Pull the Purse Strings

There’s some crossover here, for me. I’m a journalism student, both in university and in my private life. I grew up in an environment where we were told that ‘the media’ was always lying to you, and there was a diabolical figure behind it all who was trying to manipulate and control everything I understood to be true (Chick, 1988). This meant my surroundings imparted upon us a host of tools to look out for manipulations and lies, to look for conspiracy and to doubt the motivations of everyone outside of the church. This practice turned out to be pretty damn useful.

There is basically no such thing as an independent media. Consider that the Fairfax group is owned by one family, who also own mass media outlets in other English-speaking nations. Consider Silvio Berlesconi’s almost titanic grip on the Italian mass media. Consider that both Al-Jazeera and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation are government-funded (Qatar and Australia respectively).

What underpins this is a fascinating question of principle. For some, the news media is a business, designed to maximise profits. For others, the news media is an opportuntity to promote an actual ideology, an idea. Consider the strange overlap between people’s roles and their interests: Fox News USA is headed up by Roger Ailes, a man who served as Media consultant to Richard Nixon (McGinniss, 1969). Under Ailes, Fox news has boomed, has taken on its modern shape, and the way the news outlet expresses opinion seems congruent with Ailes’ personal views. Ailes is a staunch conservative who disdains coastal big cities (Carr, 2010), and there are almost innumerable examples of Fox news espousing a conservative perspective with a dismissal of coastal population centres. For example, consider the phrase ‘San Fransisco Values’ was actually used as an epithet (Maddow, 2007).


Carr, David, and Tim Arango. “A Fox chief at the pinnacle of media and politics.” New York Times 10 (2010): 302.

Chick Cartoon Tracts. 2014. Chick Cartoon Tracts. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.chick.com/default.asp. [Accessed 27 March 2014].

McGinniss, Joe – The Selling of the President 1968, Trident Press/Simon & Schuster, New York – Oct. 6, 1969. ISBN 0-671-27043-5

San Francisco Values 2007, Youtube video, Rachel Maddow, 29 January, viewed 27 March 2014, <http://youtu.be/Bt8L64gSRIE>.

Ideological Threads

Twine is radically inclusive.

If you remember earlier talking about the medium is the message then you’ll know that I’m using italics to indicate not a verbal emphasis, but rather the portentious weight of an enormous concept straining at the edges of the tiny collection of letters in which they hide.

See, Twine strives to put the meme out there that you can make a twine game. You. Not ‘anyone,’ not ‘everyone’ but you you you. It wants to put the agency to create in your hand. And boy howdy do they put that message front and centre. It wants you to be able to make games, and then it wants to make it so almost anyone can play your games.

You might not imagine that this simple ideology has any particularly interesting effect. The thing is, games are right now dominated by a small number of voices.

Source: Autumn Sacura
Source: Autumn Sacura

What Twine is allowing is for other voices. As a radically approachable system, it can be the focus of game jams in a way most other languages can’t. Double Union, a San-Fransisco based hacker/maker space for women (as the website states up front), held a game jam which involved introducing people to Twine, a short little workshop to show how it worked, and then four hours later, looking at the games that resulted. You can’t do that with a less approachable language.

Twine is also noteworthy for what it’s bad at. This part of the topic is pretty huge and I’ll delve more into it later when we talk about forms and functions of media and how they relate (I mean, I assume we will).

In order to enable today’s blog post I spoke with the amazing Andi McClure, and she compressed down huge ideas into a tweet-sized chunks for me.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have to try and find a copy of Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters.


 

Andi McClure. (2013). Double Union Game Jam recap. Available: http://msm.runhello.com/p/924. Last accessed 27 March 2014.

Porpentine. (2013). Twine Resources. Available: http://aliendovecote.com/resources/twine-snippets/. Last accessed 27 March 2014.

Autumn Sacura . (2013). E3 – Impressions. Available: http://autumn-sacura.tumblr.com/post/52793048287/e3-impressions. Last accessed 27 March 2014.

