Thursday, September 15, 2011

"America's Got Technology": Participatory Television

September 6, 2011
By

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life.   – Albert Einstein

This summer, I have had the fortunate opportunity to handle social media for the live tapings of the hit NBC show, “America’s Got Talent” (AGT). Now in its sixth season in the U.S, the talent competition show features singers, dancers, magicians, comedians, and more who compete for $1 million and a Las Vegas headliner show. Ultimately, the results of their fate are decided by an audience vote.

Whether they come from Wasilla, Lubbock, or New York City, the contestants arrive in Hollywood with big dreams and often little knowledge of how powerful the voice of social media can be. NBC, on the other hand, does. To help encourage viral messaging (and thereby increase audience participation and viewing), NBC.com hosts social media portals for each individual contestant on Facebook, Twitter and an NBC/AGT website blog. Contestants are instructed to only use these portals during the run of the show and post only in context of AGT (not other gigs) or risk eligibility.
Since most of them are unfamiliar with branding themselves through digital storytelling, one of my assignments as a social media publicist is to advise and guide the contestants on how to best tell their stories on different social media platforms. After all, the better the storytelling, the better the audience interaction and participation in the show, all which can ultimately translate in to higher votes—and network ratings.


We are Prosumers in the Connected Age


We are living in the Connected Age of the prosumer.   Up until now, society as a whole has been living in a consumer culture where TV, film, radio and political media communications were a one-way street and big business had control over their messaging. Thanks to the advent of the Internet, mobile and social technologies, society has evolved into a participatory culture where the public is no longer just a consumer but rather a prosumer with the freedom to act as contributors or producers of message content.

This communication has been accelerated by the iPhone technology by Apple, which shockingly, was only introduced a little over four years ago. As this type of mobile technology has spread across other platforms such as the iTouch, Droid and iPad, so has the ease of use and mobility. As of January, 2010, the average age of a smartphone (WebOS) is 36 years old and downloads 5.7 apps per month (www.admob.com). This means that the use of mobile/social technology has “aged up” in the past few years and the general population is increasingly engaging in creating and utilizing participatory media. Add in the flexibility and portability of social media communication outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress, and technologies like the QR code, and the power of the message has suddenly shifted away from big business and into the hands of the prosumer.

Just like a person expects to have cable service available to them in their neighborhood, this shift in communication power means that people are also increasingly expecting to have interactive media available to them as well. Like cable TV, they don’t have to participate, but they expect to at least have the option available to them if they choose to.

For this reason, competition shows like “America’s Got Talent” and “Survivor” and live broadcasts of award shows like “The Grammys” and “The Oscars” lend themselves perfectly to the use of participatory media. Viewers can communicate with the talent or each other during the voting and judging process, helping shape their viewpoints and decisions about who is good, who is bad, who should move forward, win or lose.’

When people participate in media, it is because they want to be connected, to have a relationship with whatever subject matter they are interacting with.
In the tenth season of the hit singing competition show, “American Idol,” one of the singers who won a ticket to Hollywood was Chris Medina. Not only was he talented, but he also had a moving back story about how his fiancĂ© had suffered a brain injury right before they were to be married. While his talent as a singer was worthy of moving high up in the competition, people were also moved by his strength to stand by his fiancĂ© despite the tragedy. This emotional connection motivated viewers to start following Medina across all media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook as well as entertainment news, which surely led to greater success on the show.

In another example, if there are two contestants who look, sing and dance exactly like Christina Aguilera, the chances are—like with Chris Medina–the one with the best story will win. Why? Because we aren’t just living in the Information Age any longer, we are living in the Connected Age. Humans are social by nature, and in today’s world it is not as much about whether people are physically or electronically connecting, it’s about in what context the communication is being told.

A typical tweet or Facebook post would be something like, “I’m so nervous about going on stage in an hour.” That’s normal and expected, and also not very connecting. If a person said instead, “I’m so grateful my grandmother put me in a choir, because at least I have experience and God’s on my side when I go out there,” it’s more personal. This perceived intimacy provides more bonding, making the reader feel more connected and willing to invest their time and emotions into efforts of the person tweeting.

