produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-Led Content Creation, Bruns the four key characteristics of produsage, which are as follows.

“Organisational Shift”

This term is used to describe the “shift from dedicated individuals and teams as  producers to a broader-based, distributed  generation of content by a wide community of participants” (Bruns, 2007). Essentially, the transition from production/consumption to  prosuming on a wide scale. DayZ demonstrates this by being a mod, produced by a group of independent developers but based off the original ARMA 2 game. Going one step further, the “Organisational Shift’ shifts even further with modding communities creating mods of DayZ (mods of the mod). Check this list out for more info.

Fluid Movement”

This is used to describe the ease of individuals to switch between production and consumption, leading and following, as well as the ease with which data, skills and knowledge are exchanged by prosumers. Modding supports this by the diversification of user/producer roles and the constant play that produced by and necessary to mod. DayZ, is particular, facilitates this by being completely moddable and openly encouraging communities of modders.

“Unfinished”

For content to be unfinished implies it means that it is constantly being tweaked and edited by prosumers, by the ‘hive’. In regard to the DayZ case, scores of sub-mods have been produced from the vanilla (original) mod. From slight tweaks to the UI, hud or inventory systems to the the complete revamp of Dayz Origins”; an almost complete game that was built of ARMA II, DayZ and a DayZ modded map. Confused? Me too. It’s a sub-sub-mod, of sorts, and comes to exemplify the state of flux that mods are always in.

“Permissive”

In regard to modding original games, most developers are encouraging. The developers of ARMA II especially so (see previous posts) and the modder/developers of DayZ just as much. For developers that are pro-modding,  ss long as everything is kept non-commercial and credit is delivered where credit is due, modders are given almost free reign over content. This, more than anything, is what makes these networks as successful as they are.

References

– Bruns, A, 2007, “Produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-Led Content
Creation”. Proceedings Creativity & Cognition 6, Accessed frm http://eprints.qut.edu.au/6623/1/6623.pdf on 22/4/14

– Moore, C 2014, From Citizen Journalism to Collective Intelligence, ‘Prezi’ slides, BCM112, University of Wollongong, presented 8/4/2014, accessed 22/4/2014

Communities, Users, Industries and a very conservative Word Limit

 

Game mods are produced by gamers passionate enough to devote hundreds of hours of work to creating something that they believe the world will enjoy, or perhaps needs. What do games need? Why, this, of course.

A modder, specifically a chap by the name of ‘Trainwiz‘ (or “Pastaspace”), created this mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim late last year. It’s one of my most favourite things ever. This mod was created for no good reason and wasn’t outstandingly difficult to create. Far more complex mods exist for Skyrim, ranging from map expansions to graphics mods, but this video is on display here (I had to limit myself to just one video) because it shows the liberalism that modding can be approached with. There are few boundaries and anything from jaw dropping, heart wrenching expansions to Train-Dragons can be and is created by the community.

Communities (what a segue), are central to modding. Different online modding communities abound, though for Skyrim, Skyrim Nexus is bar far the most prominent. When creating content that can be as technical, complex and expansive as most mods, communities play a huge support role to modders. Troubleshooting, advice, feedback and the platform to communicate between modders is provided during production, and post-production the community sites serve as a distribution platform for content.  Much as the name of Nexus implies, these websites become a central hub for everything relating to the community and the mods (Hong, 2013). A platform that simultaneously stimulates production and promotes consumption by and for it’s users; a wholly prosumer platform.

Responsibility for a successful modding community, though, is not solely the sign of good modders. The original developers and publishers of a game are equally responsible for successfult modding communities. Bethesda, the original developers of Skyrim are famous for their support of modding communities. Beyond simply allowing the game to be modded, Bethesda released a program to assist in modding, ‘The Creative Kit”. So cool. If you’re a regular reader (thanks again for your support, Mum), this would be ringing a bell. This industry support and, indeed, encouragement of modding communities is reflected in the “Make ARMA, Not War” program I mentioned in my previous blogs. Which, again, is outstandingly outstanding.

