May 4, 2007

MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of May 04, 2007

*Editor's Note

*Opening Note: Parmesh Shahani Shares a Conversation with his Diary Based on His Recent Trip to the Interactive Content Exchange, Part II of II

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Stefan Werning on Revisiting India's Game Industry from an Outsider's Perspective

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

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.

This week's update includes links to materials covering the previous weekend's Media in Transition conference that took place here at MIT and which might be of interest to our corporate and faculty partners here in the consortium.

As usual, this issue features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Also, the site includes 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 the second part of former C3 research manager's Parmesh Shahani's report from his recent trip to Toronto for the Interactive Content Exchange conference. The first part of this piece appeared in the closing note in last week's Weekly Update.

The closing note from C3 Affiliated Researcher Stefan Werning focuses on the Indian game industry "from an outsider's perspective," looking at new developments and continuing trends in the country.

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 ---------------

ICE Cool Toronto, Part II of II

By: Parmesh Shahani

In last week's closing note, former C3 Project Manager Parmesh Shahani presented the beginning of his conversation with his diary regarding a recent trip to Toronto for the Interactive Content Exchange and other speaking engagements. The second part of that piece is presented here in this week's opening note.

Saturday March 24, 2007

Today, I meet MIT alum Marc Davis, the 'social media guru' for Yahoo! He is currently working on refining the meaning of 'information' and how people view the term. I proceed to tell him all that is wrong with Yahoo in India, and he listens patiently. He is going to become Very Big Brother soon because he mines information that people generate via their cellphones, both in terms of their locations at different points of the day, as well as consumption patterns. Analyzing the web, cellphones and physical world together will reveal our collective desires to folks like Davis. Commercially, this will be a goldmine for Yahoo, etc. Scary. Cool. Inevitable?

It is great fun reconnecting with Eric Zimmerman - the founder of the New York based company GameLab and the author of the gaming bible - Rules of Play. I interviewed him some years ago, on gaming literacy, for the CMS research initiative The Education Arcade. Today he talks about the difference between systems, play and design and play as research - and a key part of an iterative design process. As an example, Eric asks the audience to turn on their phones. Then, he tells each person to give their mobile to another person close to them. Then once again, each person hands the mobile they are using to another person, so that makes it two degrees of separation. Now, everyone has to find their mobile by calling their number!

OMG, dear Diary, I've just seen some really cool fabrics, called architectural textiles that do all kinds of things - change color, shape and texture, and interact with the wearer based on the emotions that he is experiencing. Joanna Berzowska, the owner of Extra Soft labs, is talking about how we can play with our identities through textiles. I want!

Sunday March 25, 2007

Diary, last night, I made a presentation at the Toronto Free Gallery about mobile India and the opportunities that the rapid growth of cellphone services is throwing up, both for commerce and research. I finally got to see some real streets in Toronto, on my way to the gallery, where I also screened Control Alt Del, my friend Saurabh's film about alienation, suicide and technology obsession. This went of rather well, considering that there was a DJ-music dance party that followed. Today morning I had breakfast with Thomas Wallner, who some years ago, traveled across India researching the hijra (transgender) community, but now works with a really funky multi-platform TV production company called Xenophile Media. Then I rushed to the conference to hear more about the Murmur mobile storytelling project, where specific city locations are mapped and overlaid with stories from nostalgic residents, and these stories can then be accessed by visitors to the location calling a particular number and entering a specific code to listen to the story. (So Yellow Arrow, no?) Yesterday, I leant about The Haunting - a ghost-capture mobile experience designed to be played in the Mount Royal Park in Montreal. The game relies on GPS hotspots and bluetooth to deliver ghostly sound and video content on the mobiles of those who play it. My classmates at MIT had developed something like this for the streets of Paris and Venice two years ago, and I've seen similar kind of applications being used in art galleries as well.

Running, panting, they're coming at us. Giant bugs all around. Crushed by tanks. Explosions. More bugs die. City streets, guerrilla warfare. Unequal contest. Lost in my own world again, I blurt out when asked to respond at a mobile gaming panel that the game example just shown reminds me of the violence in Iraq. I'm not making any 'games cause violence' connection, just reflecting on the aesthetics of the example shown, but it my comments are hugely controversial. Good fun. There is so much else that is happening dear diary, how do I write it all. Sensors and XML workshops, wonderful Indian dinner outings with Sara Diamond, president of OCAD, who invited me to Canada in the first place, a sunglass shopping expedition with another old friend and C3 affiliate Professor Rob Kozinets... CMS, C3, Bombay, Boston, intersect in strange ways in my life... The week is racing by and I am just absorbing it all dear diary, one epiphany at a time.

