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Gender and Fan Studies Round Two (Robert Jones and Louisa Stein)

This post is a mirror post of the second installment of the summer gender and fan studies discussion: Part One and Part Two.

This discussion emerges out of a conversation about new media authorship that had begun to take place in publication and online. Robert wrote an essay on machinima (film authorship through video game engines) and Louisa wrote an essay which discussed the use of video game interfaces in media fan authorship; the two essays appeared side by side in the recent book Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Internet Age. We've both been continuing to think about these ideas; Robert has a piece on gender in machinima production which will appear in a collection on Machinma. For the sake of this discussion, an abstract of this in-progress article is available here. Louisa continued the discussion on her blog, discussing Robert's first piece and questions of gender and fan investment.

MACHINIMA VS. MEDIA FAN AUTHORSHIP

RJ: I'll be the first to admit that since "From Shooting Monsters to Shooting Movies" was the first piece I did on machinima, it definitely takes on a celebratory tone. I have since backtracked a little. In the Pink vs Blue piece I tried to tackle the gender divide head on. It's been met with mixed responses, interestingly along gender lines. So I'm very interested in your take on it as a female scholar. My intentions were to show a historical trajectory in technology and rhetoric around that technology that has culturally relegated women.

I want the piece to be a caution to the rhetoric around machinima as emancipatory when the reality is that it merely replicates the marginalization of women through technology. Feel free to let me know that I failed miserably at that.

LS: I don't think you failed miserably at all--it's an important warning, and I really like the history you trace out and the links you make. I did feel that it sidestepped some histories and contemporary examples of women engaging with technology.

I think it's important to look at not only what the interfaces offer but what people do with the interface. I hope we can explore that in this conversation.

RJ: As to your point about establishing a hierarchy in "From Shooting Monsters to Shooting Movies," I believe I do. Which in retrospect may not have been an ideal move in that context. But I was arguing that strictly from a technological standpoint and not the cultural point of view I believe you made your point about. Because to break it down to mere technology, machinima is an evolutionary step forward in the use of technology. When we talk about tool sets with fan vids (I'm assuming we're talking about the recutting of source materials and not things like Troops), we are talking about the basic tools sets of filmmaking, namely editing. Those same tool sets are part of machinima as well. So they both use that part of the production process: postproduction.

Machinima differentiates itself in its harnessing of game engines. So when we talk about the use of a source material in a fan vid (the television broadcast of a show) that is alterable only in the postproduction process. This is not the case for machinima. In fact, the control of these engines makes the transformation of the very source material possible, as we see in a derivative subculture of modding where the games become entirely new games.

This is why I adhere to the position that many video game scholars take on differentiating interactive media from more traditional media like film & TV. And I don't mean to adopt a hypodermic needle model of those media. I believe that audiences can engage them on creative and active levels. But the fundamental relationship to the medium is one of spectator-ship which in my mind is a "more" passive relationship than that of gaming. I can watch a film and stop watching the film and the film goes on with out me. It doesn't need me. When I play a game, the game only proceeds as long as I play. The moment I stop, so does the game. Therefore, I have to believe that when we talk about the active relationship between gamers and viewers they are not the same thing. And it is my conclusion that the interactive component that comprises the basis of the video game medium led to the development of machinima.

Again, I'm not saying that a fan vid has no larger impact of the source material; they certainly do. What I'm saying is that machinima is literally a transformation of the source material (not just playing with it). To do that with film or TV you'd have to be there on set, which is what makes the two so fundamentally different in my mind.