Unfortunately, though, it’s not all sunshine and fire breathing dragon trains. The latest two instalments in the Battlefield game franchise have been released without any mod support and visual modifications have already been met with bans and official warnings from the developers. This is in stark contrast to previous entries in Battlefield, which were widely celebrated for their mod-ability. Electronic Artsthe publisher of Battlefield, recently released the hyper-successful Titantfall, and when faced with questions about it’s possible mod-ability, responded “Technically, nothing is off the table. It’s just a question of priorities and time and whether or not we can get to it while working on the game as a whole.” (source) Doubt abounds, but I live in hope.

Regardless of the results for Titanfall (and my emotions as a result thereof), the general trend indicates that we are all looking at a greater, more open future as the games industry facilitates and nurtures 3rd party modability.

 

References

  • Hong, R, 2013, “Game Modding, Prosumerism and Neoliberal Labor Practices”, International Journal of Communication, Vol 7, page 986      
    ‎ http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/download/1659/900 

 

  •  Jenkins, H, 2006,From Serious Games to Serious Gaming, “Confessions of an Aca-fan”, Published 10/11/2006,Viewed 12/4/2014                                                 http://henryjenkins.org/2006/11/from_serious_games_to_serious.html

 

  • Lowe, K, “No Mods For Battlefield 4, DICE doesn’t want your hard work here”, ComplexGaming, Published 14/6/13, Viewed 12/4/14                                                                                                                                                 http://www.complex.com/video-games/2013/06/no-mods-battlefield-4-dice

 

  • Grayson, N, “Repawn On Titanfall PC Version, Modding, DLC”, Rock Paper Shotgun, Published 13/214, Accessed 12/4/14                                                                                                                 http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/02/13/respawn-on-titanfalls-pc-version-modding-dlc/

     

Tension and Conflict. The basis for any good game.

Jenkins-in-your-computer

Above: My two topics, Jenkins and Modding, demonstrated by that time   Jenkins modded himself into a game. Please Note, that didn't actually   happen. Probably.

Henry Jenkins, in his 2004 Convergent Culture, actually predicted (or prophesied if you like him that much) many of the different problems that convergence is bringing to media. Jenkins even goes so far as to address my technology, Video Game Modding, specifically. How nice of him. Unfortunately, he does not go so far as coming to my house and writing this blog post for me, so I will ask you bear with me as I give it a shot.

Tensions and conflicts, though not yet abounding, are beginning to appear in regard to both convergence and video game modding. As of 2004, there weren’t many outstanding examples of all out conflicts in modding for Jenkins to muse on and that left him the chance to predict the nature and resolution of the conflicts in broader, cross platform terms. In the 2004 article “The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence” (Published in The International journal of Cultural Studies), Jenkins lists nine areas wherein he predicted “important negotiations between producers and consumers” would occur either as a result of conflict or in order to avoid it. Not all these points are relevant to VGM but the two most relatable can be found below.

– “Redefining intellectual property rights”

Of course, this was going to be a big one. Video games are a multi-billion dollar media industry and as such, the control of IP would be hotly contested. In regard to video Games, this is reflected in the tired old example of Blizzard vs. Valve. Legal precedents are set as to who owns what after content is produced by a third party modder who then goes onto create mod-based content commercially. How very interesting.

– “Renegotiating relations between producers and consumers.”

In regard to VGM, this is vital. The Video Gaming industry never saw the modding community as any sort of threat and dodged any possible conflict by supporting and encouraging the community as a way to reinvigorate old products and extend the life of new ones (Jenkins, 2004). Though Jenkins could see this happening at the time of writing Convergence Culture, it is hard to believe that he could foresee the rapid and extreme evolution of this embrace. For example, the development company Bohemia Interactive has taken the step of putting a challenge to prosumers to produce a mod of their game ARMA III, encouraging this by offering a €200,000 reward for the best total modification and a smattering of smaller prizes for partial modifications. The challenge is called “Make ARMA, not War” and gosh darn, is it awesome. Not only is an industry encouraging modding, it is essentially paying modders to create content, possibly the most dramatic change in the Producer/Consumer relationship across the media board to date. I like to think Jenkins is as excited about this as I am.

There are countless other ways that the tensions and conflicts predicted by Jenkins in 2004 regarding VGM have changed the Video Gaming industry, but Jenkins two points above are the most relevant. I would like to keep going on this but, well, word counts are a bitch.