That’s why I have been telling contestants that more than ever before, content is King and context is Queen, and they must be married together. The way Batman would tweet as an animated series is different than a live action film, comic book, novel, or age-appropriate Halloween costume, mobile app or video game. Yet no matter what platform Batman’s story is told, there are still things that Batman would and wouldn’t do. The content and parameters are so consistent and strong, that as long as the stories are told in context, the quality of the character stays intact and so does the brand. The same goes with their own personal branding.

References
AdMob, Inc. (n.d.). January 2010 Mobile Metrics Report. Retrieved September 2, 2011 from http://metrics.admob.com/2010/02/january-2010-mobile-metrics-report/
Barbeito, Jose. (n.d.) Media Literacy: Main Concepts. Retrieved September 3, 2011 from  http://josebarbeito.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/media-literacy-main-concepts/
International Marketing (January 10, 2009).  The Prosumer – Interactive media usage and its consquence.  Retrieved September 3, 2011 from http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=prosumer+of+media&view=detail&id=B16A94DFFF749F536F472270A782403F9A226ABF&first=0&FORM=IDFRIR


This post, along with other great Media Psychology blogs, can also be accessed viewed at http://www.mediapsy.net/

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

THE WIZARDS OF HOLLYWOOD WORLD BUILDERS



THE MAGIC OF VISUAL CULTURE AND DESIGN

Originally posted by Cynthia Lieberman on April 15, 2011 at www.mediapsy.net



CONJURING UP A VISUAL STORY AT TH2

I was mesmerized by the range of ideas and applications for multi-platform narratives that circulated during the Transmedia Hollywood: Visual Culture and Design (@transmediahwood) conference at UCLA this month.  Co-sponsored by UCLA and USC, the one-day public symposium explored the role of transmedia franchises in today's entertainment industries and offered many inspiring interchanges and insights about how transmedia works and what it means.

I was particularly intrigued by the first session, “‘Come Out 2 Play’: Designing Virtual Worlds from Screens to Theme Parks and Beyond.”  Comprised of several panelists who are all experts in theme park design, these high-concept thinkers provided a rare glimpse into how to structure a franchise around not just the core of a narrative, but the physical exploration of a world as well.
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I have always thought that story=content=the King of all messaging.  In most instances, story (aka content) is the base of all messaging and without a good story, everything else around it will fail.  At the core, this may hold true when it comes to designing theme park and resort attraction design, but it doesn’t always translate in the traditional ways one would think.  

As USC’s Dr. Henry Jenkins explained to the crowd, “Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated plan experience.  Ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.”

In the instance of theme parks, the story is just one part of an entire resort experience, which includes various methods of narrative for each experience, such as hotels, dining, retail, transportation, and of course, theme park rides.  Because the story is a collection of not just mini-tales but experiences, there is not enough time to tell the whole story in the time frame a theme park/resort experience will allow.

Unlike other transmedia narratives, such as comic books, videogames and mythological stories dreamed up by fans, the theme park medium has several particularly unique considerations when replicating and unfolding “real life” virtual experiences.
when replicating and unfolding “real life” virtual experiences.

One of the theme park subjects that the panelist discussed in great detail was “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” an exciting new area of Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando that celebrates all things Harry Potter."

There were some surprising aspects involved in the design and fabrication of this highly successful theme park area that is based on the Harry Potter books and the “tentpole franchise” that resulted from its success.

THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER: CHARMING THE MUGGLES

Designers recognized it was important for the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter world-building of be an experience that is authentically based on the rich, imaginative text created by the author, J.K.  Rowling, as well as the special visual effects and fantasy environments created for the films by Warner Bros.  To help ensure its “realism,” they made sure to run everything by both Rowling and the studio starting from the very first concepts, to taste testing the “ButterBeer” concoction (which sold 1.5 million cups in 18 months), to the design of the signature attraction called Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey. 

The good news is the Harry Potter mythology provides fantastic environments to work with which helped them produce immersive stories that engage all of the senses.  It also involves compelling characters that readers and fans have connected to for years.

The flip side is that the team of developers and designers were also faced with the challenge of creating a magical experience that lived up to what fans had read in books and seen in the movies.  If that wasn’t enough, they had to meet safety issues and never-been-done before technical design requirements and expectations (such as a ride that replicates a sense of real flying in a Quidditch match).  The real magic was doing this seamlessly, transitioning between projected images and real world sets, without people realizing it.