LS: I see the distinction you're getting at: transforming the actual source text for others to experience differently vs. reworking the source text in the creation of a new text. But I wonder at what level this distinction is significant in terms of how people experience/engage with media and technology. Fans making vids or even just writing fan fiction may not be able to actually change the source text (on set, as you say). But they also don't necessarily prioritize/centralize the source text above the fantext (that is, the shifting sets of texts that map out the fan understanding of the fictional universe with which they're engaging). So if fan-authorship transforms the fantext, and the fantext is the primary world-building text, then is that really different from the transformative play of machinima? It feels to me like a matter of perspective. Yes, machinima artists may alter the technology or the code, but fanfic writers alter if not the source text then the shared world of game play. Editing tools used for vids etc. are only the tools of post-production if we're centered in the official commercial production of the original text. If we're centered on the shifting production of the fantext, then the editing tools fans use are authorship tools plain and simple, and the productions alter the fantext that constitutes the creative space within which fans interpret and engage both "official" and "unofficial" texts.

For many fans, at least, their sense of the media text awaiting their participation is not that different from a videogame waiting to be played. Fans engage with the world of a media text as one would the world of a game. The comparison is easier to make with an Role Playing Game, but I think it extends to videogames as well. Media fans see that source text as elements available for their play, and as elements which set up rules to be followed or hacked or cheated or broken, depending on how they like to play. So while there may be more of a divide between gamers and an ephemeral sense of a generalized viewer, but I think that the relationship between media fans (especially those who participate within fan communities and author fan texts) and gamers is much closer.

RJ: What may be more interesting to us, per this conversation, would be the gender divide that happens. In ìPink vs. Blueî I make the case that this is an issue of accessibility. Women have historically been denied access to these more advance technologies based on cultural rhetorics that situate men as "masters" of technology while women merely use them once user friendly interfaces have been developed. That's why I cite the proliferation of The Sims machinima among women being a corollary to the development of user friendly tool sets shipped with that game, the same way Westinghouse made radio more user friendly when it needed to capture the housewives as its primary demographic. Some have read this as me saying that women are fundamentally not smart enough to utilize these technologies, which is so far from the case. The point I try to make is that the cultural rhetoric prescribed to women has created this assumption in many women's minds and thus stands as the barrier to them using them, NOT their own limitations.

LS: While I see this point and its validity, it overlooks a few things: first, the majority of women creating stories out of The Sims (either machinima or still images combined with text--the sort of narratives that circulate on Livejournal Sims storytelling communities) use the storytelling function offered by the game itself, yes, but must work around its limitations, as it is far from ideal for complex storytelling. These Sims-authors turn to additional interfaces as well for their authorship, from Photobucket to Livejournal to Premiere or Final Cut Pro. The same goes for vidding and all sorts of multimedia authorship happening in these female authorship communities. To a degree this experimentation is facilitated by the space of the community that encourages technological support. But this has been going on for decades, it's not a new development. Its history has been (as you point out) overlooked, and I fear may continue to be.

That's actually a concern I have underlying this fanboy/fan girl and videogame studies vs. fan studies gender divide that I've noticed at conferences over the years and that Kristina Busse blogged on (as did I ). Fan studies has been a place that looked at female authorship and innovation happening in female communities. Those communities used to be based on in person social networking through fan Conventions and such, yes, but they were always heavily technologically engaged, from the use of multiple VCRs to facilitate the complex process of pre-digitial vidding to the extremely belabored processes of putting out zines pre-internet, which were the lifeblood of female fan communities. Now that fandom has moved online, technological innovation and authorship within the context of female communities continues to expand, and yet its validity as a subject of study--not only cultural but also aesthetic, literary, and technological--still seems to be contested and unpopular, at least compared to the burgeoning field of videogame studies, which as you point out maps more easily onto traditionally masculine values of competition and innovation.

 

INTERFACES, AUTHORSHIP, AND PLAY

RJ: I'd be curious to hear what you mean about the uses of interfaces vs. what the interfaces offer. Seems really pertinent to the point I'm trying to make in Pink vs. Blue.

LS: Well--we can either look at the interface on its own terms: what options a given interface allows, what tools it provides, how it interpellates the player/viewer, etc. Or we can look at how social users come to an interface from a specific social/cultural context, and what work they do with that interface, and what texts they create out of that interface. I should not put it in terms of either/or, actually, as I think that both approaches are important and looking at only one without the other limits the conclusions we can draw.

