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  • 1. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONSAS MEDIA STUDIESMorecambe Community High SchoolMS1: Media Representations and ResponsesCase Study 2: Video GamesThis case study is designed as part of series which will focus on arange of different media forms. You will be expected to refer tothese case studies in the summer examination, so keep it safe.Additional material for this unit can be found on the VLE as well asthe shared area on the network. This case study will focus on the following: • The conventions of video games • Language used and mode of address • The construction of representations and ideologies in the texts • The messages underlying those representations • How we can apply audience models to video games 1
  • 2. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONSAS Media Studies – Representations & ResponsesMedia Audiences: Video Games case studyHow many different genres of video games can you think of? Provideexamples for each.What are the conventions of video games? Try to suggest commonelements that can be applied to ANY game, regardless of genre. • By 2011, the worldwide gaming market will be worth $48.9 billion • UK consumers are expected to spend £4.64bn on them in 2008 • music and video sales accounting for £4.46bn • the video games market has more than doubled in value in the last five yearsWhy do people play video games? Why do you suppose it is such apopular past time?Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar Games, 2008Some statistics…o On its first day of release in Britain, 609,000 copies were sold, bringing in revenue of £24.4 million. In that single day it recouped around half of its production budget (estimated at £50 million)o By the end of the first week of trading, the game was projected to have sold six million copies worldwide.Since 1997, GTA games have offered players the opportunity to indulgethemselves in a fantastical gameworld where they can virtually ‘live thedream’ by playing the gangster tough guy previously only observed ingangster films and TV dramas such as The Sopranos and The Departed.The developers of the game Rockstar North sent a 50-strong team to NewYork to research locations and people, and to take photographs to work upthe mise-en-scene of the games.In early summer 2008, GTA 4 was seemingly unavoidable. It was on billboardposters everywhere; it was on the cover of most videogame magazines and 2
  • 3. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONSadvertised on the back of non-gaming magazines alike. Since its release atthe end of April it has grabbed acres of newspaper space in both gaming andnon-gaming press. On Sunday May 4th, The Observer newspaper dedicatedits ‘Arts and Culture Review’ section to debating whether or not GTA 4 is awork of art.The scale of the marketing exercise for GTA 4 is unprecedented. It was closerto what you might experience for big marketing campaigns which surround‘event’ movies. This reflects the current state of the videogames industry. Itlooks as if GTA 4 has arrived at a tipping point where everyone knows aboutthe game, whether or not they know about its content. o What does this suggest about intertextuality in the game? To put it another way, what kind of prior knowledge of media texts will enhance the experience? Consider film & TV shows. o What genres does it borrow from? o Compare these two posters. What similarities can you indentify? 3
  • 4. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONSThe primary objective for TV executives and/or broadcasting ‘must-see TVwhich produces ‘watercooler moments’ the following day – where people talkabout what they saw in last nights episode of Lost or Prison Break forexample. GTA 4 has achieved a similar status, and within 24 hours of itsrelease established itself with the status of a ‘must-play’ game.Some sections of British society and the British media see videogames asagents of moral corruption and as blunting the social skills of games. Acounter argument could be that gamers talk about games like GTA 4 in thesame way as they might discuss a TV programme or film. Plot twists,character profiles and game achievements are some possible areas ofdiscourse. In addition to this are the on-line gaming communities whichcommunicate and play against each other using teamwork and carefulplanning to overcome challenges posed by the game itself or gamers from allover the world.fan sites, web forums and virtual communities have been set up by gamers inthe wake of GTA 4’s release. On such examplecommunity is www.gtaforums.com. Here it ispossible to enter threads of discussion on a widerange of issues revolving around the game suchas tactics, tips, even critical views on thegame/plot/characters etc.Enabling players to learn about the game and toengage socially with types and numbers ofpeople which would not be popular in the realworld. Fans of the game are socialising witheach other – both in the real world and virtually,people may be forging bonds and friendshipsover a game. In the process a sub-culture isdeveloping. This kind of social interaction isoften driven by individuals, not by corporations.We need to be vigilant about how we perceivethe effects of media texts on those who chooseto consume them. o Using the Uses and Gratifications model detailed below, identify what audiences get out of this particular video game. 4
