April 20, 2007

Weekend of April 20, 2007

*Editor's Note

*Opening Note: Beth Coleman's Report from the Virtual Worlds Conference, Part II of II

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Stacy L. Wood on Media Violence and the Virginia Tech Tragedy

--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.

Thanks to the corporate representatives, affiliated faculty, and members of the team who helped built such great discussions at Collaboration 2.0 this weekend here on the campus of MIT. We will have more on this past weekend's event in upcoming newsletters.

As usual, this week's update includes links to all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Also, the site features tools to favorite the blog on Technorati, so be sure to do so if you read on a regular basis.

This week's update features an opening note from C3 Principal Faculty Investigator Beth Coleman, who presents the second part of her report from the Virtual Worlds Conference. The first part of her report, entitled "People Are the New Medium," was presented in last week's Weekly Update.

The closing note from C3 Affiliated Faculty member Stacy L. Wood looks at the recent shootings at Virginia Tech in relation to an ongoing debate about the effects of media violence.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at samford@mit.edu.

--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------

Virtual Worlds Conference Report, Part II: ROI and Other Virtual Goods
Today, You Don't Own the Brand. You Coordinate It.

By: Beth Coleman

In last week's closing note, Coleman presented the first part of this report from the Virtual Worlds Conference, looking at the importance of co-creation in building these online universes. This is the conclusion of her notes from that event.

ROI (return on investment) was a panel run by Adam Reuters that spoke to the aspirations, bottom lines, and anxiety of the marketing and industry people in attendance. The best response to this came in case study from Tor Myhren of Leo Burnett on Pontiac Second Life. Leo Burnett was looking for a modality to
express the "democratizing speed" campaign tag line, and SL fit the profile to a T. (Let it be noted: this did not go into this looking for a virtual world experience.) A perfect storm gathered for the Pontiac use of the
vw platform along three overlapping fronts: timing (the mass news media was just waking up to SL), right form for right brand (the exploitation of UCC was key to the campaign. It was the campaign), and last but not least Pointiac had nothing to lose. The Brand was not afraid of users abusing their name--they
were afraid of becoming obsolete.

Goal of campaign: to be the centre of car culture in SL. Strategy: give away land to people with proposals around car culture; create "creative residencies," build dealership, build racetrack, Donate any revenue from the venture to EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). What you have is a fusion-marketing scheme where the residents build the cars, which makes it hyper sticky. The "loud speaker effect" (Seth Godin) is fully mobilized. It was a strategy that totally "got" the 60/40 m/f, 33 average age, high income, highly educated constituency it addressed. Myhren's two bottom lines can be summed up in the following. 1) virtual world use a success for brand! 2) virtual world use made no impact on sales in a direct marketing
designation. He also added in his talk that marketing should get some balls, stop being in a lather around numbers, "counting clicks" all the time, and communicate with people. Myhren's response to the perennial media strategy tsoris vis a vis UCC or Is It Still Our Brand: "Today you don't own the brand. You coordinate it."

Sibley Verbeck, CEO Electric Sheep company, lead a town-hall like session on vw and its impact on TV and vw as potential TV channels (the Real Virtual World). His take home was that TV is a powerful communication platform and that virtual worlds are NOT as of yet a broadcast medium. Nonetheless, a SL
cable channel already exists. The hopefuls, marketing across-platform, understand that if we are early in the game with vws, then it is still embryonic for the output to broadcast. The content does not exist yet.

"Applications that work," the closing panel of the conference was my favorite. The panelists represented concerns that spanned real-world crisis management, professional collaborative projects, and entertainment. Robert Gehorsam, Forterra Systems, and Paul Ledak, VP of Development, Digital Convergence IBM, made strong cases for the professional use of virtual worlds for health care, emergency management as well as actively enlisting the wisdom of professional networks.

In Ledak's brief IBM sketch, he suggested that the workday has changed for global companies. Workers are dispersed to an unprecedented degree. IBM as a company has reinvented itself, morphing its brand from hardware (machines) to a services (people) company. It wants to be known as a company working at the cutting edge of new modalities for human communications. Thus, the concept of virtual worlds as a viable meeting space for the professional in their company and the specifics of building out in SL have been successful for them using their own gauge (there has been no public offering on this front). The company is building Airbuses in vw labs.

Ledak asked, "Why did video conferencing fail? And why do vws work?" His answer is fairly intuitive. A vw platform is more spontaneous. He called for the generation of vw etiquette, so people have a more clear understanding of whether or not to "rez" human or furry at a business meeting ;-). Ledak affirmed that B2B has shown strong interest in the vw sector and that we will continue to see strong growth there. He did not bring up issues of security, perhaps out of his own sense of vw decorum. His closing slavo, "We've already paid for the infrastructure. For modeling, education, and entertainment purposes, vw potential is huge."