 REFERCENCES:

It’s All Fun and Video Games ’till Someone Loses an IP

If you’re a little unsure about what Video Game Modding (VGM) is, check out my earlier post. It gives it the brief description that my word count can’t allow. Also, that one has zombies.

VGM is based on and tying into existing games, but none the less it is the modification and redistribution of content originally created by someone else. When dealing with intellectual property (IP) in this fashion, modders encounter a veritable quagmire of ethical and legal issues rarely thought about. For example, who owns the mod? The holders of the original games copyright or the producers of the mod? With many modders choosing not to profit from mods at all but a few opting to ask for donations from people using the mod, where does the line of profit lay? If we are to think about the sheer notoriety that a successful mod brings, who deserves that?

As video games become a more main-stream media, VGM has grown more prominent and in the process the legality of certain modding has come to a far greater light than ever before. Given the size of the modern video games industry, there is a great deal of money to be made and lost. Litigation is inevitable.

One of the most recent and relevant cases of copyright and modding revolves around a certain game which, if you’re cool enough, you might have heard of: DOTA IIWhat you need to know is that the original DOTA (Defence of the Ancients), was a mod for a game made by Blizzard Entertainment (Blizzard), World of Warcraft. The mod was made by a small group of third party developers, only worked within the existing game and was distributed for free on the internet. DOTA became immensely popular and everyone lived happily ever after…

… Until another games company, Valve Corporation (Valve), hired the developers of the Mod and made a completely new game based on the Mod, calling it DOTA II. Blizzard responded by taking Valve to court in an attempt to secure the trademark of DOTA as their IP to be used on their upcoming sequel version of DOTA II which, at the time, was known as “Blizzard DOTA II“.Warning2

Blizzard claimed that the association of the term DOTA with their product was enough for them to claim the rights to it even though Blizzard did not produce it and the team that did were now in the employ of Valve working on DOTA II, which was wholly the IP of Valve. Hence, contention. Ironically, copyright laws that were originally implemented to protect IP were now allowing companies to claim it unjustly (Patry, 2008).Still with me? ‘Course you are.

It’s a great story, but I can’t really go any further. Check it out here, here and here if you’re interested. If you’re not and you don’t like video games or copyright and you’re only suffering through this for my sake, here’s a gif of a hilarious baby to say thanks.

In conclusion, the emergence of third part modding has led to a variety of interesting and outrageous copyright issues and, until international copyright legislation are adjusted to better suit the digital age, clashes and calamities over modded video games are going to get more elaborate and far more expensive.

 

REFERENCES! Get excited.

 

  • “Vave and Blizzard Come to Agreement Over DotA Trademark”, Toms Hardware, Published 19th of May 2012, Read 23rd of March 2014  http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Valve-Blizzard-DotA-Trademark-Agreement,15688.html 

Make Your Own Fun!… Sort of. Also, pay for it.

“Prosumers”

It’s a good word, that one.

Last year I started playing a modification (Mod) of an existing game called DayZ. Basically, a developer  (generally amateur or independent) will tweak an already published video game and release the produced ‘Mod’ for other gamers to play. In this case a game (ARMA II) was modded into an apocalyptic survival simulator and released onto the internet for free. The Mod, though, requires the original game to be played. Faced with this rub, I purchased a game that I would not have otherwise.

I wasn’t the only one buying this game, though, and in a matter of months the number of ARMA II games sold skyrocketed to the point that a game released in 2009 to a very niche market was atop the best selling list on PC distribution platform Steam for 7 straight weeks. An old game was reborn through the dedicated work of a small group of third party developers and, almost overnight, the original producers of ARMA (Bohemia Interactive) started receiving millions of dollars in new game sales.

This is what links to ‘prosuming’. Mods allow an existing product to be changed and redistributed to the benefit not just of the notoriety of the modders, but also to the financial gain of the company that produced the original content. Games are produced, sold to consumer, consumers consume and eventually reproduce. This business model is the same that we see in regard to Social Media, where a medium is created and then supported by prosumers. 

DayZ is only one of the scores of mods available to gamers. As games become more common and mainstream a form of entertainment in modern media I have no doubt that modding too shall expand. In that time it will be up to game developers, studios and companies to start producing content that encourages and nurtures modding to best cash in on the ‘prosuming’ trend.

I totally stuck to my word count this time. High Fives all ’round.

REFERENCES: