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Posts Tagged ‘New Media Philosophy

Participatory Culture at Video Vortex: Cutthroat Capitalism, Foodmarket Piracy and Asian Perspectives

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Do you think Participatory Culture is all about friendly cooperation? Fans flocking to Star Wars conventions or squad based play in the latest MMORPG? The Participatory Culture session at the international Video Vortex conference in Amsterdam, proved that practices such as “cutthroat capitalism” also belong in this category. And how can, from an Asian instead of a Eurocentric perspective, the changing concept of authorship be understood when everyone can build new meaning upon an original work? This session provided practical examples as well as theoretical context. The Masters of Media of the University of Amsterdam were once again present to cover the whole event. Full reports, including this one are available from the Masters of Media blog.

Tilman Baumgärtel: Cutthroat Capitalism in South East Asia
First presenter Tilman Baumgärtel, currently teaching at the College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines in Manila, discussed piracy and intellectual property in South East Asia. Having organised the Asian Edition conference, which deals exactly with this subject, Baumgärtel can be regarded as an expert on these ‘social economics of piracy’. Surprisingly, however, these questions do not involve Internet and P2P data communication. Baumgärtel explains: ‘Asian piracy is still largely based on disk because there aren’t a lot of fast internet connections and modems’.

Tilman Baumgartel Anne Helmond

To give the audience an impression of the context, Baumgärtel shows a trailer of Malaysian film Ciplak (translation: Fraud). This independent film deals with the subject of piracy and it is one of the few comedies that is accessable to audiences in the region, also because indie films usually deal with ‘more serious subjects’. In the production process of Ciplak, creativity was necessary because of the low budget. For example, everyone worked on the movie free of charge, a camera was bought that came with 10 free mini-DV tapes and IKEA lamps were used for lighting.

Malaysian piracy started in the 1980s with the advent of VHS pirating and continued in the 1990s with VCD pirating. Baumgärtel: ‘Piracy started as a counter-movement against poor distribution. In Europe you can find almost anything, in Asian countries, however, films are hard to find.’ Only Hollywood films, or films starring Jackie Chan, make it through to cinemas and the legal distribution circuit. Baumgärtel: ‘This changed with VHS and BetaMax piracy. Some of the film makers feel that they are so indepted to the pirates, that this group is already thinking about contacting pirates so they can use their distribution channels. Internet is not a factor in this yet because of low speeds’.

These distribution channels are inventive and constitute a grassroots movement. In order to provide consumers with product, fishermen are smuggling masterdisks in the belly of tunafish. Global piracy is a consequential response to global economy, Baumgärtel: ‘The recent process of privatization has taken its part in facilitating piracy’. And continuining: ‘This is globalization from below. It is not about legal organisations, but illegal outfits. This movement represents globalized business and takes advantage of infrastructures. It is the counter image of legal illicit globalization we are seeing right now’. A term Baumgärtel mentioned in response to questions afterwards, perhaps exemplifies this movement most vividly. This is about ‘Cutthroat Capitalism’.

Ana Peraica: Food markets and copyright infringement
In her presentation, Ana Peraica, freelance curator and theorist mostly engaged with video and new media, gives an analysis of the growin archive of illegal material with a focus on Croatia. Why this region? Peraica: ‘Croatia is a really interesting region, because piracy is not really regarded as a crime’. She continues: ‘The problem of copyright was introduced to Croatia in 1991, before that it was still silent online. Today you can find illegal copies, for example, on the food market’.

On a more personal note I came across this example on a recent trip to Split, Croatia. Boulevards were crowded with stands selling illegal copies of the newest computer games and Hollywood films. Once installed, games were often older versions of the same franchise and films turned out to be bad recordings of cinema screens. Peraica: ‘I would like to show some examples in my presentation today, but the problem is that this would be illegal here. There is no agency that hunts down piracy in Croatia, they simply don’t bother about objections of copyright’.

Ana Peraica CrCom Anne Helmond

Continuing, Peraica asks herself the question: ‘Is everyone who possesses a video camera and publically exposes video, automatically a video artist?’ Both an interesting and strange case, exemplifying duality in this question, is that of Croatian popstar Severina. She recorded a pornographic video of herself that got published online without her consent, she claimed copyright and stated that is was video art. Severina’s lawyer also stated that home video pornography is video art. The court’s response was that it was nothing innovative and therefore not video art. Severina lost this case, but at the same time she saw her popularity rising. The lawyer also put forth that it was invading privacy, the court responded by stating that she recorded it herself.

‘What is still video art?’ Peraica continues. Does it have to be innovative and perhaps even elitist? Peraica: ‘Popular culture is recycling elite culture, but is it still art?’ In her final words, Peraica concludes that is hard, if not impossible, to define art as something downloaded from YouTube versus institutionalized art.

Dominick Chen: Redefining Authorship from an Asian perspective
In his presentation Dominick Chen, who leads Creative Commons Japan and is JSPS Fellow Researcher at the University of Tokyo and NTT InterCommunication Center, aims to propose a redefinition of authorship itself: ‘How can we gain understanding of data generation and distribution in the light of systems?’ And more specifically, how to go through this Eurocentric idea of individual authorship, or commons? Chen aims to redefine the ‘commons’ from an Asian point of view. Especially with regards to the chain of creativity, where Asian culture differs greatly from its European counterpart.

Chen starts with an example of piracy and participatory culture in India: ‘When you buy a DVD in India, through a Chinese hack, you can get three stories: English, Chinese and Indian. Because translation of subtitles is really bad, you get three different stories based on one film’. Another example of a big Japanese market where you can secondary work of comics, anime and novels, Chen: ‘ There are about 50.000 participants who are selling product themselves, they gather to buy eachothers works that have been derived from original works.

Dominck Chen CrCom Anne Helmond

The result is ‘fifty million Yen of economical effect in just three days’. Contributing to an original artwork, going from monologue to dialogue, is an essential part of Japanese culture. Chen: ‘Creativity is considered as reflective to the original author, contributors don’t care about being part of the chain of creativity’. This is exemplified in the fact that on Japanese Wikipedia, 80% of users are acting anonymous. This is the exact opposite of Wikipedia use in the United States. Chen: ‘This chain of creativity, based on anonymity mous is very characteristic of Japanese culture.

Looking back, Chen remembers 2007 firstly as the year of the fight between users and existing shareholders of the broadcasting industry. Secondly, 2007 saw the birth of the metadataplatform, which Chen calls ‘a critical point in classical User Generated Content’. Envisioning 2008, Chen firstly sees an explosion of open contents and, secondly, the rise of the ubiquitous platform of data and creation, such as the iPhone and the Nintendo DS. A third essential vision for 2008 is the recursive stratification – indefinite division into subgroups- of web API with the appearing of “API’s of API’s”. Fourth, Chen predicts a ‘war over openness, which platform can be more open than the other one?’

As an example of Japanese culture and the chain of creativity mentioned earlier, Chen shows Japanese videosharing service Nico Nico Douga. By analyzing this video service, Chen wants to clarify what creativity is in this whole situation. He concludes that comments are ‘becoming constituents of the original work, affecting both authorship and spectatorship. It is a shift from dialogue to symlogue, because narrative control is shared and over time content is nurtured, fermentative’. As examples of symlogue, he mentions M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hands, where both hands share narrative control and are also fermentative of nature. On Nico Nico Douga, a movement has emerged that uses original material and builds upon it by using, for example, the VOCALOID sound plugin.

Chen emphasizes that he doesn not want to focuss on the horizontal effects, or the chain of creativity, but he asks himself the question of ‘how to open this up on a vertical level?’ For a recent exhibition, Chen cooperated with a well-known Japanese author, who wrote a new book on the spot. New chapters could be downloaded through the Internet. Chen: ‘Normally it is considered embarassing to show how a writer writes. By showing this process, a new relationship between reader and author is created’. Chen also shows a recording of twenty-four hours of editting on a single Wikipedia page. This ‘opening up of revision’, is what Chen regards as the next step in opening up the ‘commons’. It exemplifies the ‘open ecology of digital contents’ and ‘fermentative ecology’ that Chen mentions in his final words.

All photography, copyright Anne Helmond

Warming up for Picnic ’07

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Picnic ’07, Amsterdam’s annual event organized by the Cross Media Week Foundation focusing on creativity in cross media content and technology, is only a month away and the list of speakers is nearly finished. Between the 25th and 29th of September, Amsterdam’s Westergastfabriek will once again host the event after the succes of last year’s edition. But with such a diverse and wide-ranging programme, where will you go? In order to get into the mood and warm up for the event, it is worthwhile to highlight some of the fascinating speakers and take a more in-depth look at what they are all about.

Reuben Steiger (Former Linden Labs Evangelist and founder/CEO Millions of Us)
scion2ndlifeAt Picnic ’06 Philip Rosedale of Linden Labs / Second Life presented his take on ‘the empowerment offered by Second Life of the average citizen to not only create but monetize their own content and design’. This year former Linden Labs Evangelist Reuben Steiger will take the stage at Picnic’s Virtual Worlds, which is all about virtual worlds becoming central to the future of marketing, technology, entertainment and brand-building. After his work at Linden Labs, Steiger founded and became CEO of Millions of Us, a company dedicated to helping businesses understand and harness the power of virtual worlds. An example is the Toyota Scion car in Second Life.

Being an evangelist and clearly someone who believes in the power of virtual worlds, Steiger fights of recent criticism of Second Life as a branding tool at influxinsights.com by saying that ‘some of the criticism is partially warranted, but a lot of it is poorly contextualized and opportunistic, in the sense that pundits love to tear down technologies that have ridden a wave of hype. IT analyst firm Gartner calls this the hype cycle – new technologies spark a wave of initial excitement, expectations inflate, the technology is found to be imperfect in some ways, and there is a backlash – but in the long term, a good technology will overcome the hype cycle and enjoy long-term adoption.’ Are virtual worlds all that Steiger says they are, or just a big bubble? Are you a skeptic or an enthusiast? Not sure? You can find out at Virtual Worlds. In the video below Steiger answers questions on his personal interest in Second Life and if virtual worlds are a response to alienation in real-life.

When? 27th September 14.00 – 17.00
Where? WesterUnie
What? Virtual Worlds at Picnic ’07

Cory Doctorow (SF novelist, blogger, technology activist)
doctorow overclocked Cory Doctorow, co-editor of popular weblog BoingBoing and contributor to the likes of New York Times and Wired, explores the benefits and consequences of online systems in his latest (fictional) book Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present (free download). This provocative collection of six previously released stories shows Doctorow extrapolating todays user experiences towards a futuristic vision and creating fascinating stories in doing so. An extensive review can be found at The Uberreview. For his writings, Doctorow has already been compaired to ‘Cyberspace’ godfather William Gibson by Entertainment Weekly. In the Authors@Google series Cory Doctorow himself presents and discusses the book, if any questions remain be sure to go see Doctorow at Fab, or the personal fabrication revolution.

When? 28th September
Where? WesterLiefde
What? FAB, or the personal fabrication revolution

Pablos/Paul Holman (Futurist, IT security expert, notorious hacker)
From an interview with Pablos “Paul” Holman at DLD ’07, shown in video below, comes the following provocative quote on creativity in companies: ‘Especially large companies tend to be poor at doing new things. They have lots of resources, lots of people and a lot of infrastructure . But all that gets in the way of when you’re trying to be creative. [...] Ideally for me, I’d be able to wake up in the morning and dream up something I’ve been dreaming about. Then go build it by lunchtime, launch it in the afternoon and see if people like it. And then maybe fix some bugs by dinner.’

hackerbotpablosContrary to Doctorow, Holman does not read science fiction because he doesn’t want to be accused of plagiarism. His views however are, as the Picnic website also mentions, unique. With his design studio Komposite he ‘consults on bizarre invention and design projects that assimilate new technologies’. To give you an idea: Among his projects is the Hackerbot, a WiFi seeking robot that can find you when you’re using a wireless network – and drive up to show you your password on its screen. According to the Hackerbot website, the robot is really quite friendly and tries not to show your passwords to anyone else. Interested? Be sure to check out Holman at Picnic ’07, also if you’re interested in salsa dancing!

