September 07, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of September 07, 2007
*Editor's Note: Upcoming Events, Chronicle of Higher Education, and This Week's Newsletter
*Opening Note: Kevin Sandler on Scooby-Doo, II of II
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Stefan Werning on Comparing Silent Film Scoring to Digital Game Music, I of II
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Upcoming Events and The Chronicle of Higher Education
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. First up, I wanted to highlight a few upcoming events here at MIT. First, if any of you are going to be in the Boston area next Monday, Sept. 17, or have colleagues who are here in the area, CMS will be hosting a special colloquium event with B. Joseph Pine, co-author of the influential book The Experience Economy with James H. Gilmore. Anyone interested in the details on his talk can contact me.
Also, don't forget that the second annual Futures of Entertainment will be held Nov. 16-17. Details on registration and a full lineup will be available soon, and we hope that a variety of folks from across the Consortium will be here for this C3-sponsored conference. Panels this year will focus on advertising, mobile media, metrics, fan labor, and cult media properties. More information is available here.
Also, I wanted to note that Dr. Henry Jenkins and the Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT, and the Convergence Culture Consortium, were profiled in The Chronicle of Higher Education today. We would love to have some feedback from both our academic and corporate partners about the article, including feedback we could potentially include here in the C3 Weekly Update. The article is available here.
This Week's Newsletter
This week, our Opening Note features the conclusion of the work which started in last week's Closing Note from Kevin Sandler, a consulting researcher for the Consortium at the University of Arizona. Sandler shares more of his work from his book on the Scooby-Doo franchise that he originally presented to the Consortium at Collaboration 2.0 back in the spring here at MIT.
Finally, our Closing Note from C3 Consulting Researcher Stefan Werning is the first of a two-part series looking at comparisons between silent film scores and digital music in games. This is based on work that Stefan started while here at MIT as a visiting scholar in conversation with Dr. Martin Marks. Look for the conclusion of his piece in next week's Opening Note.
As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.
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 email@example.com.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
Scooby-Doo: Part II of II
By: Kevin Sandler
The first part of this essay appeared as the Closing Note in last week's C3 Weekly Update.
While Scooby-Doo still remains an evergreen property for children under twelve years of age, two sets of high profile brand extensions from Time Warner in the early 2000s--feature length films and console video games--devalued the equity of the brand and damaged any relevance it had for older consumers. Warner Bros. films Scooby-Doo (2002) and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004) and THQ's video games Scooby-Doo: Night of 100 Frights (2002), Scooby-Doo Mystery Mayhem (2004), and Scooby-Doo Unmasked (2005) infantilized the brand, reducing Scooby-Doo to its Saturday morning, pre-teen sensibility without the hipness generated at Cartoon Network in the late 1990s.
Time Warner was certainly aware of the tween, teen, youth, and mature market sectors as it rolled out a long line of brand extensions to coincide with the release of the first theatrical film in 2002. Dawn Taubin, president of domestic marketing for Warner Bros. Pictures, understood that: "Our primary audiences are kids 6 to 12 and their parents, but all of our information shows us that there is a large group of teens and even college students who have a strong affection for Scooby." Despite the acknowledgment of Scooby-Doo's multi-generational appeal, Warner Bros. Pictures and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment chose to ignore certain market segment in their respective media. This was most surprising in the video game realm, since the average game player is thirty-three years old, a perfect demographic for perpetuating a more parodic, nostalgic approach to the Scooby-Doo brand.
At times, Night of 100 Frights, the first game available for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube consoles, illustrated a similar ironic playfulness and sense of self-awareness to the Scooby-Doo brand as Cartoon Network. It features a phony laugh track, gag lines, and twenty different villains from the series amidst real time cut scenes, fluid animation sequences, and original voice talent from the television show. Douglass C. Perry acknowledged this self-consciousness in his review for the game on IGN: "[Night of 100 Frights] feels like a tongue-in-cheek parody of the formulaic platform game, while also clearly being the object of the parody itself. You jump and smack stuff, avoid baddies, use timing and highly tuned twitch skills to get from point A to point B, uncover hidden doors, unlock previously hidden doors, and collect Scooby snacks to open new passages into spooky new levels. And all with a little whiff of smoke and a smile."