CASTING A SPELL OF ILLUSION

“In a film you have the advantage that everything is media.  It’s not a real world, the camera sees only what the director wants us to see, and the audience never gets a chance to look around.  In The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, everything is as real as can be from the stones in Hogsmeade to the floating wand in the Ollivanders shop window, the animated paintings in Hogwarts castle and the characters from the films appearing throughout Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” explained Senior Vice President, Creative Studio for Universal Parks & Resorts Thierry Coup (Salton, 2011).

Designers faced another challenge:  in order to recreate the visual story, they had to create replicated environments that were pleasing, entertaining for all ages (and not too scary) and also be built to scale.  Besides safety and believability, they had to break all the rules of perfect retail design in order to accommodate the large throngs of crowds while still keeping the experience authentic and intimate.  Not an easy task considering the attraction has to pump 30 thousand people a day through the curving streets.  If not done right, it definitely would have altered the interactive value of the entire resort experience.

Fortunately, the original art designers from the movies welcomed the opportunity to assist.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter gave them the rare chance to finally complete their vision.  Participating allowed them to tell more than what they originally designed, and on a permanent and broader scale.   From castles to real life merchandise (not props!), they had a field day. 

UNDER THE CHARM OF SUSPENDED REALITY

Theme park attractions are not like 3D monitors at home… once you enter it you live with experiences and if done properly, you think you lived with it in real life.  A person virtually becomes an actor while on their vacation, and they have a chance to share their exciting experiences with family and friends.  They are given an opportunity to suspend reality as they know it and become engrossed in an illusion in a safe space.  Part of their willingness to be immersed is that they know they paid real money to be in a trusted environment where they can experiment, experience, and wonder how things were created.

Universal Studios Florida also brought in the cast to film tailor-made scenes to incorporate into the park.  This was done much to the delight of the actors, especially the younger ones, who had grown up virtually spending most of their scenes (and their childhood) for special effects instead of on real sets.

Unlike many other media forms, developing full scale resort attractions requires the ability to create an experiential, magical, visceral experience.  As a result, audience expectations grow higher every day.  Luckily, the possibilities to satiate their needs remain endless.  Like many other evolving transmedia platforms (ARG, 3D gaming, etc.), better technology is allowing designers to increasingly create even more incredible systems that will engage, enhance and transcend an experience to audiences in ways that have never been possible before.

video




REFERENCES
Salton, J.  (2011, February 10).  Behind the scenes at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Gizmag | New and Emerging Technology News.  Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://www.gizmag.com/behind-the-scenes-at-the-wizarding-world-of-harry-potter/17846

Video of Chicago Family Tour of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter | The Wizarding World of Harry Potter | Media.  (n.d.).  Universal Orlando Resort Media Site.  Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://media.universalorlando.com/harrypotter/videos.php?item=44ZZ

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Coke and a Smile (Part 2 of 2)
















The updated "I'd like to teach the world to sing" Coca Cola commercial shot in Italy only broadcast once...during the SuperBowl in 1990), but it is still considered “one of the most-loved ads of all time, and the idea of bringing back the singers with a new generation delighted the audience--and may have made them feel old.” (3D, a reunion, 2008).Photo credit: "Hilltop. The Coca-Cola Company. The Coca-Cola Company. 24 Apr. 2007 <http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/presscenter/presskit_hilltop_image_library.html>. "
________________________________________

ECHO IN THE HILLS

In 1990, Coca-Cola produced a commercial called “Hilltop Runion,” an updated version of the 1971 legendary “Hilltop” ad featuring the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” that is still renowned today.  The updated spot featured several of the original 1971 cast along with their children and like its predecessor, it was also about sharing, families and world peace.  The spot only aired once on broadcast television (during the Super Bowl XXIV
The original and the updated Coca-Cola ads are good examples of how media can combine social good with seamless capitalism.  The Hilltop singers have Cokes in their hand as a replacement symbol for candles, evoking a feeling that by drinking the “real thing,” Coca-Cola, we will all be saved and united in peace. 

The placement of the 1990 commercial was thoughtfully broadcast in the optimal context of the Super Bowl XXIV.  What better placement for cognitive memorability and impact could there be than that?   After all, the Super Bowl is one of the most watched programs worldwide and attracts large gatherings of families and friends to commune together and watch commercials—er, I mean football.