When? TBA
Where? TBA
What? Pablos Holman

Stefan Sagmeister (Graphic designer and typographer)
sagmeisterYou might have seen Stefan Sagmeister‘s design in your local record shop on the covers of Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and Talking Heads recordings. The Picnic website mentions that just as film, art, music and literature have the power to move people, Stefan Sagmeister’s innovative work shows that graphic design, too, can cut to the emotional core. An in-depth interview with Sagmeister can found at designboom.com. The image is courtesy of Grafik-freunde Stuttgart.

In 2004 Sagmeister spoke in Monterey, California about how design can make us happy and more specifically design that made him happy on a personal level. Telling stories ranging from billboards and museum exhibitions to pictorial language, Sagmeister is able to show how design can touch a nerve. Design never felt more personal while listening to Sagmeister’s presentation and his words seem far removed from corporate thought. Anyone intested in the emotional side of creativity, and creative industries in general, should see Sagmeister at Creative Genius: Things I Have Learned So Far at Picnic ’07.

When? 27th September 16.50 – 17.20
Where? Zuivering West
What? Creative Genius: Things I Have Learned So Far – Stefan Sagmeister

Various Meetings and (Un)Common Ground
Like last year, Picnic also hosts various meetings such as Virtueel Platform’s (Un)common Ground II: An expert meeting that brings together all the top thinkers in the industry. This year the sub-title is Scale and Intimacy. At the meeting experts will take a close look at the complex issues arising when practices and models of collaboration move across different scales. Like Stefan Sagmeister in his presentation, questions such as ‘how to maintain the emotional connection that people make to the ideas that are promoted or the services or products that it delivered’, are asked. Although the meeting is ‘invitation only’, be sure to check out Virtueel Platform’s publication (Un)common ground. Creative encounters across sectors and disciplines for more information.

For information on all Picnic ’07 events (25th – 29th of September) go to the Picnic network website. Oh… and did I mention Andrew Keen (see my previous post) will also be there?

Fiona Raby at the University of Amsterdam: Designs for fragile personalities in anxious times

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Room F201C of the University of Amsterdam’s Oudemanhuispoort building for an hour was the domain of Fiona Raby. She presented her ideas on design, which has close links to the design practice of Anthony Dunne. It is therefore no surprise that they also work together as Dunne & Raby on various projects. It is a vision on design that is not of technological futuristic visions, but of the fragile people, but still not pessimistic and depressing, but optimistic. Below is my account of the presentation.

Technological Utopias and Fragile People
According to Raby, the emotional world is taken from the home toward a medicinal state and the result of this shift we are seeing already in society in the growing pill culture. The space for imperfection is becoming smaller and we keep changing ourselves and, through the pill culture, to strive for perfection. This process is about the denial of our fears and anxieties instead of the much need celebration of these imperfections. And if we continue to surround ourselves with a technological utopia, Raby says that we are in fact really fragile people. What is interesting is the frailty of humanity and not the utopian vision.

Raby presents design as a way of problem solving and says that ‘it is at the heart of what we do’. In this way design can provide a counter discourse that revolves around society instead of just design. It is about checking the needs of society, look at its imperfections and in turn use that to solve problems. Don’t create a technological utopia based on a vision with no links to society, but try to use the imperfections instead of ignoring them.

But what happens when these problems become more complex and unsolvable? And how do we go about solving these problems? In this light Raby showed various design examples to emphasize these theories, below is a selection of those. The design project mentioned in the title can be found here: Designs for fragile personalities in anxious times.

Shopping Centre ‘BioLand’
A project by Dunne and Raby that relates to these questions is BioLand, a project worth checking out about a shopping centre that focusses ‘on deeply human needs and how biotechnology will impact on the ways these needs are met and understood.’ According to Raby, the future of the biotech world might be on the outskirts of any city. BioLand can be seen as a sandwich of all these different products that express the desires of what we really want.