Easy Tweesy

Chris Moore made the point that promoting your work on twitter is a good way to enable the conversation. He’s right, and here’s a thing he obviously couldn’t cover in what was ultimately just foreplay for the lecture.

The WordPress system is a really robust system that includes a widget that can integrate your twitter account. Check it out here:

Image

Note that red highlighted section. Click the Settings button and it’ll let you set up a twitter account to connect to your wordpress account. Now, I’m not going to speak for WordPress forever, but being able to sign up for things like this is part of why I have a separate personal twitter account. This lets the blog publicise to your twitter account. If it’s set to do this by default, whenever you make a post, that account will tweet just the subject of your blog post and then a short URL to access it.

If you press the Edit button you can edit the text of that tweet. Note that if you haven’t saved the draft there won’t be any URL in the edit function. That’s because the interface isn’t psychic.Save the draft, edit the tweet, and press the publish button. This will even work if you schedule the blog post to come up later – which means you can have it tweet when you’re not at the computer, or say, at the peak times Christ Moore is available to read it and think you’re a genius.

 

Hackagong Piracy Comment

A bit under a year ago, after Hackagong 2013, I had to present a digitally distributable 3D-printed tabletop board game to a row of very serious businessmen with very serious suits. After I told them about our amazing little toy, I opened the floor to questions, where I was asked: What can you do to prevent piracy?

We hadn’t prepared for this talk; what I had to say was nothing but off the cuff opinion. What I said, however, was written down and recorded by the judges, about half of whom noted in their final scores that my answer was very good.

Nothing.

You can’t, basically.

Piracy is a parallel market alongside the primary market. What they offer is product that is free, and often inconvenient and potentially dangerous. What they offer is unsupported and poorly represented. It’s not tailored, it doesn’t look good.

Pirates are not your enemy, they’re your competition. You don’t beat them by making life hard for your customers: You beat them by offering a better experience and product than they do. It’s hard to beat a price point of free, so you have to beat them elsewhere.

What’s the Gnus?

Oh, this is easy. Twine is covered by GPL v2, with the upcoming Twine 2 under GPL v3. Twine games have no specific license, and the developer of any individual Twine product can release the product under whatever license they want. I could knock off there and go have a cookie, but I suppose this blog is about showing that I know my arse from my elbow, so let’s keep going.

First and foremost, Twine games are basically webpages, and therefore, face the same basic problems of all normal Web 2.0 content. That is, by opening the floodgates to any content producers, they have allowed people to create without an understanding of exactly what that copyright means. Twine can make people into content producers without being aware of the responsibilities that are involved.

Secondly, Twine is a format of game that can infringe quite easily on existing forms of copyrighted media. If someone wanted to, they could completely transform a Joe Dever Lone Wolf novel or a Steve Jackson/Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy book into Twine.That’s a heck of a niche, and well, it’s one that’s already come up – and has even been addressed by Project Aon.

Of course, there are some wonderful, hilarious, and remarkably intelligent applications of fair use. Like this.

I think the greatest problem Twine is going to face in terms of copyright will have to wait until such time as people start making Twine games that are commercially viable. For the most part, at the moment, Twine games are distributed for free, and mostly used as forms of expression and ways to explore ideas games don’t normally touch. This means that if the format does become something greater, if it does become an avenue for people to monetise unique gaming experiences, there’s going to be a lot of stuff to untangle with all the uncopyrighted images and music that people might be using in a nontransformative way.

Do YOU Hear Something?

”You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N*gger, n*gger, n*gger,’” Atwater explained. “By 1968 you can’t say ‘n*gger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N*gger, n*gger.”’

Lee Atwater, recorded by Alexander Lamis, “The Two Party South,”

A picture of a dog whistle, slightly edited. Original source is Wikimedia Commons.Media studies can look like witchcraft. The human brain with its pattern-finding devices is remarkable at smoothing over odd edges and bumps in what we see and perceive, and constructs whole images out of disparate pieces. In film theory, if you cut a shot of a man sitting down at a table, then an shot of a meal on a plate on a table, the audience assumes that the man is sitting down to eat, without that ever being stated, or the two elements occupying the same space – unless the audience have done a basic film course, when they’ll probably notice this trick.