In contrast, what if the “Hilltop Reunion” had run in the middle of a science fiction show like “Battlestar Galactica”?  Would it have had such a global and emotional impact on its viewers?  This one strategic ad placement for Coca-Cola lead to a global, rippling word-of-mouth effect that is similar to today’s viral impact of a YouTube video, only without the benefit of the Internet and today’s interactive, participatory culture.

Context is still everything, and the impact of the symbiotic relationship a medium can have with its content hasn’t changed.  The message of a bottle of Coca-Cola being held in the hands of singing adults and children is less about the product itself—the content—and more about the positive change in public attitude that the commercial engenders:  Love and happiness is a joyous, worldwide experience.  It also happens to provide a subliminal positive rub on the brand identity for a well-established product (aka happiness sells).

Regardless of the era, it is still the medium itself and not the content it carries (whether it be a Coca-Cola TV commercial or a political upsurge on Twitter) that can still play an important role in society, not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself. 

References

3D, a reunion and the Big Game - Coca-Cola Conversations | http://www.coca-colaconversations.com/my_weblog/. (2008, January 30). Coca-Cola Conversations. Retrieved April 11, 2011, from http://www.coca-colaconversations.com/my_weblog/2008/01/3d-a-reunion-an.html
“The Hilltop Song.” (1971). YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Retrieved March 19, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1SCYBgBUyE

Pink, D. (2006). A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Turner, Mark (1998). The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. USA: Oxford University Press.

CAN'T BEAT THE REAL THING!

video
This is the 1990 Coca Cola Hilltop commercial that reunites the cast of the 1971 commercial, only this time they also bring the next generation-their children along with them!  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uIuKwhv5hk)

 

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Coke and A Smile (Part 1 of 2)

From 1971's Hilltop Song Commercial:
"It's the Real Thing" (Coca-Cola).
Photo Credit:money.ca.msn.com



APPLE TREES AND HONEY BEES
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Poets are our original systems thinkers.  They contemplated the world in which we live and feel obliged to interpret and give expression to it in a way that makes the reader understand how that world turns.  Poets, those unheralded systems thinkers, are our true digital thinkers.”  Sidney Harman (Harman, as cited by Pink, 2006, p.143)

Since the days of ancient history, poetry has been one of the most powerful tools of translating our stories from generation to generation.  After all, rhymes are easier to remember and translate than traditional narratives, and through mnemonics, there is less room for error when being repeated.  Eventually, many poems were translated into song, making their stickiness even greater.  These poems and songs told tales of joy and sorrow, hope and promise, chances killed and dreams fulfilled.

When mulling over the correlation of this to pop culture, one particular commercial from the 1970s that sang about hope and peace leapt to mind.  It was a time of anti-war and civil rights movements, communal living and a longing for interracial, global harmony.  Originally a jingle for Coca-Cola (“I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,”) the famous “1971 Hilltop” song was called “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” and its visuals, words and music married the idea of happiness and universal love with society’s profound yearning for community and human and spiritual connection (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EY8DFqFpws).  The song, performed by a group called “New Seekers,” sold 12 million copies.

This song connected Coca-Cola with a positive social message that offered comfort and warmth during tumultuous times.  As one of the most successful commercials in television history, it attempted to open minds to the idea of accepting the differences in human beliefs and cultures.  Using a sunrise (or is a sunset?) setting on a hilltop in the “neutral” country of Italy, the visual display of men and women--defined through clothing, style and skin tone--nurtured the idea that we are all connected regardless of gender, race, religion or country.

As Daniel Pink says in his book, A Whole New Mind:  Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, “Story exists where high concept and high touch intersect.  Story is high concept because it sharpens our understanding of one thing by showing it in the context of something else.” 

What made the “Hilltop” commercial so profound was its ability to convey a universal message of peace and acceptance in context and to deliver them with emotional impact that has since been carried on for four generations. 

In the part two of this blog, I will share how Coca-Cola created a refreshingly winning follow up commercial that aired only one time on broadcast television.  They not only “shared the love,” but placed its message into perfect context.

References
Pink, D. (2006). A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.