So, for example, The Sims 2 (TS2) interface offers storytelling tools and thus encourages storytelling. It provides an easy route to take still shots or to take moving images. Media fans using The Sims 2 (or simply TS2 authors, not emerging from other media fandoms) make use of both of these functions. However, part of the storytelling tools on TS2 is the upload to the official storytelling board. If one uses this dimension of TS2 interface, one has the ability to accompany an image with text, to label a story with one of a set group of genres, and to then share with a specific community within the official rubric of TS2.

However, what many TS2 storytellers do (be they creating stories based within specific media fandoms or not) is use only part of the options of TS2 still image storytelling--if any at all. Many turn to more flexible image capture programs, and then use other operations and interfaces (turning to Photoshop and Livejournal, for example) to create the aesthetic that they desire (and that may have evolved within a specific fan community or the larger fan community). As you point out, many of these Sims storytellers (and I haven't been discussing machinima here, but I just as well could have been) are female and are sharing their stories within predominantly female communities. But since they're substantially bypassing the interface offered by TS2--can we really link this prolific authorship with gendered issues of access and technological comfort?

RJ: As to the transformation of the text, correct me if I'm wrong but there certainly seems to be a desire to continually up the ante in production value on fan vids. The meticulous rotoscoping that fans do just to get the light sabers right would be a testament to that. And this may not be the case for all (and perhaps there's a gender divide along these lines as well), but trying to uphold those production values seems to have its own cultural commodity within certain fan communities.

LS: This is a very interesting point, and something I've been giving a lot of thought to--in terms of the divergent aesthetic values and narrative values in fan authorship and in fan authorship communities. Some vidding communities (including those who think of themselves as Vidding fandom) certainly aspire to high production values--although what they see as high production values shifts over time. For a long time it was a very close attention to sophisticated and seemingly effortless rhythmic editing and matching of motion and sound. However, recently other vids have come to the fore which draw on different interface options, layering image upon image and incorporating text and special effects in innovative ways.

Vids that circulate in different fan communities aspire to different sets of values--for example (to return us to machinima) the many Final Fantasy vids that one can find on youtube (slash and het alike.) These vids certainly draw from many of the same traditions and values as do the "vidding" vids I was just discussing, but they are often more invested in using Final Fantasy and whatever editing program they're using (often Windows Movie Maker rather than Final Cult Pro or Premiere) to map out an emotional romantic connection between the two characters on whom the vid centers. Such vids would circulate in related but subtly different networks of fans/players.

While we might want to say that the former aesthetic is more rooted in "masculine" modes of aesthetic value, while the latter has evolved within cultural discourses linked to femininity, to make such a divide seems deeply problematic to me as both sets of communities have long histories of female authorship and involvement.

RJ: What positions machinima as uniquely different (and I hope this doesn't sound like I'm over-privileging machinima here) is the capacity to replicate those production values in kind, calling into question whether or not Iìm watching a fan production or the actual source (cut scenes designed by the developers). This is usually NOT the case, even in the accomplished series Red vs Blue, one gets a distinct sense that we are witnessing some "guys" playing around. However, the Roosterteeth's Sims based series The Strangerhood can easily be seen as on par with anything that was developed in that game. As a result, Roosterteeth has since been commissioned for Xbox promotional videos and EA has used them to create a series of TV commercial for its monster franchise Madden football. So while I understand that so much of what fan communities are about is not trying to become the established media producer, I wonder how many of them would raise their hand if they were given the keys to the studio. If they could actually come in and shoot their own episode of Battlestar Galactica How many would see that as just a continuation as to what they strive for in their fan fiction and fan vids?