  • 5. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONSUses and Gratification Model(Blumer, McQuail & Brown)The model is concerned with how and why people consume the media.Theorists have identified four major types of consumption: • To reinforce personal identity by comparing our own roles with similar roles in the media: What do gamers feel a part of here? What is it about the games that an audience identify? • The need for companionship and interaction: Who or what are they interacting with? How could we address companionship? • The need to be informed: What is the game telling the audience? What information offered up from the game could be identified as useful? Does it inform lifestyle for example? • The need for entertainment and diversion 5
  • 6. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONSManhunt 2, Rockstar Games, 2007BBC news Tuesday, 19 June 2007,Censors ban brutalvideo gameBritish censors have banned a violent videogame from the UK for the first time in adecade.The video game Manhunt 2 was rejected for its"unrelenting focus on stalking and brutalslaying", the British Board of Film Classificationsaid.It means the Manhunt sequel cannot be legallysupplied anywhere in the UK.The parents of a Leicester schoolboy whoblamed the original game for the murder oftheir 14-year-old son said they were "absolutely elated".The original Manhunt game was given an 18 classification in 2003.Manhunt 2, for PS2 and Nintendo Wii consoles, is made by Rockstar Games.The company has six weeks to submit an appeal.The last game to be refused classification was Carmageddon in 1997. Thatdecision was overturned on appeal.David Cooke, director of the BBFC, said: "Manhunt 2 is distinguishable fromrecent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness oftone."There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which thesekillings are committed, and encouraged, in the game."Morally irresponsibleThe original Manhunt game caused huge controversy and was blamed for themurder of Stefan Pakeerah.The boy was stabbed and beaten to death in Leicester in February 2004.His parents believe the killer, Warren LeBlanc, 17, was inspired by the game.Stefans mother, Giselle Pakeerah, had condemned the sequel, branding thegaming industry "morally irresponsible"."We have been campaigning against these games for a long time and theBBFC made the right decision," she said.Police said robbery was the motive behind the attack on Stefan in StokesWood Park on 26 February 2004 - and not the video game blamed by Stefansparents.Manhunts maker Rockstar North has always insisted its games are gearedtowards mature audiences and are marketed responsibly.Leicester MP Keith Vaz, who campaigned with the Pakeerahs against theoriginal version of Manhunt, praised the decision to ban Manhunt 2.He said: "This is an excellent decision by the British Board of FilmClassification, showing that game publishers cannot expect to get interactivegames where players take the part of killers engaged in casual sadism andmurder." 6
  • 7. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS o What were the main concerns of the BBFC over this game? o How might we apply the hypodermic syringe model (below) to video games such as Manhunt 2 and GTA 4? o To what extent might this article be seen as a part of a moral panic on video games? Hypodermic Syringe Model The media are powerful agents of influence, capable of ‘injecting’ ideas and behaviours into passive audiences: • Children and teenagers are considered to be particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of the media. • Moral Panics get generated by the media itself (often the tabloid press). This in turn leads to heightened public concern and sometimes new laws or regulations.Edge MagazineJune 19, 2007Manhunt 2 Banned, RockstarRespondsThe ruling means it will be illegal to supply thePS2 and Wii-bound title anywhere in the UK.“Rejecting a work is a very serious action andone which we do not take lightly. Where possible we try to consider cuts or, inthe case of games, modifications which remove the material whichcontravenes the Board’s published Guidelines,” said BBFC director DavidCooke.“In the case of Manhunt 2 this has not been possible. Manhunt 2 isdistinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremittingbleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context whichconstantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation ordistancing.“Against this background, the Board’s carefully considered view is that toissue a certificate to Manhunt 2, on either platform, would involve a range ofunjustifiable harm risks, to both adults and minors, within the terms of theVideo Recordings Act, and accordingly that its availability, even if statutorilyconfined to adults, would be unacceptable to the public.”Rockstar has responded to the BBFCs decision by expressingdisappointment at the ban. The company suggested that ratings of mediaproducts should act as a guide enabling consumers to make up their ownminds about what they wish to purchase. 7