Raby mentioned that ‘it is hard to imagine how design and the world of genetics can engage with eachother.’ BioLand is their idea to solve that problem. It is a search for something else than a technological utopia, it is a way ‘to develop proposals for hypothetical products and services which will be used as tools in later stages of the project to facilitate debate between the public and specialists about alternative biofutures.’

The shopping centre consists of seven departments:
1. IVF Land (Passion Conception Centre)
2. BioBank, Utility Pets, Clonetopia.
3. Immortality Inc.
4. ForEverAfter
5. GM Love
6. Future Perfect
7. Clinic

Evidence Dolls
Part of BioLand are the Evidence Dolls (2005) by Dunne and Raby. It is their response to genetics. Evidence Dolls, according to Raby, tries to show that in the future matching will not be about income or status, but about genetic material. The project consists of one hundred ‘specially designed dolls used to provoke discussion amongst a group of young women about the impact of genetic technology on their lifestyle.’ Basically the idea is that you can write on the blank doll and draw how you would like that part styled. Besides that ‘the Dolls come in three versions based on penis size (small, medium and large). A black indelible marker allows women to note down interesting characteristics of their lover. Hair, toenail clippings, saliva, and sperm can be collected and stored in the penis drawer.’

The dolls show a utopian view, the idea of a perfectly composed human being according to our personal standards and without the imperfections. Four single women reflected on the design. ‘Lady 01′ provided the most interesting responses : ‘Isn’t it selfish to pick what is best and not be happy with what nature gives you? I would like to clone this lover as a dog.’ Raby responds on this by mentioning that perhaps we can’t change humans, but we can do anything with the rest around us, such as our dogs.

The Technological Dream Series: No. 1 Robots

Because of lacking funds to actually launch this project, Fiona Raby shows us a short movieclip showing the main idea behind it. Raby says that we ‘grew up with idea of robots that would look out for us,’ and that society pushed robots towards ‘human-like things.’ But on the other hand, computers are disappearing inside our infrastructures. This project looks in between the two views in the form of five types of robots. What is society’s stance against robots, how would the interaction be with robots?

First: The autonomous robot that we have to co-exist with. It is alongside the human and doesn’t contribute much for us. It is completely autonomous and disconnected from us. This is visualized in the form of a person stepping in a circle. The circle does nothing besides just being there.
Second: A nervous robot that is anxious with social security. It senses everything in the room and it is very paranoid about what it is actually sensing. The form is cone shaped.
Third: An object where you stare in (for example an irisscan) which Raby sees as something you stare in, rather than you move through for example a gate at an airport. Interesting here it the relationship between the robot and yourself, before it realizes who you are or not .
Fourth: A robot that is constantly asks for attention and can’t be left alone. It wants to move around, but it can’t, so the human has to have some connection with it. The form is a lamp.
Fifth: This one is about Microbial fuel cells. What if a robot had to be fed in some way through a stomach, would that change our relation to what this thing is?

Mass production and Critical Design?
The aim of Dunne and Raby’s design is a way to reflect which they call Critical Design. What is interesting and made me think about after the lecture is the question if there is any goal to actually implement these ideas into massproduction. But within its meaning, I think Critical Design also opposes real commercial interests which is perhaps more on the side of technological utopianism.

The idea of society shopping for mass produced Critically Designed products at their BioLand is both intruiging and disturbing. But on the other hand: aren’t we already at a point that products placed in society create critical, or as Anthony Dunne calls them, psychosocial narratives of the design? For designers it is interesting to think about the design, for theorists it is perhaps more interesting to look at these psychosocial narratives used en masse in society. How do people actually interact with society and how do they apply their own meaning to products provided by the (forced) technological utopia?

As ‘Lady 01′ said it in Raby’s last slide: ‘Everything comes 10 years later. Usually the general public know about it at the last moment when everything falls apart. It’s too late, you can’t do anything about it anymore because its already here. I think we are being kept in ignorance.’

Making presentations using Google Earth

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For the Information Visualization course of the University of Amsterdam fellow student Pepijn and myself made a presentation using Google Earth instead of using the same old Powerpoint again.

In this presentation for the Information Visualization course we experiment how presentations can be given with the use of Google Earth. For every author we discuss we move to the hometown of that author. But lots more options are possible to use Google Earth for presentation purposes and also to show (spatial) examples during a presentation. This is intended as a first try and the idea is open for expansion, we challenge you!

How to open it?

  • First download Google Earth
  • Download this file: Presentation Maps and Critique ZIP
  • Unzip it
  • Choose File > Open in Google Earth and click the downloaded file
  • The presentation should appear in the My Places Tab, navigate by clicking the various ‘slides’

Kubuntu Experiences: Cisco 350 and the grasp of Windows’ compatibility

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X30Yes! I finally have a laptop on which I’m typing this new blogpost! The beautifully small, although not very new, Thinkpad X30. Exactly what I was looking for and it came pre-installed with Kubuntu 6.10, which I wanted to try out for quite some time. An overview of my experiences with the Open Source operating system. And to spoil the ending: Why I had to go back to Windows XP.

The Wow Effect
When I first booted the laptop and saw Kubuntu with the KDE desktop for the first time I had a ‘Wow’ experience Vista couldn’t top. Not really because it looked so good, it actually did, but this wasn’t the effort of thousands of paid employees but of the masses. Every connection working, every click I did was made by people who wanted you to click and connect for free. The people working together to create a system that is actually free. It is the effect of the GNU manifesto, the call for the sharing of software and not keeping it under (distribution) control.

After this first experience I had to change my way of thinking in dealing with an operating system. So far my only experience are with DOS in the early days and of course Windows with a little bit of MacOS experience mixed in. After some clicking and searching the web (the internet worked ‘out of the box’) I learned how to install a programme. It felt like I had to learn how to walk again. I felt, well, stupid really. But after reading the Kubuntu documentation I learned how to use Adept to install packages and also manage repositories.

kubuntuNext up was how to play the various media filetypes. Since most are protected formats these don’t come supplied with for example AmaroK, but the Seveas package turned out to be a lifesaver. It supplies every codec I need to play various mediatypes like DVD and lots more. But since this wasn’t supplied through Adept, I had to look up how to do an install from a .tar package. It took me some time to figure out, but lets say it comes down to these simple terms: ./config, make, make install. So far so good.

Everything was working fine, I also found a very addictive game to play under Kubuntu called Battle for Wesnoth, and I really had the feeling that I was part of something special. Part of a group of users who are aware of what software in the digital age is really about: sharing.

The Grasp
But then the main problem came up. The bad guy. The pure evil. The one thing that can beat all goodwill of the open source community: Incompatibility.

Let me elaborate. At home my wireless connection worked fine with the Cisco Aironet 350 Mini Pci WIFI card that comes installed. Although it is an older model and is a 802.11b and not g, it works great. Untill I went to the University of Amsterdam, for the first time. Because to access the UvA network under Linux/Kubuntu I had to use the WPA encryption. For two days I tried to connect, upgrade, install and check again. I tried it all, HostAP, ndiswrapper, wlan-ng, WPA_Supplicant, Knetworkmanager and more. But they all failed. They were my Kubuntu Waterloo. And deep in my heart I really, really, really wanted it to work. Because I wanted to live the completely open source lifestyle.

But I needed the internet connection at the UvA. Compatibility overruled personal ethics. As I found out, the only option for my Cisco 350 to connect via WPA encryption was by getting a firmware upgrade… which is only available through… Windows. So I’m very sorry if you were reading this post hoping me to say that it is possible to get WPA on your card. I’m sorry…

The incompatibilty turned out to be the struggle that the open source community is fighting against. Every time that the corporate software distributors copyright a new portion of their software, the open source community has to find a way to make their operating system to be compatible with those standards. If the protocol does not match, there is no communication. The copyrighted compatibility is a serious issue and it caused me to leave my newfound glory and go back to that operating system everyone uses. The system that conceals the abilities of the open source community. The code curtain.