Robert Gehorsam, who designs systems for health care and emergency care, makes the point that virtual worlds are particularly good at simulating?the world. For dangerous situations, simulation is an excellent use of vw applications. The example he gives was not actually emergency management but longer-term crisis prevention around healthcare providers. "By 2012 the Healthcare industry will face a shortage of nurses," he stated. "People die when there are medical errors based on [poor] communication." His point is that "virtual worlds transcend the limits of time and space." They happen, effectively, in real time. The entertainment use of virtual world platforms is the popular use, the sexy use, and the daily use. Hey, this is fan fiction run amok. With that in mind, it is clear that these platforms are also strongly desired by an emergent virtual world pro industry.

Bonus track:

Also presented at the conference was the fascinating case study on Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC) use of Whyville and Second Life for health information services and medication self-administration. Google Erin Edgerton E-Health Marketing Division (CDC) and John P Anderton, National Center for Public Health Informatics (CDC).

I was not able to cover all of the conference, but luckily there were many a blogger in attendance. C3 media partner GSD&M were sponsors of the conference and have had a strong presence in Second Life from early on. See our partners at GSD&M's Idea City blog for more insights on virtual worlds and marketing.

The first part of this Virtual Worlds Conference Report appeared as the opening note in last weekend's C3 Weekly Update.

Beth Coleman is one of the principal faculty investigators with the Convergence Culture Consortium and serves as faculty director for C3 on game culture and mobile media initiatives. She is an Assistant Professor of Writing and New Media, in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies and Comparative Media Studies at MIT.

---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------

Toshiba HD DVD Users Rallying in Support Behind the Format They've Invested In. Fans of the HD DVD format are trying to drive sales up vis-a-vis Sony's Blu-ray in order to ensure the continued growth of HD DVD products and to keep the format from becoming obsolete.

Endemol and Electronic Arts Team up for Virtual Me. The EA/Endemol partnership will lead to virtual versions of popular Endemol shows such as Deal or No Deal and Big Brother.

Lonelygirl15 Spinoff KateModern Integrated with UK Social Network Bebo, Funded by Product Placement. The new spinoff will further test the success of marrying online content from its inception with a social network and creating valid new economic models for supporting digital video series.

Aftermath of Steve Byrne's Win of TBS/MySpace Stand Up or Sit Down Contest. The comedy contest drove interest in both providing content for TBS and user-generated video through MySpace, while Byrne is developing a growing following.

Ten Day Take Contest Over; Waiting for Winning Entries to Be Announced and Reality Series to Begin. The Comcast/Endemol project called for user-generated videos, with the winner chosen then being featured in a reality television show where they have to make their own pilot, but some contestants have doubts in the contest reaching its conclusion.

Comedy Central Looks to Recruit Stand-Up Comedians Through Web-Based Content. The cable channel has launched a contest asking for user-generated content, with a process lasting over several months and inviting users to vote on the best content, ending with the winner getting a developmental contract with the channel.

CBS Forms New Division to Create Advertising Connections Among Its Platforms. CBS Connections aims to offer opportunities for advertising across its broadcast, cable, online, radio, mobile, and various other mobile forms, as many companies seek to make infrastructural changes for a "convergence culture."

YouTube Preparing for Preemptive Copyright Protection, More Substantial Advertising. At the National Association of Broadcasters convention this past week, the Google CEO gave more details about plans to cultivate the company's business model moving forward.

Google CEO Says Network Video Site Not a YouTube Competitor. Echoing the sentiment of the C3 Web site, Eric Schmidt recently emphasized the many ways in which the planned NBC/News Corp. cross-platform video distribution model should not be compared with YouTube.

AOL Morphing into Online TV Network with Significant Original Content. The online company announced expansive plans for new television series during the upfronts, including both original series and ancillary content for popular television series and films.

New York Times Previews Potential Upcoming Battle between Writers, Conglomerates. A recent article from the newspaper presents an overview of the WGA battle with networks and studios through its profile of WGA West President Patric Verrone.

HD Television Sets in 28 Percent of Homes, Primarily in Living Room. A recent Consumer Electronics Association study attempts to generate more insight on how these new technologies are being incorporated into users' lives.

--------------- FOLLOW THE BLOG ---------------

Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/.

--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------

Consuming Violence:
Are we influenced by the games we play?

