"The Work of Theory in the Age of Digital Transformation", published in Toby Miller and Robert Stam's A Companion to Film Theory, makes the case for a new mode of media theory which reflects the opportunities and challenges of the media age. Central to this argument is a consideration of the ways that digital change is provoking theorizing not only with the academy but across all of those sectors being reshaped by the new media and an urge for academic theory to move beyond the classroom to engage in a larger public conversation about those changes.
"From Home[r] to the Holodeck", presented at the Post-Innocence: Narrative Textures and New Media Conference at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia in 1998, represented another attempt to define the place of the humanities as a means of responding to the challenges of the changing media environment and includes some ideas about theorizing the process of media change which are developed more fully in "Media in Transition: An Introduction," co-authored with David Thorburn.
One important discourse on media change has come through science fiction, which emerged in the 1920s as part of a larger effort to promote popular access to information on scientific discovery and technological innovation. I developed a series of forums involving contemporary science fiction writers discussing the key themes of media change underlying their work. Transcripts of these conversations with Gregory Benford, Octavia Butler, Orson Scott Card, Joe Haldeman, James Patrick Kelly, Ellen Kushner, Frederick Pohl, Allen Steele and Sarah Zettel can be found on the Media in Transition website. I provided an overview on the relationship of science fiction and media change intended as an introduction to the various transcripts entitled "Media and Imagination: A Short History of American Science Fiction."
With Christopher Weaver, I developed an MIT course on Popular Culture in the Age of Media Convergence. The syllabus of that course is on-line and provides a good reading list for anyone wanting to know more about this topic. An important aspect of this site are the various student critiques of contemporary media product which display, with varying degrees of competency or mastery, some of the core concepts to emerge from the class.
I am currently developing a book proposal exploring more fully how these various forms of media convergence are impacting contemporary popular culture. Watch this space for more news as the book develops.
"Interactive Audiences?", which will be published in xx, explores how Pierre Levy's Collective Intelligence might shed light on the behavior of media audiences in this new era. Specifically, I explore how the knowledge culture of fandom is transformed through the use of networked communications and how the new media alter reader's relations to texts, to media producers, and to each other. I trace various ways that the media industries are responding to the challenges of a more participatory culture.
I wrote an introduction to Kurt Lancaster's Interacting with Babylon 5 that explains how Babylon 5 might be read as symptomatic of this larger process of media and cultural convergence.
THE DIGITAL RENAISSANCE
In "The Director Next Door," one of my Technology Review columns, I explore how the development of the web as a distribution channel might empower amateur filmmakers not only to make new kinds of films but also to reach new audiences. I briefly discuss here the ways that commercial media is starting to recruit media makers and content from the web.
I explore the intersection between commercial and amateur media making more fully in "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars?: Parody and Appropriation in an Age of Cultural Convergence," which will appear in Bart Cheever and Nick Constant's d. film anthology. Here, I argue that Star Wars functioned as a "catalyst" encouraging fans to embrace the potentials of digital production and distribution, resulting in an enormous grassroots movement of Star Wars parodies. As a result of this essay, I was asked to develop a festival of fan-made films to be shown at the Walker Art Institute and to develop program notes explaining my choices.
In "Art Form for the Digital Age," published in Technology Review, I make the case that games are a new "lively art," along the lines outlined by Gilbert Seldes in the 1920s, and explore what we might learn about game aesthetics through analogies to the silent cinema. These ideas are fleshed out more fully in "....", an essay which will appear in ....and in "...", an essay developed in conjunction with "Game On," an exhibition of games as art at London's Barbican Art Center.
Another important aspect of my interest in games centered around the challenges of expanding the diversity of games content in order to attract more girls to gameplaying. I hosted an MIT conference which brought women in the games industry to campus to explore the then emerging "girls game" movement and to engage in dialogue with academic feminists who had written on this topic. The book, From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, which I co-edited with Justine Cassell, grew out of that conference. Our introductory essay, "Chess For Girls?" explores the contradictions which surround the girls game movement, seeking to complicate easy ideological judgements about the value of these new kinds of software for girls. "Voices From the Combat Zone" brought together online writings by women gameplayers, showing an alternative version of digital feminism which focused on empowering women to do combat with men in digital playspaces rather than designing more traditionally feminine kinds of games. "Before the Holodeck: Tracing Star Trek Through Digital Media", coauthored with Janet Murray for Greg Smith's On A Silver Platter, tackles the challenge of designing games for women from a different angle. Using Star Trek as a case study, I argue that those aspects of the original television series that attract female consumers have been systematically stripped away as the franchise was translated into video and computer game formats. Here, the issue isn't whether games should be redesigned to attract women but why decisions are being made to cut back on aspects of existing material which has already proven successful in engaging female consumers.
I have increasingly sought to engage in a larger dialogue with people in the games industry about the current state and future potential of games as a medium. In collaboration with the Interactive Digital Software association, I helped to organize the first national academic conference on video and computer games, bringing together leading game designers and game critics (academic and journalistic) for a two day conversation about the medium. More than 400 pages of transcripts of that event have been posted on the web and constitute an important resource for anyone who wants to understand the current state and future direction of the games industry.
Through the Comparative Media Studies program, I have organized a series of creative leaders workshops with Electronic Arts, a leader in the games industry, to explore issues of character, narrative, emotion, and community and to point towards some new directions for game design. We have helped to organize a series of workshops and presentations at such industry gatherings as the Games Developers Conference, E3 (The Electronic Entertainment Exposition), and Siggraph, which have helped to enlarge the industry conversation about games.
We are currently working with Microsoft to explore the potential use of game for learning. Our task is to make the case for games as a potential instructional and simulation platform and to develop prototypes of how one might combine state of the art game play with MIT quality science and engineering instruction.
As we have taken this conversation about games into the public sphere, my work has gained a great deal of attention within the games press and general interest publications alike. My favorite stories to date include a far reaching interview with Kurt Squire in Joystick 101, a conversation on games and violence in Gamasutra, and ....