However, Night of 100 Frights, and to a greater extent, its successors, Mystery Mayhem and Unmasked, eventually succumb to a gameplay experience that juvenilizes the Scooby-Doo brand. Ratings on various video game web sites for the titles were all around mediocre, receiving on average a 6.5 out of 10 for their gameplay. Indicative of gamer disappointment and brand dissatisfaction is this comment posted on IGN for Mystery Mayhem by reviewer Mary Jane Irwin: Scooby-Doo is another victim of dumbing down games for kids. Just because it's for a younger audience doesn't mean you have to take away all control and make the game incredibly boring, easy, and repetitive. Scooby-Doo Mystery Mayhem is suitable as a rental for young kids or avid fans of the series, but will offer little enjoyment to anyone else."
Brand juvenilization in these Scooby-Doo titles include: tedious combat sequences and repetition of tasks; bugs that make walkthroughs almost impossible to finish; shoddy visual craftsmanship with low polygon counts; levels, enemies, and big bosses that can be easily beaten; puzzle linearity and straightforwardness coupled with an integrated hint system; games not worth playing or mysteries not worth solving; and a context sensitivity that oversimplifies the interface for kids. As the IGN staff review explain about Mystery Mayhem: "Want to climb over a crate? Hit A. Need Scooby to crawl through a small opening? Press A. Need to push something out of the way? Tap A. Climb a ladder? A." In Unmasked, Scooby-Doo's hero costumes--outfits most commonly associated with the original Scooby-Doo, Where are You? series--are underutilized and simplified. Players can only don a karate master suit, a bat costume, and a Robin Hood getup at particular points in the game. And once in combat, the gameplay is uninspired. For example, with the karate outfit, the series of different moves available to the player ultimately mean nothing since a single move--the slide move--can kill anything, every time, without losing points.
How then do we account for this failure in the Scooby-Doo brand, a hipness in one realm (Cartoon Network) and a squareness in another (theatrical films and videogames)? One explanation points to a collapse in the industrial practice of corporate synergy, particularly for Time Warner whose stock has been stagnant for some time and who had removed the AOL from its name in 2003. In June 2006, Time Warner president Jeff Bewkes even went as far as to call attempts at synergy--"bullshit"--for a rapidly consolidated media landscape. In terms of the Scooby-Doo brand, poor execution, capital allocation, and content investment/development can perhaps explain its chaotic brand image and positioning. In addition, each subsidiary of Time Warner might have had its own strategic plan for the character rather than a unified approach among divisions.
Instead of synergies, Bewkes now aims at capitalizing on what he calls "adjacencies": expansion opportunities to generate growth involving products, channels, and platforms that are outside, but closely related to a company's core business. Success means adapting to the massive diversification of media made manifest by millions of websites, forums, blogs, wikis, and other virtual communities. Since it is possible for practically everyone to be a media creator, owner and actor, collaborations among companies and users, rather than only cooperation among subsidiaries is necessary for brand equity and expansion.
What might be done, then, to make Scooby-Doo relevant again in this era of media convergence? How can we deepen engagement with the brands for teens and adult consumer experience as Cartoon Network once did? What will give Scooby-Doo spreadibility?
One can certainly adapt many of the strategies that C3 concerns itself with such as transmedia storytelling, participatory culture, and experiential marketing:
Design a new show for Scooby-Doo in the "Adult Swim" Cartoon Network lineup. For example, redub old cartoons a la Sealab 2021 or follow Space Ghost Coast to Coast's and recontextualize Scooby-Doo in a new series
Enable consumers to interact with the character as active participants in ways that create, shape, and circulate the Scooby-Doo brand as is currently done with Adult Swim brands
Build a wiki or website environment, separate from the younger-skewing Scoobydoo.com
Construct a Scooby-Doo MySpace page that enables user-generated content
Follow the lead of Marvel (Marvel Alliance) and Disney and SquareSoft (Kingdom Hearts) and create a new multiplayer videogame that tap into the multigenerational appeal of Scooby-Doo and other classic Hanna-Barbera characters.
Design a new comic book that reinvents the Scooby-Doo character as Archie Comics did with Betty and Veronica and Marvel did with Spiderman (Reign)
Scooby-Doo is ripe for convergence and can be made more relevant again in this new media environment with the right mixture of platforms, text, interactivity, and participation.