C3 research affiliate Parmesh Shahani is Head - Vision and Opportunities at the Mahindra Incubation Lab in Mumbai, India. He can be reached at parmesh@mit.edu.

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

Keeping Transmedia Services Bound in the Gates of Exclusivity. Verizon remains the exclusive mobile partner for TiVo. What are the limitations to gating services with a particular service provider?
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/keeping_transmedia_services_bo.php

Unity08, Independent Two New Examples of Getting People Involved in Politics Online. Two new political initiatives see a Barnett-produced TV show creating a political reality competition through MySpace, as well as a bipartisan presidential ticket chosen online.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/unity08_independent_two_new_ex.php

Joost Launches with Significant New Content Coming, Amid Crowded Online Video Market. The newest competitor in the online video market launches with a new deal from Turner and a wealth of other content on its way.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/joost_launches_with_significan.php

NBCU/News Corp. Video Venture Moving Forward with Ad Model, Name. NBC Universal and News Corporation are preparing for the summer launch of their new online video platform and are currently working with advertisers to create a business model for the site.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/nbcunews_corp_video_venture_mo_1.php

YouTube Makes Plans to Reward Select Independent Content Creators. The site will be giving a select number of creators a cut of the advertising revenue, but the way in which those creators will be chosen has yet to be fully disclosed.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/youtube_makes_plans_to_reward.php

MoveOn's VideoVets Project Puts Faces with a Cause, in Multiple Media Forms. The political group is getting attention with its cross-platform campaign to show veterans and military families voicing their opposition to the war in Iraq, with Oliver Stone signed up to put together a final commercial from the interviews.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/moveons_video_vets_project_put.php

FCC Continues the Crusade Against Violent TV Programming. The FCC report makes suggestions such as restricting violent content during certain times and draws on a variety of sources to attempt to link television violence to aggressive behaviors in children.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/fcc_continues_the_crusade_agai.php

Media in Transition 5: Part IV of IV--Final Links. Last weekend's conference was broadcast on Second Life and included a variety of content podcast online.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/media_in_transition_5_part_iv.php

Media in Transition 5: Part III of IV--More Links. A variety of speakers and audience members posted their takes on the Media in Transition conference as well.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/media_in_transition_5_part_iii.php

Media in Transition 5: Part II of IV--Links Regarding the Sessions. A few C3-affiliated folks wrote about their experiences at the Media in Transition conference on their blogs, including Henry Jenkins, Jason Mittell, and Geoffrey Long.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/media_in_transition_5_part_ii.php

Media in Transition 5: Part I of IV--An Overview. Sam Ford writes about his experiences at the MIT Media in Transition 5 conference that the Comparative Media Studies Program hosted last weekend.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/05/media_in_transition_5_part_i_o.php

Social Networks Continue To Be the Buzz, But How Niche Is Too Niche? Social networks continue to be the buzz, with ABC Family's Virtual Rush the latest of these sites, while PaidContent focused on social media in late April.
http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2007/04/social_networks_continue_to_be.php

--------------- 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 ---------------

Revisiting the Indian Game Industry from an Outsider's Perspective

By: Stefan Werning

Fairly recently, Gameguru.in published an interview with the developers of Mahabharata - The Dawn of Kaliyuga (cf. http://www.gameguru.in/features/2007/05/mahabharata-the-dawn-of-kaliyuga-by-syncere-arts-exclusive-interview/), a new ambitious Indian game project focusing on a constitutive mythological text. While the 'uniqueness' of Indian game development should probably not be overstressed, the interview might provide a few hints at the changing status of game production within the Indian media landscape.

These findings are certainly not simply 'transferable' to evaluating interactive media in other aspiring Non-Western game industries (e.g. Vietnam or even Bangladesh), yet they might be instrumental in overcoming an overly naturalized 'Western' viewpoint.

According to the interview, "gaming technology and sharing the great stories of Indian culture" have been the driving forces behind the development of Mahabharata. Thus, technology appears as a means for staying able to communicate Indian identity in the upcoming media landscape; the recurring focus on state-of-the-art graphics technology suggests this is a sensitive issue in terms of international competitiveness.

In the interview, games are described as a "natural extension" of the popular Indian film industry which appears to be in line with the recent rethinking of digital games in India which used to be perceived as marketing tools for movies, usually in the form of simple flash games.

Casual game portals like Zapak (http://www.zapak.com/) feature mostly the same selection as Western sites, including some games with an Indian twist (e.g. Tiger of Mysore).