ALL TOGETHER NOW!   
"I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing"  (LYRICS - New Seekers, 1971)
I'd like to build the world a home
and furnish it with love
grow apple trees and honey bees
and snow white turtle doves

I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
and keep it company

I'd like to see the world for once
all standing hand in hand
and hear them echo through the hills
for peace throughout the land


That’s the song I hear
Let the world sing today
a song of peace
that echoes on
and never goes away

I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony

I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony

I'd like to build the world a home
and furnish it with love
grow apple trees and honey bees
and snow white turtle doves

I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms
and keep it company 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Realities of Virtual Control


Last year, my teenage son and I were discussing the future of video games, including the impact of alternate reality (ARG), augmented reality, 3D, and gesture-based technology in videogame play. 

He appreciated the value of 3D, ARG and augmented reality.  However, when I explained how controller-free gaming systems using gesture recognition technology would allow him to serve as a “puppet master” and play as if he were actually a character in the game, he surprised me with his passionate frustration.  He is a heavy action game player, and he HATED the concept of playing if he were, in essence, the actual character in the game.  He much, much preferred the using a keyboard or game controller.

I immediately assumed he was balking because it meant he’d have to change and adapt to a new way of playing.

“Congratulations, son,” I quipped smugly.  “What you are experiencing is my generation’s version of the 8-track tape. I understand you want certain things to stay the same.  Looks like you are joining the ranks of the adult world, and starting to age out of certain technologies…you are just going to have to get used to it.”

I was jilted by his authentic response that I completely misunderstood what he was saying.  He meant he didn’t want to be any part of a war or action game that would make him feel like he was actually shooting someone, or physically kicking another, or swinging a punch at someone in a boxing game. I was stunned. 

“I like to play real time online action and fantasy games, mom, and sometimes they are violent. I would much rather play the game, not play in the game as if I were performing those actions in reality.  I don’t want to ‘hold” a gun,’ I’m not a violent person and don’t want to feel like one.  I just like to participate in strategic challenges with my friends. It shouldn’t feel that real, I don’t think it is right, and I don’t think other people should be able to do it either.”

He’s got a point. 

My son and his friends love to play videogames.  They have been playing them for endless hours for over half of their lives, and I have not. They are all very goal-oriented and prefer strategic, MPORGs (MultiPlayer Online Role Playing Games) that require them to experiment, hypothesize, try things out, work together collaboratively as they compete for wins and bragging rights.

Therefore, his perspective comes from being a firsthand consumer and provides a vivid example of how we must never lose sight of listening to the end user and never assume we already understand the true intent and purpose of their media usage.  As he points out, sometimes it is the very separation from the actuality of the action (i.e. with hand controllers) that keeps a player mindful that it is only a game and its story is really just that: it is fantasy and not real. 

In order to be socially responsible content providers of media, we need to never lose sight of the long term consequences of any product or message for the sake of glory and short-term goals.  It sounds exciting and sexy (and profitable) to convert popular mainstream games such as “Mortal Combat” or “Batman: Asylum” into wireless, gesture-based games, and it certainly has the potential to draw in a huge amount of devoted gaming consumers.  But at what price? 

I am not an action gamer, and I doubt the psychological impact of virtually holding a weapon in a puppet master fashion would have occurred to me until it was too late. 

My son’s concern over the meshing of the virtual world with the actual world accentuates the fact that transmedia content providers must always take context into consideration during the development process and do their best to envision and anticipate whatever consequences—good or bad—might occur as a result. 

As the technology of the Connected Age continues to evolve, so does our understanding of the pros and cons of its usage.  It is up to transmedia storytellers, as well as each of us individually and collectively, to activate its use with social responsibility in mind.  Let’s hope futuristic game developers do the same.
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Great link to TED talk demonstration of one of the first gesture based games, “Milo the Virtual Boy”

video

REFERENCES
Dark Horse Game Design: Into the Fray. (2009, February 11). Dark Horse Game Design. Retrieved April 26, 2011, from http://errantgame.blogspot.com/2011/02/into-fray.html
 
Molyneux, P. (2010, July 1). Peter Molyneux demos Milo, the virtual boy | Video on TED.com. TED: Ideas worth spreading. Retrieved April 26, 2011, from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/peter_molyneux_demos_milo_the_virtual_boy.html
 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Flow: Games for Social Change (Part 3 of 3)

 
 
Taking advantage of the use of flow in videogames for education and social activism can be used as a powerful learning and motivating tool.  For example, in the game Darfur is Dying, players must keep their refugee camp functioning in the face of possible attack by Janjaweed militias and is described on their website, http://www.darfurisdying.com:

Darfur is Dying is a viral video game for change that provides a window into the experience of the 2.5 million refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan...Players can also learn more about the genocide in Darfur that has taken the lives of 400,000 people, and find ways to get involved to help stop this human rights and humanitarian crisis.