Kevin S. Sandler is an Assistant Professor of Media Arts at the University of Arizona. His research specializations include film and television censorship, branded entertainment and media convergence, and contemporary animation. His upcoming book The Naked Truth: Why Hollywood Does Not Make NC-17 Films (Rutgers, 2007) examines the productive and prohibitive practices of the Classification and Ratings Administration. His forthcoming books include Scooby-Doo (Duke University Press), an analysis of the cartoon's uncanny ability to adapt to regulatory, technological, and industrial changes over its 38-year-old history, and The Shield, a study of the FX cop drama. He has published in a wide range of journals and anthologies and is the editor of Reading the Rabbit: Explorations in Warner Bros. Animation (Rutgers, 1998), and co-editor of Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster (Rutgers, 1999). He earned in B.A in Communication from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, an M.A. in Radio/TV/Film from Indiana State University, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from Sheffield Hallam University in England.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
An Interview with the Organizers of Fandom Rocks (2 of 4). The second part of this interview focuses on why Supernatural fandom is ripe for a grassroots charity fundraising initiative and the response (or lack thereof) from the show and the network about their campaign.
An Interview with the Organizers of Fandom Rocks (1 of 4). This post starts an interview with a fan-organized charity fundraising initiative in the Supernatural fan community, focusing on the background and formation of Fandom Rocks.
IBM Internet Survey Finds Respondents Spend a Lot of Time Online. A survey of Internet users find that, for them, Web usage is starting to rival the amount of time spent watching television. What does this mean, and how important is it to keep the survey methods in mind?
Welcoming a New C3 Team. The fall semester brings with it three new members of the Convergence Culture Consortium team here at MIT. The background of each of these three graduate students is outlined here.
Social Networks Eye Going "Public." Recent speculation has groups like Facebook and LinkedIn eyeing a launch onto the stock market. What does serving one community, the investment community, mean for the other community--the users that make up these sites?
Would You Hulu? New Site Gets a New Name, But the Old Brands Are Conspicuously Absent. Eleanor Baird looks at the new brand developed for the online site for News Corp./NBCU, leaving a question as to where the Fox, NBC, and related cable brands are in the process.
Catching Up on C3 Stories: Micropayment, YouTube, and the Digital Deadline. Recent stories examine how ideas of micropayments ended up manifesting themselves in online video and music, while satellite companies introduce new complications for the February 2009 digital deadline and new developments surface in the Viacom/YouTube lawsuit and regarding the nature of free speech on YouTube.
C3 Team: New Students, Fan Studies, Consumption Studies, and Collective Intelligence. This post outlines the arrival of new graduate students at the Convergence Culture Consortium, the newest round in Henry Jenkins' Gender and Fan Studies discussion featuring C3's Rob Kozinets, a followup on Kozinets' work on consumption studies, and both Ilya Vedrashko's quick analysis of AdBlock and David Edery's call for feedback from his blog readers.
Looking Back at C3 Work--Interviews and Other Series. This post outlines a variety of series here on C3, including interviews that have been featured here on the C3 blog, as well as work from Eleanor Baird and previous C3 discussion of copyright and fair use.
Looking Back at C3 Work--Series by Sam Ford. This site looks at Sam Ford's work on professional wrestling, soap operas, and issues of access and censorship which has been featured here on the C3 blog in the past year.
Looking Back at C3 Work--Summer 2007. This post outlines some of the most interesting work that has appeared in the past few months here on the C3 blog.
Looking Back at C3 Work--Spring 2007. This post, from Labor Day Weekend, previews work from the spring semester in preview of a new academic year here at MIT for the Consortium.
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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 ---------------
From Silent Film Scoring to Digital Game Music:
Discourse Continuities and Congruences
By: Stefan Werning
Attempts at historically contextualizing the topical issue of digital game music are quite rare and, so far, none has been systematically unfolded. For instance, David Bessell proposed already in 2002 to consider nonlinearity in avant-garde music as 'inspiration' for game music composition, taking works by Lutoslawski and elements from the musical theory of John Cage as examples, however without going down to the level of actual compositional practices. (Bessell, 2002: 143-144) Ambient music, e.g. works by Brian Eno, Harold Budd and Daniel Lanois, has also repeatedly been invoked as a potential source of inspiration.