By: Stacy L. Wood

At 9:15 am on Monday, April 16th, I was in a classroom on the USC campus preparing to teach a lecture on culture and consumption. My students were arriving--a peaceful normality of shuffling through backpacks, catching up with their neighbor's weekend activities, sipping from Starbucks cups, and plugging in laptops. Two states north, similar classrooms at Virginia Tech were probably similarly engaged when gunfire destroyed too many lives and the sense of security of colleges across America.

The first news report I saw--before many details were available and the networks were still relying on filling time with general expert commentary--was a discussion of the impact of video game violence and its possible role in this tragedy. Since then I've heard many discussions of "a culture of violence" and the roles and responsibilities of the video game industry in that culture. As so many in the C3 community are interested in video gaming, it seems like a good time to discuss what the current cutting-edge thinking is about the cognitive effects of both interactive and passive effects of exposure to violence. This is not meant to be an opinion piece, or even to answer the question, "Are violent video games dangerous?" My only opinion is that we all have a responsibility to consider what research exists--the research from university campuses around the world may offer some insight into this university tragedy.

There exist several areas of social and cognitive psychology that study aggression. Researchers in these areas have traditionally looked at violence in film and television but are increasingly interested in video game violence. Not surprisingly, there was a surge in this research after it was discovered that the Columbine gunmen, Harris and Klebold, had been ardent Doom players and had even developed their own customized version of the game with two shooters, extra guns, and unlimited ammunition. Harris and Klebod had filmed a videotape of their Doom game where they dressed in trench-coats and shot high school athletes (Simon Wiesenthal Center report).

But what is the scientific evidence for the dangers of exposure to violence? There are four basic cognitive processes by which exposure to violence may increase an individual's own aggressive behavior. The first three are informative, but older perspectives. The fourth is a new and really fascinating area of psych research. I'll cover the first three quickly and then focus on the fourth.

First, and most basically, much human learning occurs via observation of others. These observational learning patterns suggest that individuals who watch realistic depictions of violence may learn this behavior as a socially valid or realistic response to provocation. How does this impact the video game industry? As game graphics become more sophisticated and realistic, the argument that observational learning effects may occur (for good or ill) becomes more valid. And, it also argues, that games--as only one point of observation for a well-rounded kid--are unlikely to be the strongest source of learning for younger players. Other observed role models like parents, teachers, and friends are likely to be stronger influences if they interact more with the child than the game does. The second process by which exposure to violence impacts individuals is through the formation of scripts that promote violent response to situations. Scripts are learned "orders of events and responses." For example, most consumers have a learned "restaurant script" that tells them that, upon entering a restaurant, they should expect to be seated, given a menu, give a drink order, have time to look at the menu, give a food order, etc. The script tells us the order of expected events and what our appropriate response should be. Multiple exposures to violent scenes can serve to "rehearse" a script of aggression in which violence is the appropriate response. This is similar to the concept of observational learning but is more specific in that it argues that, under "fight or flight" moments of provocation, the existence of well-rehearsed scripts for violence will automatically prompt a fight response over a flight response. Research in this arena has been documented since the 1970's and '80's (e.g., see work by Bandura and Huesmann). The third psychological phenomena that has been investigated is the potential for exposure to violent scenes to "disinhibit" aggressive behaviors by desensitizing individuals to other social norms that promote non-hostile behavior (see Thomas et al. 1977). Many people may recognize this phenomenon when they are, voluntarily or not, unable to watch television or the news for some time, and, after some break from the daily exposure to violent images, find that violent TV shows or movies shock them (or create a stronger visceral reaction) than they used to.

OK, now on to the new and cool. The fourth process through which violent images may affect us is a phenomenon known as priming. Priming is the incidental activation of knowledge schema, such as concepts, stereotypes, or goals by objects, words, or ideas in one's immediate environment. Robust data have shown that the recent activation of a concept or goal, even in an earlier or unrelated situation, carries over for some time to exert an unintended influence on behavior. John Bargh, one of the preeminent researchers in this field, has said that the results of his early studies shocked him as much as they often shock people who hear them for the first time.