In another social change game, http://www.peacecorps.gov/kids, kids are able to learn as they explore information about the challenges that the Wanzuzu experience while playing a game.  In addition, there are a growing number of teachers who are utilizing specially designed prosocial games in the classroom.

With most prosocial games, people are given a set of clear cut rules, the levels adjust to the capability of the player with a careful emphasis in design to not be too easy or too challenging for the participant, the status of advancement, etc. is provided along the way, and the aural and animated graphics are simple and engaging enough to keep the participant focused and engaged.  By presenting this information in a way that allows for participants to flow as they go, they are visually, aurally and mentally stimulated in an enjoyable—and most importantly—memorable way.

One social change gaming site, Games for Change, “is a non-profit which seeks to harness the extraordinary power of digital games to address the most pressing issues of our day, including poverty, education, human rights, global conflict and climate change. Games for Change serves as a platform for organizations, individuals, government agencies, academics, journalists and the game industry to share best practices, exchange knowledge, incubate new projects and provide access to those seeking to use digital games to positively impact society” (http://www.gamesforchange.com/).  In addition to “Darfur is Dying, there are games for all ages that aim to inform and inspire participants on subjects such as farming (3rd World Farmer), energy (EnerCity), nutrition (Fat World), human rights (Real Lives 2010) and dozens more.

In order for the development and growth of an autotelic personality to be operationalized, a person must be intrinsically motivated in high-challenge, high-skill situations.  Videogames are just one example of how the optimal achievement of flow and mindfulness can inform and potentially motivate a person to take steps to affect positive social change.

Peace Corps Challenge Online Game: http://www.peacecorps.gov/kids/


 

Format:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Flow: Entertainment and Enjoyment (Part 2 of 3)


Finding flow is important in our everyday existence, but it can also be an important element of our use of entertainment and enjoyment. 

Satisfaction from media as entertainment often share many of the same characteristics as flow, including having focused concentration, a sense of having control over the situation, focused concentration, loss of self-consciousness, a sense that one is in control of the situation, distortion of the sense of time, and the experience of eustress (aka positive stress).  

For example, as world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, mentions in her recent book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, when playing games, you create positive stress on purpose, and when we reach our optimal goals, we are taking on the best versions of ourselves.

My 20-year-old son began engaging in flow activities at two-years-old.  He loved puzzles so much that we had to turn puzzle pictures upside down in order to keep him focused.  By the age of five he was producing an impressive Lego library, and by eight he was building full-sized Lego robots.  He started training to be a “vidiot“ (videogame player) at the age of nine (and still is).  He soon advanced to playing poker, where his concentration at 12-years-old was so intense that he regularly beat out seasoned players in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Now he is a junior at University as a math major, and when he is faced with linear algebra problems (“the binary numbers are like puzzles, mom“) no one can interrupt his concentration.
           
Videogames in particular still capture his flow.  Every time he plays, his flow state is exemplified by striving to achieve a goal such as getting to the next level of play in a game.  His optimal state of engagement—or flow—is realized when there is a balance between the difficulty of the task and his skills. If the play is too easy, boredom ensues; too difficult, anxiety is induced and the flow state inhibited. 

Sherry, J. L. (2004). Flow and Media Enjoyment. Communications Theory, 14(4), 328-347.
9781594202-s

McGonigal, Jane (2011). Reality is broken: why games make us better and how they can change the world.  New York: Penquin Press.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Flow: Naked Housecleaning (Part 1 of 3)


The October 15, 2010, episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” asked the question “Are you normal?”  The entire episode was dedicated to audience and national polls on a wide range of lifestyle questions ranging from “Do you brush your teeth at night?” to “How many times a day do you pick your nose?”  In the last segment, the show profiled a Virginia housewife and mother of three, Cherie Spisak, as she was cleaning her house in the nude.  She said she enjoys it and looking in the mirror keeps her mindful of her form.  When the final question to the audience was posed, “Have you ever cleaned your house in the nude?” almost 25% surprisingly said yes.