LS: Oh--interesting... I think that how much fans might desire to control the original source text and its inception would vary across fandom(s); but many authors are instead invested in disseminating their engagement with a film or TV or book text across different media, with creating a fantext that is not bound to a single medium but made manifest in a range of media. They see the TV or film source text as a starting ground for a multilayered authorship. Would they love to have the actors to order around? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly part of the thrill of fannish play with The Sims or vids is the fact that one can create audiovisual texts that represent ideas that previously have only existed in words or manipulated (still) images. But I don't think that fans necessarily see such authorship as the equivalent of being able to create the television show itself, except in as much as they're contributing to the larger fantext in a visceral way.

 

MEDIUM DIFFERENCESóACTIVE PLAY OR PASSIVE SPECTATORSHIP?

RJ: I don't want to say that machinima is better, but I do want to say that it certainly places more power over the medium in the fan's hands than television. Essentially it comes down to tool sets. All these communities converge together on their need to tell stories, I'm not questioning that whatsoever. I'm simply suggesting that machinima requires a reexamination based on its tool sets that are made available to consumers exceeding previous media forms.

As to the transformative play of fan vids, I would absolutely agree that is what's going on. Because at its basic level, transformative play is about playing by your own set of rules, thus permeating the magic circle. If we understand the traditional role of the viewer as one of passive consumption, fan communities flip that on its head and actively play with the medium (the whole poaching thing). I guess my point about the fundamental difference between video games and film/TV was that the nature of these two are quite different. I can easily see how machinima manifests out of video game culture because it is one rooted in the interactive playing with the text. In that sense, machinima is just a continuation of play, reconfiguring the the magic circle. Fan vids on the other hand, have no direct connection to the relationship to the medium. We were supposed to JUST watch and enjoy. The people in Hollywood didn't foresee us really going beyond that, which is so very different from game design.

LS: On the point of film/TV as a passive medium I would definitely differ. Film and TV has had a long and bumpy road of imagining a spectator who is sometimes passive, sometimes active. To draw on Tom Gunning, the cinema of attractions certainly encouraged an active viewer, and while the development of the narrative code may have sent that active stance underground to some degree, it has never left cinema entirely--it has remained in the notion of engaging in the act of cinema going and the community of the audience, or in the confrontation of alternative cinema, or in the spectacle of big budget special effects films. This is even more so the case with TV; throughout its history people have been heralding the coming of interactive television, and images or sounds of studio audiences always highlighted audience engagement as somewhere in between passively watching and actively participating. Yes, how one could participate was limited, and perhaps doesn't compare to video games (I certainly don't mean to argue that the two are the same.)

This is just a long winded way of saying that film and television audiences have never been posited as strictly passive. But the active television viewer is now a highly contested subject, sought by some producers/networks and avoided by others, it seems. However the increasing cooptation of fannish culture (as we can see in shows on NBC, FX, Nickelodeon/The N, and The CW in the current moment, to name a few) suggests that TV producers and networks are not only soliciting active viewership but offering opportunities to supposedly influence the official source text itself. But, as Kristina Busse has discussed, this desire to go "pro" is not something that fan communities necessarily share equally, and is itself a contested and gendered issue.

RJ: I find this part particularly fascinating because I can fully see how this all plays out like a game for fans. I would just be cautious to clarify what we're talking about. The explanation of the video game as an interactive medium versus TV as a more passive medium was based solely on the medium, which has a prescribed way to engage it. What you're getting at here is what people do with that medium. In this instance, I would define that as a form of play, utilizing the TV medium. So the medium itself in this case does not take on the interactive or active qualities I want to reserve for games. However, that may be an unnecessary point to squabble over. The more important point to take from this, and a possible place where these two come together, is that there exists this need to "tinker" across gender.

LS: Yes, absolutely--but is the tinkering with the same purpose and to the same effect? I think that would be a fascinating question to explore more closely, looking at a comparison of machinima and vidding processes and texts.