Meanwhile… back in XP
As I’m typing this my eyes can’t escape the returning presence of the XP start button. The much critized 5 letters didn’t return in Vista, but they’re not so bad. The biggest change in my use of Windows is that the extra programmes I use are almost all open source. VTC media player, GIMP, Firefox, Thunderbird, Open Office. The best thing I got out of this is user awareness. We have to be aware of the limited nature of (corporate) controlled distribution of software. It is good to see the alternatives, the margins that fight the giants. And in turn the margins influence those giants. Those see-through menu’s from Vista look awkwardly familiar, don’t they?

Talking about ‘Fans, Bloggers and Gamers’

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Jenkins Fans Bloggers GamersFor the Masters of Media blog at the University of Amsterdam fellow student Roman did a Podcast on Henry Jenkins‘ new book Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture and he called me up to talk about it. Got to love those vintage phonelines and the aesthetics of Podcasts!

You can check it out in this blogpost, or you can download the ‘Discussing Jenkins’ Podcast directly from here. And since we’re talking about bloggers here, check out what other blogs say about it here, here and here. The first link includes an interesting interview with Jenkins.

Cyberkoelies: Buy World of Warcraft characters or experience straight from China

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Cheating has been around as long as games existed. If you fail at something time after time, you just typed in the code and off you went to the next level. With MMORPG’s and a complete social online community, that way of skipping the hardest part is gone. Players are looking at other possibilities offered. One of them is buying character from eBay, or in some other way.

chinese wow playersMade in China has probably been around for as long as mass produced toys are overflowing the markets. And while the West used to get their cheap toys from China, they now get their experience points straight from China where the young people from the countryside who want to make a carreer in the big city -in this case portrayed Zhengzhou- play World of Warcraft for a living.

The Dutch documentary Cyberkoelies by Floris-Jan van Lyun deals with this sensitive subject. He shows us the lives of Jing and Wang, two Chinese youngsters looking for a way to get out of the seemingly never changing life of the Chinese countryside.

Van Luyn shows us that the life of the farmers and the ‘ore farming’ for other users in World of Warcraft isn’t all that different. What makes it attractive is the virtual world. Jing tells us that there are less boundaries in this world, and when we see her walking down the street -in real life that is- she tells us that she just enjoys watching people walking around.

The employer is also interviewed, and this gives us some insight as to who is behind this business but in the end we don’t really get any more concrete information than ‘a contact in Germany.’ Tracing this line back to the players who actually want these ‘virtual tasks’ done would be a very interesting next step. To track the people who make this whole system of supply-and-demand work.

Besides Jing, Van Luyn also shows us the life of Wang. His family doesn’t really understand what he is doing, his brother thinks he is kind of a failure and his father doesn’t really know what the computergame is as long as it is legal: “Because that is what is important for my generation.” If it is legal or not can be contested. According to Chinese law probably not, but the ‘employers’ from World of Warcraft -I’d call them the cheaters- are not favored in World of Warcraft.

User GijsW posted a comment on the forum of Holland Doc, the program that aired the documentary. He noticed that these practices are not ‘legal’ in World of Warcraft, because one user can only play his own character which would be very hard to check up on. And he also mentions that some parts of the game actually are becoming too time consuming, causing the users to ‘outsource’ their ‘work’ to the Chinese youngsters at a certain cost. Cheating costs money nowadays.

ore mining in WOWThe documentary didn’t really convince that the older generation in China doesn’t know what computergames are, or that World of Warcraft is the same work as working in the ‘real’ fields. Although these things do exist, they are not specific for China. I found that the main argument to go and see the documentary is the outsourcing of work in the virtual. These are the nasty jobs -ore mining, time consuming jobs- the West doesn’t really want to do. The toys we don’t want to make.

Cyberkoelies is not available -yet- with English subtitles, but if you can understand a bit of Dutch or Chinese then this is definitely an interesting documentary. You can view the documentary online at the Cyberkoelies page at VPRO Holland Doc. Dutch newspaper NRC also ran an interesting story on this, which includes an interview with Van Luyn. The first image is courtesy of VPRO.

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