  • 8. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS"We are disappointed with the recent decision by the British Board of FilmClassification to refuse classification of Manhunt 2. While we respect theauthority of the classification board and will abide by the rules, weemphatically disagree with this particular decision," reads a statement fromthe company.“Manhunt 2 is an entertainment experience for fans of psychological thrillersand horror. The subject matter of this game is in line with other mainstreamentertainment choices for adult consumers.“We respect those who have different opinions about the horror genre andvideo games as a whole, but we hope they will also consider the opinions ofthe adult gamers for whom this product is intended. We believe all productsshould be rated to allow the public to make informed choices about the mediaand art they wish to consume. The stories in modern video games are asdiverse as the stories in books, film and television. The adult consumers whowould play this game fully understand that it is fictional interactiveentertainment and nothing more.”Paul Jackson, director general of ELSPA (Entertainment & Leisure SoftwarePublishers Association) believes that the BBFC’s decision to ban Manhunt 2proves that the UK has an "effective" ratings system.“A decision from the BBFC such as this demonstrates that we have a gamesratings system in the UK that is effective. It shows it works and works well.Any decision the BBFC takes, it takes on the basis of its remit to rate onscreen entertainment,” he said."The games industry is a creative phenomenon that produces all kinds ofgames across all kinds of genres that appeal to all kinds of people across thecountry, young and old, male and female. The important thing to know is thatall games are rated according to age suitability, with over 70 per cent ofgames being available to all ages over three years," he added.Rockstar has the right to appeal the decision under the terms of the VideoRecordings Act. o Read through this article. What argument does Rockstar, the games developer, offer as a counter-argument against the BBFC’s ruling? o Can you identify problems with the Hypodermic syringe model? 8
  • 9. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONSClearly, games such as GTA 4 and Manhunt 2 require classification whichmakes them suitable for adults only. Indeed they both carry 18+ certificationsissued by the BBFC (Manhunt 2 was granted a UK release in October ’08 onthe basis of ‘significant cuts’ to its more graphic scenes). But, with an industrywhich is enjoyed by both children and adults, there has been a real cause forconcern in terms of children accessing such games without parentalknowledge or understanding of content. Following the Byron report in spring2008 which looked at the issue of children and digital media, the governmentissued the following statement: Written Ministerial Statements Thursday 27 March 2008 CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES "Safer Children in a Digital World" (Byron Review) On video games, Dr. Byron recommends a range of high profile and targeted efforts to help inform parents and children of the appropriateness of different video games and to restrict inappropriate access such as: Lowering the statutory requirement to classify video games to 12+, that is consistent with film classification and easier for parents. Putting in place a hybrid classification system, using both PEGI and BBFC mechanisms with one set of symbols, from BBFC, for parents to understand. Having clear and consistent guidance for industry on how games should be advertised. Challenging industry to provide sustained and high profile efforts to increase parents understanding of age ratings and improved parental controls. • Who then, in terms of demographics is playing video games? • What might the psychographic profile be of someone who plays GTA 4 and how might this game meet these needs? Consider the aspirations and desires of the demographic. 9
  • 10. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONSThe Observer, Sunday May 4 2008‘Fresh guns for hire...’The computer game Grand Theft Auto IV is set to become thebiggest-grossing title ever, with sales outstripping Hollywoodsbiggest films. But is it art? We asked three critics - and GTAnovices - to fire up their consoles and put it to the testPeter Conrad, Observer writer and academicAs a non-driver who hardly remembers being a teenager, I dont belong to thedemographic category targeted by video games. But I agreed to man theconsole of Grand Theft Auto IV because Im curious about the future. Can itbe true that this geekmobile will have more customers than Hollywoodsnoisiest, flashiest blockbuster? Industrial spies report that the movies maysoon vanish into the gadget I was gripping, with its fiddly gearsticks andhandbrakes, its zoom control and directional pad: technology is beingdeveloped that will enable you both to direct and to perform in the film yourewatching.I spent an afternoon hijacking cars and totalling a satisfactory number ofpedestrians. My alter ego at the wheel was a granite-visaged easternEuropean thug called Niko, sent to ferry his mobster cousins cronies aroundNew York. I realised - once I got over the lethal joy of running red lights andskidding on to the pavement - that I had signed on as that dreariest ofnocturnal drudges, a minicab driver. But I soon gave up asking where I wasgoing, or why. The plot is an excuse for motion: cinema is kinesis, and Imhappy enough to watch John Wayne riding or Steve McQueen driving or MattDamon running. Hitchcock once likened his films to rollercoasters, andinterestingly GTA IV skirts the derelict funfair at Coney Island in