RJ: I've always claimed that the engaging power of video games lies in the control it offers its audience. Fan vids represent a similar appetite for control over the narrative. Perhaps eagerly anticipating the next episode of a show only so that you can then take that content and use it as part of your own storytelling is no different than awaiting the next game engine to see what you can do with it. Both would constitute active engagements of play, the latter just happens to adhere to the relationship established from the outset by the medium. This is why the legal issues that often plague fan vids in the realm of IP suits has yet to really manifest in the machinima communities. Whereas TV and Film industries still cling to the need to control their properties, game developers have recognized the tremendous marketing potential that machinima offers (as indicated by the inclusion of machinima tool sets and filmmaking competitions just in the The Sims 2). The fact that they have not gone so far outside of the role that medium traditionally plays could be part of the explanation for this.

LS: I can see how the role imagined by the medium for the player/viewer might determine acceptable levels of interactivity, and how this separates TV/Film from video games--up to a point. But when TV and Film producers start to actively court fan involvement and fan authorship (which granted happens only marginally now but it does happen) this dichotomy gets muddier.

 

GENDER AND SCHOLARSHIP

RJ: Just trying to step back from all this, I can see that we both seem to come at this from a place that is close to us. Part of my argument seems to be privileging technology because I grew up as a technophile, playing games my whole life. And with your background in cinema I can see where your emphasis on narrative regardless of tool sets comes from.

LS: I wouldn't say I would emphasize narrative regardless of tools--I think understanding rather than ignoring the role of technology and interface is absolutely crucial--but I do think it's equally vital to understand the impact of those tools within the context of their cultural and social use.

RJ:So is the answer to this whole endeavor Jenkins is putting together just that simple? Men will continue researching video games because they spend more time there? And women will stick to fan vids and fan fiction based on TV because that's where they spend their time?

LS: I think that gendered spaces and familiarity may definitely be a significant part of this divide we're all noticing, combined with the gendered academic priorities that have shaped and continue to shape fan studies, as Jason and Karen discussed in their conversation this past week.

RJ: The shifting numbers I cite in my piece on the growing numbers of female gamers hopefully points towards a sea change that will take place. The Wii and the explosion of the casual gamer market are certainly good indications. This is where I can't help but think that Jenkins was onto something about gendered play spaces. Even in 2007 women spend more time online, yet still pursue computer science degrees in far less numbers. This is certainly part of the master narrative young women are given as to their roles in technology. Some of the fan communities that you and Kristina write about point towards a change in direction in that, but there's still a long way to go I think.

LS: Yes, but there are histories of women actively engaging with technologies that need to be written also... It's not just all in the future. From the evolving history of vidding to the female modding and authorship surround The Sims 1 (pre- the more accessible storytelling tools). Yes, there are changes in the works, but the same gendered discourses that may overall shape how women perceive their own relationship with technology also shape what fan histories get told, recorded, and listened to.

 

WRAPPING UP ON INTERFACE, PRODUCTION VALUE, PLAY, AND ENGAGEMENT

RJ: To return to your earlier comments on interface: this is one of the areas that I feel really helps to understand machinima. One thing I have not mentioned about machinima as an area of fandom is that in many cases it does not function the same way I understand other fandoms. When the guys at Roosterteeth decided to use Halo and create the Red vs. Blue, that was clearly a traditional fannish endeavor because they spent all their time previously playing the game. However, as trained filmmakers the ability to make films from games seemed to supersede their love of Halo because they proceeded to migrate to other games like The Sims 2 and F.E.A.R. I don't want to say that they were not fans of these games, but I would say that for them and many other machinimators, the choice of game engine often depends on the power of that engine and what it can do.

LS: This notion of choosing a game engine depending on what the engine can do actually doesn't sound that different from much of fan authorship practice. Once they are already paricipants in fandom, fans often seek out texts that will give them the elements to create a fantext of the sort that gives them pleasure/matches values already circulating within the fan community. Within the larger fan communities, you can see shifts as individuals and groups realize that a certain program or film has the elements they would look for--that reflect the values and goals of their fan engagement. And so we see large growth in fandoms like Supernatural which match well with fannish focus on masculinity, seriality, and the familial. Granted I'm talking about thematic content and narrative form (not to mention aesthetic quality as fans--and especially vidders--choose programs that offer rich visuals). This type of choosing of source text may be somewhat different from a machinima author choosing a game engine based on what it can do, but I'm not sure that difference is a radical one.