This is the principle that works behind dog whistle politics, a particularly odious use of signifiers. A dog whistle is, in summary, when you use a term that means something to a particular subset of your audience, which allows you to communicate a message to people who understand what you really mean, without it being obvious. It’s coded language, it’s a trick with a key.

The page-header quote from Lee Atwater, an assistant to President Nixon, was brought to my mind by Paul Ryan being confronted over his own words in reference to what is meant by ‘inner city.’ Here’s the quote:

 “We have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Member of the U.S. House of Representatives

The United States has a complicated relationship with race, what with the whole ‘white people owning black people’ thing, One common dog-whistle phrase used to refer to African Americans, without saying African Americans is to invoke the ‘inner city.’ It means ghettoes, places where poor black communities form as a byproduct of effects like white flight.

It does sound like magic, doesn’t it? A phrase that addresses a location, transformed into a racially charged sentiment designed to stoke fear and animus in one part of the population?

Well, sometimes they let the mask slip, and it’s much more obvious.

Then Presidential Candidate Hopeful Rick Santorum later claimed he said ‘blah’ people.

A Recipe For Signs

One part Signifier

One part Signified

Lay the signified beneath, ensuring it has time to settle, before placing atop the signifier. As the mix settles together, wait for bubbles of connotation to form, smoothing over those that develop in an undesired direction.

Serves whatever purpose you desire.

Weeee, late in to the tute. I was shocked most rudely to find the way out of this tute is a one-way street. Nobody in the class wanted to volunteer that they thought images weren’t subjective. We are a cynical bloody generation, aren’t we?

This tute was a lot more proactive, more spoken work. It was a simple little test – look at pictures, and learn about the stories associated with them. Not a lot to record! Thankfully, this idea – this use of juxtapositioning – is one that you learn fast in this modern era of a manipulated media.

Quick Blogging Tip

Don’t take your time blogging. What’s most important is getting your ideas out there. Belt out a draft and then leave it alone for a while. Come back and refine it. When you refine it, find the proofs for what you’re saying. It’s better to take short bursts with big gaps between.

Atlas Thugged

Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?

Andrew Ryan, Bioshock*

It’s always fun to sit down at a class where the topic is something you already know. I can only hope that next week is BCM112: Eating Chocolates And Yelling At Videogames.

So Copyright is basically a really nice, simple social promise – Creator, you continue to create, and what you create will be legally protected for a while. After that while is up, it becomes common property, so that everyone can use it. A smarter man than me, CGP Grey, put together this fantastic little video that explains the whole system:

Copyright as a concept is slightly older than our modern conception of voting, and perhaps as is appropriate, it’s a stilted ancient system that has the best of intentions but is pretty much constantly at a loss at every new possible iteration of technology. When the wireless came out, there were people seriously arguing that the ability of the wireless to broadcast news quickly would bankrupt newspapers! As we’ve learned since then, the main thing that breaks newspapers is newspapers, and also possibly phone hacking scandals.

Good teaching is often the art of seeding ideas in ways they can be grasped – big ideas in little phrases. Last week we had The Medium Is The Message and this week we have Christopher Moore’s description of the Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike Creative Commons license as Viral Freedom. This license, if enforced encourages you to create. You can create a tool to create tools, and then that tool is used to make a tool, and that tool is used to create a thing, and that thing is then used as part of another thing – and every step along the way, that license propogates.

The last problem that the tute has brought to my mind is that copyright, as a creator is very dear to me. The enforcers of copyright however, are the kind of people I typically want to dip in hot tar. To argue against copyright in principle is to say that art is not worth money. To argue against it in practice is to say our current system is badly broken.

* Please do not take the use of this quote to think I’m a Randian, please, please, please.