According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the book, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, housework is a maintenance activity that tends to be considered “generally negative or neutral along all dimensions.”  In the case of Cherie Spisak, she found a way to remain mindful of her present physical state while turning what is typically considered a mundane task into a more optimal state of engagement. For her, the ultimate reward was being able to take off her existing clothes and put them in the laundry so when all of her housecleaning was done, not even one piece of clothing was dirty in the house.

Csikszentmihalyi, who pioneered the concept of flow, describes it as, "the holistic experience that people feel when they act with total involvement.”  Spisak’s flexibility and openness allowed her to override the penchant for boredom that often results from the engagement of automatic behaviors.  Doing her chores without wearing clothes provided a way to cultivate awareness, reduce her sense of self-consciousness, stay more focused and on task, thereby improving her experience doing everyday activities.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. New  York: Basic Books.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spinning in the Invisible Web





My first cellular phone was referred to as a car phone.  It was large and wired to the dash of my car and its only mode of mobility was traveling wherever my car went.  I was hesitant to get one, despite the fact that “everyone” in Hollywood was getting them.  Even my husband, whose occupation requires considerable driving time, had one.

At that time, my kids were fairly young and as a wife-mother-executive, I was constantly in demand, constantly visible.  I had an hour+ commute to the Fox studio lot every day, and the solitude of the drive was the only welcome reprieve from being on call to anyone and everyone but me all the time.   A car phone felt like it would become yet another leash tethered to my psyche and my time, choking out the only meager minutes of personal freedom I had.  Naturally, the inevitable day arrived, and the cloaking device that was called a commute became inoperative as soon as the car phone was installed.

Today we typically deny it, but most of us—at least to a certain extent--relish in being visible, being accountable and accessible 24/7. It makes us feel responsible and needed.  Humans are reward based, and after all, we are human.  If we don’t have texts, IMs, voicemails, emails, status updates or calls, concern heightens…we don’t feel like we matter. 

It is amazing how our ability to communicate on the go has become so simplified and intertwined into our lifestyle needs in such a short period of time.

In an article entitled, “The Invisible Web” (http://bit.ly/eSlYjMformer EVP Chief Technology Strategist at McCann Erickson New York, Faris Yakob, explains, “The true extent of the social and cultural impact of technology is only felt when it becomes invisible.”  Using the example below to validate his beliefs, Yakob professes that internet and mobile technology is hastening so quickly that soon how we communicate in the real and virtual world will become seamless and simply disappearing from our own consciousness:  

 
“The philosopher Martin Heidegger provides us with the best-known example of invisible technology: a blind person's cane. The cane becomes more than a tool that the blind person uses to navigate; it becomes an extension of the arm. It goes from being part of the external environment and becomes part of you, a part of you that has specific influences on your experience of the world.”  

Today, my Blackberry is more than a phone, it’s an extension of not just my arm, but my life.   I struggled to survive being unreachable for an entire day when it went down for 24 hours last week.  No phone, no email, no Internet.  Yet in a strange way, I enjoyed it also because it gave me permission to be invisible, even just for a while.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Everybody Look What's Going Down

L.A. Transmedia Meetup: Mon Jan 3rd, 7:30 at Cafe Metropol 

I attended a Transmedia-LA group meetup in the "Arts District" in downtown L.A. where we experimented with LARP (Live Action Role Playing).  It felt like I was being included in some "beatnik" underground art-funky group of thought-leaders who are seeking to break molds and leap tall buildings of thought without ever leaving the ground.  On the way home, I kept playing the remake of the older song, "For What It's Worth."   Gonna go to the next one (my first was in December 2010 with media scholar Henry Jenkins) and see what's goin' down...

"For What It's Worth" - sung by Crystal Bowersox

There's something happening here
What it is, ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people should speaking their minds Getting so much resistance from behind

We gotta stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down, yeah
What's going down, down, down, down

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down, yeah

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will surely creep
Well, it starts when you're always afraid You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We gotta stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down
Now stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down

Now stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down
Now stop, hey, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down, yeah
What's going down, down, down, down
What's going down
I think it's time we stopped

There's something happening here
What it is, ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there