RJ: The Sims 2 offers a powerful 3D engine, but manipulation of that engine is limited due to the way the interface makes it so accessible (similar to how Mac makes useful interfaces that don't really allow you to "get under the hood"). One of the residual effects of that has been the development of software tools used to work with TS2 to allow more control over design. I checked out one of the main sites for these tools and had trouble identifying many women as the creators of these tools.

There are many women participating in these sites, creating meshes and skins to customize their Sims, but the tools to do these things still seem to be something men are creating, which is part of the problem that I see with all this. Values are such an integral part of any design, and as long as men continue to design most games and most tools, they will continue to privilege those male values. I don't want to discount Sadie Plant's warning that we should not overlook that the history of technology DOES have women in key roles throughout its history; however, I would much rather see them in greater number both now and in the future. The hurdle that seems to stand tall against that, in my opinion, is the cultural discourses that engender a certain relationship to technology. For as many women how have tried creating machinima in TS2 and said "these tools are really limiting, I'm going to hack the code and create my own" I have to say they are far fewer than the many who felt the same way but did a google search to find a tool that does something similar to what they want to do.

This has nothing to do with intelligence or aptitude, but instead with power and permission. Modding breaks the rules, just as hacking. And by extension, so does machinima. Through a myriad of patriarchal structures, men/boys have been given greater liberties to play than women/girls. And since our relationship to technology has always been one of playing and tinkering, it makes sense why the power in that field would be so slanted toward males. The growing presence of women in machinima hopefully points this in the right direction, but until that presence manifests in the design side of the tools used to construct machinima there will always exist a substantive imbalance.

LS: Yes, there may be less women modding or hacking than men, and yes, this likely has to do with the gendered cultures that encourage or discourage technological expertise of different sorts. And of course it's a necessary goal to change these patterns--to see more women getting advanced degrees in technology related fields and shaping the values that then emerge.

However, we can't simply dismiss the female authorship that is occurring now because it's not modding or hacking, nor can we devalue it because it doesn't change larger official (commercial) systems. I would argue that fan investment and authorship is precisely about working within, through, and against external official structures. Media fan pleasure--at least of the female community sort --derives from an interplay with already existing realities. A fan wouldn't want to change the original source text, but rather to render it in her own image and the image of her community through other tools which may offer their on sets of restrictions to creativity. Many fans argue that this type of creativity within restriction (for example the exploration of an already existing character rather than an original character) is more challenging (and thus for the fan more pleasurable) than starting with a blank canvas. I feel like you're holding up a set of values to fannish authorship that doesn't match up neatly with the goals, values, and investments of those creative communities.

RJ: Going back to production values, I wonder now if there may be a gender divide along those lines as well. When you talked about the use of Final Fantasy to simply tell a love story in contrast to producing a high production value work, I thought of the number of Sims videos I watched when doing that content analysis of the Sims movies sites. So many of them were completely unapologetic about not being perfect in editing and/or sound, which sounds like what you are getting at. In contrast, a site like machinima.com has such a greater number of men producing machinima and it has a similar feel to gaming forums where the hyper-competitive nature that derives from games sometimes manifests in talking about each others work. Can you think of a similar occurrence outside of machinima? In any of the communities you participate in. There could be something to that.

LS: There are some communities that indeed have a different set of production values and goals, and thus we can't measure them against more "professional" (again I am hesitant to simply equate this with masculine) aesthetic systems. However--and perhaps I didn't make this clear enough--there are also vidding communities which are very invested in what we would recognize as high quality production values that is values rooted in professional/official aesthetic and editing codes (and we might or might not want to call these out as masculine codes) What I'm trying to stress, then, is that there are multiple, shifting vidding communities with differing value systems, and these value systems are always in process and often influence each other.