Since India is apparently still a PC games market, (http://www.kotaku.com/gaming/india/exploring-the-indian-games-market-232728.php) the XBOX360 will very likely have the easiest access to this market due to technological overlaps with PC development. Mahabharata will apparently use high-profile middleware, mostly from outside of India. According to Syncere Arts representatives, "the game uses the Reality Game Engine which in turn is based on Kynapse for AI and Novodex for Physics". Moreover, the PhysX PPU (http://www.ageia.com/physx/titles.html) is apparently supported for fluid and cloth effects.

Interestingly, Kynogon, the developer of Kynapse, is also very active in military contexts (cf. http://www.kynogon.com/products/serious_games/index.html); at least partially for that reason, the AI library is likely to have a focus on elements of military conflict simulation which, however, can be said of most commercially available AI components on the market today. This cooperation with military-affiliated institutions is not uncommon in aspiring game industries; for instance, Czech developer Bohemia Interactive of Operation Flashpoint fame mostly consists of Czech army veterans and is a prominent contributor of game-related training technology for the US Army.

Another aspect mentioned in the interview is the "global marketing strategy to reach out to Indians located all over the world and the non Indians alike." Apparently, the game is also perceived as a tool to connect with non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the form of an ideally collective practice which stimulates discussion both on the common cultural heritage and contemporary media technologies. Thus, many of the observations Pablo Boczkowski made on the 'Argentine mailing list' in 1999 (cf. Boczkowski, Pablo "Mutual shaping of users and technologies in a national virtual community" Journal of Communication 49:2, 1999: 86-108) might be transferable to this case.

Tying in with the latent debate about orientalism, it is also noteworthy that the game logo uses an orientalized font imitating devanagari script (http://www.dafont.com/samarkan.font) since this font is usually used to give websites and fan projects and 'exotic' look.

Early Indian film had taken up mythological themes eagerly before; one of its pioneers, Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, believed in creating a genuinely Indian film industry, demonstrating India's competitiveness in the emerging field of film production by focusing on Indian themes. This led to the production of movies like Raja Harishchandra (1913) based on the Hindu legend of the mythological king Harishchandra.

This development can also be observed in other film industries like the cinema of the Russian Empire with films like Stenka Razin (1908) based on events from a folk song and The Defense of Sevastopol (1911) about the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean war. Topics like cultural demarcation and constant transnational exchange of technologies and products make a historical perspective appear useful in this regard.

The Witcher from a Polish and S.t.a.l.k.e.r.: Shadow of Chernobyl from a Ukrainian development team are similar cases of digital games produced in aspiring industries drawing on books with genuinely Polish/Ukrainian themes. While neither Andrzej Sapkowski's 'Witcher' fantasy universe nor the short story "Roadside Picnic" by the Strugatsky brothers and Tarkovsky's film Stalker (on which S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is loosely based) are mythologies, both media texts are very visible and can be considered identificational nexus within the respective cultural regions.

Thus, it is plausible to assume that game developers and, as a consequence, media consumers begin to consider foundational texts from their respective culture in terms of game genres and, more interestingly, structures/elements shaped by game technologies. For instance, with its multiple limbs (read: weapons), the goddess Kali in Indiagames' upcoming Ashoka is perceived as a "natural" transfer into the mechanics of videogames (cf. http://www.businessweek.com/print/innovate/content/dec2005/id20051213_158208.htm).

Furthermore, the overview on Mahabharata's microsite mentions "45 vedic powers" (cf. web overview at http://www.syncerearts.com/) wieldable by players; i.e., elements of Indian scriptures, in this case the Vedas, are isolated, occasionally recombined with originally unrelated texts, and adapted for quantifiability to be usable within a digital game.

The Indian game industry, among others, thus currently appears to be spearheading the continuing institutionalization of digital games in Asian media industries and, as a proxy, popular cultures. In India, digital games started as advertising tools for movies and mobile phone applications due to the structure of the national media industry. As the above example demonstrated, I would argue that middleware and other techno-economic transformations were the driving force behind the rise of games towards being increasingly perceived as a means for cultural expression and even self-assertion in India.

Stefan Werning works in the product analysis department of Nintendo of Europe, where he started in March 2007. He joined the Convergence Culture Consortium as an affiliated researcher during his semester as a visitor of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT when he was a doctoral candidate and associate lecturer at the Asian Studies Center in Bonn, Germany. He writes on topics including e-learning solutions based on digital games and modeling terrorism in recent military policies to interactive media analysis.

****************

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

http://www.convergenceculture.org

You are receiving this update as a member of MIT C3.

To subscribe or unsubscribe, send a request to samford@mit.edu.