Sunday, September 21, 2008

Spot the real Warcraft.

I know, it’s another World of Warcraft post. This news item was just too interesting to pass up.

In a presentation on ‘emerging media: its effects on organisations’ (powerpoint here), the US based National Defence University’s Dr. Dwight Toavs used World of Warcraft for a fictional case of terrorist plotting through virtual worlds. The terrorist are using WoW maps and lingo for organising an attack on the White House.

According to WiReD, who wrote a nice article on this amazing piece of terrorism scare, Toavs ‘believes that spies will have to spend more time in virtual worlds like WoW, if they want to have a hope of keeping tabs on what goes on inside 'em.’

We’ve heard about stories like these before. That it could actually happen (I mean, if I was a smart terrorist…) or that secret agents are maybe scouring through my in-game talk, I’m not sure which one is scarier.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Game adaptations and PICNIC

Busy week ahead. I will be presenting during the Third Annual Association of Literature on Screen Conference in Amsterdam. My talk is called ‘Tales of the Past: Performance-based Adaptation in World of Warcraft Machinima’ and is, as one would probably expect, part of the ‘adapting video games’ panel.

What I won’t be doing is discussing the growing number of terrible game-to-screen adaptations made by the likes of Uwe Boll. My paper will focus on how to retain player agency and performance while adapting game to film and will, as a result, discuss player created films, more specifically machinima. Here, play is adapted to film, not just a story.

My case study, the impressively large-scale machinima production Tales of the Past III, blends existing storylines and characters from World of Warcraft’s Azerothian lore with those of the players involved. In a game where you cannot have any lasting impact on the fictional world, a homemade adaptation like this one empowers players to establish themselves as true heroes in Warcraft’s grand narrative.

This conference, pure humanities academia, is as far removed from the marketplace as you can get. The other conference I will be visiting is the opposite. PICNIC is an annual, large-scale, new media oriented event and, quoting their site, ‘brings together and disseminates the ideas and knowledge of the world's best creators and innovators.’

Part of ‘Enquiring Minds’, a group of new media researchers invited to PICNIC, I’ll be looking at all the new developments and ideas in the new media marketplace, with people from companies like Philips and Google giving presentations. Glancing at the program, I’ll be bombarded with a whole lot of utopian celebrations of ‘we’, the creative masses. The inclusion of Aaron Koblin’s The Sheep Market made me chuckle.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Voice became silent.

Last Monday, one of the movie industry’s most beloved celebrities died. His name is Don LaFontaine. Never heard of the guy? Well, you will instantly know him when you hear him. He’s the ‘In a world…’ voice-over guy from many hundreds of film trailers of the last decades.

This news made me think of a little paper I just wrote dealing with the concept of paratext, those textual elements giving meaning to all the information accompanying the main text of a media object (like the preface, table of contents and index of a book). They form ‘thresholds of interpretation’ as Genette puts it, potentially controlling the way a person reads, views or, in the case of games, plays the main text.

While the paper dealt with strategy guides for games (following Mia Consalvo’s excellent work on the topic), I just realised the paratextual power of LaFontaine’s legacy .

The carefully chosen words he uttered (nay, boomed) into his microphone, often in the cheesiest semi-poetic manners possible, may be pure marketing, they exist in a totally different textual plane than the rest of the film. They are not part of a film’s diegesis (or even non-diegesis), but nevertheless form the first threshold many viewers pass before encountering the film itself.

For the movie industry, his voice was all-powerful, an almost God-like tool to steer the audience to the box office. As this fun short with LaFontaine and his colleagues shows, it demands respect.

Here’s a nice article honouring LaFontaine’s work, including a nice little documentary in which you can actually see the man himself talk about his work. The Don will be missed.