Actually, non-linearity in musical history can be traced back far beyond the 20th century which are occasionally even more closely related to very recent understandings of music. For instance, musical dice games and other quasi-ludic principles of musical organization were popular stylistic exercises and pastimes in the 17th and 18th century. The whole Baroque complex of affectively loaded musical figures [Affektenlehre], drawing e.g. on works like Athanasius Kircher's Musurgia Universalis, exhibits numerous conceptual overlaps with interactive music in digital games; Kircher even proposed a quasi-algorithm for automatizing the musical composition process. (further examples on that topic can be found e.g. in: Ariza, Christopher An Open Design for Computer-Aided Algorithmic Music Composition: Athenacl Boca Raton, FL: Universal Publishers, 2005: 6)
Comparing digital game music with the still fairly marginalized field of silent film scoring can yield a number of inspiring overlaps but also discrepancies. Most basically, in silent films accompanied by a pianist and occasionally other instruments, mostly a violin and/or percussion, the performers take over the role of the 'music engine' in a digital game, i.e. the 'interactive' element, assembling a coherent score from predefined building blocks composed according to a given re-combinatorial logic. One of the most influential quasi-'databases' of silent film music is the Sam Fox Moving Picture Music Vol. 1, a collection of short music snippets designed to be played in various combinations or used as material for improvisation due to their highly formulaic structure.
In both cases technology semiotics, e.g. the semiotic reading of production practices can and should be usefully applied; for instance, the darkness of the early movie theaters and the performer's need to glance at the screen in regular intervals to keep 'synchronicity' can be conceived of as quasi-technological bottlenecks which produced canonic workarounds, in the case of silent films e.g. musical patterns played in the left hand as semi-automated 'transitions' to facilitate re-synchronization, pattern changes or simply turning the pages of a piece of sheet music. Other, more explicitly technological tools include e.g. photoplay music and cue sheets.
Thus, reading a historical constellation in current technical terms highlights concordances just like the inverse process, applying silent film techniques to poly-linear videogame music. Since both periods displayed an acute awareness of these 'technical' limitations, the result was a focus on tools production and refinement; the ensuing discourses were accordingly less shaped by 'genius' rhetoric than by a notion of music as craft.
Consequently, both genres of music furthermore have a history of using classical music as 'raw material', even for similar reasons like ensuring recognizability even with very limited technological capabilities. Moreover, both music genres, after establishing a formal repertoire of their own, dissolved first into a generic, often traditionalistic symphonic idiom, a development triggered in digital games through symphonic soundtracks as e.g. in Outcast (1999), and later into respective contemporary styles, in the case of film music e.g. into various forms of Jazz and in the case of game music into mainstream styles like Hip-Hop and Metal. For different reasons, music for silent films and digital games are even often structurally very similar, a hypothesis warranting separate case studies which yet go beyond the scope of this article.
The historical correlation also highlights the characteristic differences between both genres, most notably the fact that while silent film music usually only composed transitions between integral sections of music, digital game music spreads these transitions onto diverse layers of sound, thus naturalizing those layers as distinctive elements of music in the player's interpretive scheme. Harland mentions some standard-fare examples of this process, e.g. adding a quiet high-hat percussion layer while the main character is running, which represent a canon of conventions implicitly adopted by both players and composers. (cf. Harland, 2000: 4) In the following, I will try to illustrate the mutual benefits of correlating music for silent films and digital games with two brief case studies.
The aforementioned Sam Fox Moving Picture Music book by J.S. Zamecnik (1913) offered a repertoire of short music segments, similar to modern-day music loops sold available for purchase or for free, for silent film pianists which are labeled according to their use in a film. For instance, the compilation differentiates between three types of 'Hurry Music', for struggles, duels, and 'mob or fire' scenes respectively. War scenes are typologized as either 'military camp', 'off to battle' or 'battle' themes. Moreover, a number of generic Oriental themes like an iconic veil dance or nationally designated themes like 'Chinese' music are included.
The book thus exhibits a strongly naturalized concept of 'building blocks' used not only for the 'sound track' but by the still aspiring and versatile medium of cinema itself. For instance, an article in the Literary Digest from January 1918 describes the process of 'fitting' music to a given film. Since e.g. the Leitmotif technique was a fresh and powerful symphonic paradigm at that time, its application, according to the text, retroactively shaped the interpretation of the film as material. For instance, always "three or four of the leading characters" were identified for being assigned a discrete and reusable musical theme. This technique is perfectly congruent with algorithmically controlled reusability of audio files in game music engines; thus looking at the production semiotics of digital game audio can yield similar insights into the unspoken conventions of the frame medium. The catalogue of musical themes also illustrates how particular recurring topics like military conflict have been conceptually 'segmented' for cinematic rendering, e.g. the military camp as an exposed ideal-type location, and how this shapes public conceptions.
The rest of this piece will appear in the Opening Note of next week's C3 Weekly Update.
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.
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