For example, in the vidding-centered fan community, in which vidding itself is the object as well as the product of fandom, one could argue that vidders assess a vid's success based at least partially on production values that we might associate with "professional" skill--detailed attention to rhythmic editing, matching motion with aural track, to name two central values that have emerged in vidding fandom over the past decade or more.

In contrast, other vidders with different aesthetic value sets are currently becoming more visible. Some of these vidders use elements of available interface in ways which may seem unorthodox in comparison to recognized vid aesthetics. However, these vids are becoming more and more visible and the aesthetics they offer do indeed seem to be gaining wider recognition within a range of vidding communities. I've gotten permission to link to a vid that, in its exploration of fan investment in the media text, offers a different vision of what a vid can be--or at least different than that outlined and familiar to media scholars from Textual Poachers. It's absolutely worth checking out: Us.

While I personally love this vid and everything it achieves, I don't mean to hold it up as a "good" vid as opposed to the romantic machinima slash vids I mentioned before or in comparison to the vid aesthetic that predominates in the vidding-centered fan community. These different vids all emerge out of different fan and authorship communities with different sets of aesthetic and thematic concerns and contexts. I would link to examples of all three, but the issue of bringing publicity to vids and vidding is still a highly contested one (and certainly we could talk about issues of gender here as well), and I don't want to bring exposure to vidding communities or artists that may not want that type of attention.

 

LOOKING FORWARD

RJ: The more we talk about this, I wonder how far apart the endeavors of machinima and vidding really are. The divide seems to fall along the relationship to the source text. Your point about the fans seeing the source text as a starting point for a multi-layered fan text across media seems to relate to the thing I said earlier about how machinimators understand their relationship to the source text. Often it is based on the engine's power and usability, not a previous affinity for the story or characters. Or it can be something as simple as I want do a drama and don't want people laughing because my protagonist is dwarf or a robot. So I choose TS2, not because I love the game, but because that tool allows me to do things other tools do not. In this instance, the notion of a multi-layer build off a source text collapses into an entirely new text that is only aesthetically derivative. And when you look at the work of Friedrick Kirschner and how he takes a powerful game engine like Unreal Tournament 2004 and completely strips away any semblance of the previous game, the notion of fandom for the game no longer applies.

LS: Not only does the notion of fandom for the game cease to apply--but what about the question of play? When fans create texts--be they fic, vids, Sims still-image and text storytelling, or fannish machinima--they offer their creations as part of the larger, ongoing play with the source text. So I'm actually finding myself wanting to flip on its head your initial framework that suggests that videogame machinima authorship is more active than media fan authorship; media fan authorship is simultaneously invested in the creation of and circulation of aesthetic texts and in the ongoing and ever-evolving group play of the fan community experience, perhaps (dare I say) more so than the mostly-male-authored machinima texts you're describing.

RJ: Though the fandom for the game may be stripped away in Kirshner's work, the element of play is very much alive. It simply lies within playing with the technology and what it can do rather than the narrative. He has subsequently developed a toolset that aims at making the creation of machinima with the Unreal engine more user friendly. And I'm not sure I ever claimed that machinima authorship is more active than media fan authorship (in fact I thought I suggested they were both forms of transformative play). Machinima offers more control to fans over the medium than Film or TV, which could lead to more control over the preexisting narratives or as in the case of Kirshner greater control over completely original storytelling. Again, the divide seems to fall along narrative and technology.

LS: I find myself frustrated that we seem to be trapped in this (gendered) world of dichotomization, where we're seeking to differentiate rather than understand the complex gradations that make up media engagement. Of course gender shapes technological comfort-levels, media engagement, and all realms of our experience. There's no escaping that--but I feel that one tangible way to change it would be to fully explore worlds outside of our sandboxes without necessarily labeling them as "similar" or "different" right off the bat. I feel this is something that we as media scholars can do. And ironically, maybe such a goal is somewhat impeded by our fan investments--our strong feelings, as you point out--but I think it's something very worth striving for.

 

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