The basic idea of priming is this: if you are exposed to a concept (let's say "money"), that concept is activated in your brain and also activates all the concepts associated with it (e.g., for money, related concepts might be banks, wallets, greed, power, etc.). The activation is a physical process (sort of like an electrical panel that has been lighted up) and it wears off slowly. For some time after the activation, those concepts in your mind are still "hot" and likely to be accessed. Thus, you may be unintentionally influenced by those easily accessible "hot" concepts later. For example, Bargh, Chen, and Burrows (1996) took a group of research participants and gave half a word task that nonconsciously primed the concept of
"elderly people" (e.g., with words like gray, Florida, and bingo). The other half did the same word task but without the elderly prime. After the research session was over, the researchers surreptitiously timed how long it took respondents to walk from the research room to the elevator. The group primed with the concept of "elderly" actually walked slower than the unprimed group. In another study, the same researchers nonconsciously primed participants with the concept of either "rude" or "polite" and then later put them in a position (that seemed to the participants to have nothing to do with the study) where they had to wait for an over-talkative person to finish a conversation with someone else before helping them. The talkative person was a part of the study and trained to keep talking until the participant interrupted them. The participants primed with the concept "rude" were both significantly more likely to interrupt and faster to interrupt.

Priming effects have been demonstrated in a diverse range of ways and for a diverse number of behaviors--some more related to violence and/or video games than others. Several studies show that merely seeing a picture of a gun or other weapon can increase the accessibility of aggressive thoughts (e.g., Anderson, Benjamin, and Bartholow, 1998). Panee and Ballard (2002) studied priming effects and video game aggression. They assigned male college students to a high aggressive or low aggressive video-game priming condition. After training, they played Metal Gear Solid, which allows players to advance by using stealth, violence, or both. Participants in the high aggressive priming condition used significantly more violent action during game play and reported more hostility than those in the low aggressive priming condition. Given a broad survey of the priming literature, it seems difficult to argue that violent cues--whether in films, TV, or games--don't have the potential for unintentional influence on behavior.

However, what is the effect of priming on people in everyday terms? Can violent images serve as primes? The answer is yes. Recall that merely seeing a picture of a gun or other weapon can increase the accessibility of aggressive thoughts. Does this mean that seeing a picture of a gun will make the average person go out, buy one, and use it? Clearly, the answer is no. Priming research has shown that primes make schemas and goals accessible but that those schemas and goals have to pre-exist in the influenced individual. Priming can't make us do something we don't already want to do.

Additionally, my own recent research (with colleagues Cait Poynor and Tanya Chartrand) suggests, that priming also impacts some people more than others. Early evidence suggests that the people who are, in general, most impacted by priming effects are those who are intelligent, sensitive, and alert. Because priming relies on conceptual activation, people who notice things in their environment and tend to be cognitive people (suggesting lots of scope for activation) may be more likely to be influenced by primes. This is interesting because I tend to assume (rightly or wrongly?) that heavy video gamers are more intelligent and alert than average. Combining the potential for priming with the parameters that promote the influence of effects due to observational learning, scripts, and disinhibition, suggest that violence in entertainment media are more likely for some individuals--especially the young, intelligent, and socially isolated. Without other sources of learning for appropriate responses to the stresses and provocations of normal life, some people may be more influenced by the scripts they learn in games.

Obviously, Monday's events at Virginia Tech will open discussion within the community and the game industry about the incidental effects of violence in entertainment media even if this particular person never played a single violent game. As you engage in these discussions, it is my hope that knowledge of the psychological processes involved will help promote a more balanced, informed, and effective discussion.

Some resources for the interested:

Anderson, C.A., and Dill, K.E., Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2000, Vol. 78.

Anderson, C. A., Benjamin, A. J., and Bartholow, B. D., Does the gun pull the trigger? Automatic priming effects of weapon pictures and weapon names, Psychological Science, 1997, 9, 308-314.
Bandura, A., Aggression: A social learning analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973.

Bargh, John A., Chen, Mark, and Burrows, Lara, Automaticity of Social Behavior: Direct Effects of Trait Construct and Stereotype Activation on Action, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 00223514, Aug. 1996, Vol. 71, Issue 2.

Huesmann, L. R., Psychological processes promoting the relation between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior by the viewer. Journal of Social Issues, 1986, 42, 125-139.

Panee, Cameron D., and Ballard, Mary E., High versus low aggressive priming during video-game training: Effects on violent action during game play, hostility, heart rate, and blood pressure. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2002, Vol. 32, Issue 12, p. 2458-2474.

Thomas, M. H., Horton, R. W., Lippincott, E. C., and Drabman, R. S., Desensitization to portrayals of real-life aggression as a function of exposure to television violence, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1977, Vol. 35, p. 450-458.

Stacy L. Wood is an affiliated faculty member with the Convergence Culture Consortium and the Moore Research Fellow and Association Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina. Her research focuses on how consumers react and adapt to change, individuals' processing of new product information, drivers of individual innovativeness, and consumers' emotional reactions to new innovations, media, trends, and rituals.


Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (samford@mit.edu)

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