Brooklyn.Hitchcock knew that he was programming sensations, infecting audienceswith motion sickness as his characters struggle to control runaway cars;smirking sadist that he was, he would have liked the way video games placeus in the drivers seat and allow us to crash and burn.GTA IV is about the revved-up tempo and suicidal trajectory of ourmechanised lives. But it has a more reflective dimension: games like thisdramatise the interplay of fate and chance, or destiny and contingency. Nikoscousin asks what hes doing in America. Whats anyone doing? he shrugs.Im just trying to make the right decisions. Thats also the gamestersoccupation. Do I go left or right? Forwards or in reverse? Do I return the call inwhich the slinky Michelle begs for another date? Such decisions are quickly,unthinkingly made, but their consequences unfurl peripherally in a nuclearchain reaction. This is fucking chaos, someone says during a highway snarl-up. In fact, it is chaos theory: I began as a fluttering butterfly an hour ago, andthe result of my impromptu thumb-twiddling was this thunderstorm ofconcertinaed metal and squirting gore.Although GTA IV takes place in a mythically sombre America, its producersare based in Edinburgh, and I suspect they have designed a satire on the self-destructive superpower across the ocean. Liberty City (which is what they calltheir version of New York) enshrines the glutted liberality of capitalism, but thefreedom it offers - to turn this way or that, to drink Patriot beer or the imported 10
  • 11. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONSbrew called Pisswasser, to go bowling or lap-dancing - deludes us withvariants of the same thing. All routes lead to a dead end. You got capitalism,snarls a voice on the car radio, admonishing the Americanised Russians in acabaret called Perestroika. Now enjoy what you asked for. In the gamesguidebook, an ad for a grease-clogged burger rants against the liberalobsession with healthy eating and asks: What are you doing to us, America?The designers may be voicing the same complaint, which is why they create avirtual realm and goad us to sabotage it. Is your best friend a terrorist? ashock jock on the car radio asks as I dry-hump the competition on a freeway.If I could have seen my face in the rearview mirror, I might have winced. Withthe console in my hands, I was indeed a terrorist. A minute later, the screenfaded to black. Had the X-Box 360 malfunctioned? No, it was my fault: I wasdead, though I had the satisfaction of taking several fire hydrants, lamp postsand letter boxes with me. Not quite the World Trade Centre, I know, but I am abeginner. Is this a game, or a holy war conducted by other means?Bidisha, author and criticIts a long, hard, bitter task filling the shoes of Niko, the avatar-protagonist ofGrand Theft Auto IV. Cursed with a chunky, clenched-bottomed running styleand stilted right hook, labouring under the weight of a massive raciststereotype, garbling unfunny puns in a comedy Balkan accent, Niko acts as agofer for his greasy cousin Romans syndicate of lowlifes, hustlers, skanksand shysters and their ethnically cliched associates. Theres the jive-talkingRasta dealer, the timid and inarticulate Oriental shopkeeper and the Serbthugs.Liberty City, the sarcastically named venue for this obvious trawl, is anexpansive, pixel-speckled wasteland of tenement buildings, dead ends,wafting litter, chicken wire and trees that look like yellow and green cottonbuds. Its not arcane enough to create any frisson of otherness (as the epic,mythic games Halo and Assassins Creed do) and not realistic enough for youto imagine that youre in an actual metropolis with its own infrastructure. Still,there are neat details such as the chinked glass of a shattered windscreen,sunlight filtering into an underpass, the chunky matt grey of a discarded bullet.Nikos small, dead eyes, thick skull and broken nose bear poignant witness tohis brutalised biography: Tiny Tim goes techno.Visually this is a basic arena in which bored, boring men engage in lumpymutual rucks scripted with bad guy-on-guy thug porn in mind. Peripherally,though, its witty. Theres the Memory Lane bowling alley, the hijacked car thathas asinine sat nav droning in the background, the hyper radio advert thatcrows, For too long TV game shows have been the province of womenclucking over things they know nothing about, and promotes The MensRoom, bringing masculinity back to television. Another radio phone-in listenerbawls, I blame the blacks and the Jews! while a woman touts a Ukrainiandelicacy: chocolate-covered pig fat. In Romans office the boss is ribbed forhis aftershave: Whats it called? Sex Pest?Whoever scripted these incidentals should call HBO and pitch a show, leavingthe rest of the team to design more hit-and-runs. When I was done I wenthome and happily played my Dungeons & Dragons board game by myself.Laura Cumming, Observer art critic 11
  • 12. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS 1. How does the journalist campare the game to a film? 2. How does he compare GTA 4 with the films of Alfred Hitchcock? 3. The game takes a satirical look at modern America. Can you summarise what form this takes in the game? 4. What could be said of the character types in the game? • Using the article from The Observer and your answers, apply the Encoding/Decoding model to GTA 4 Encoding/Decoding Model Developed by Stuart Hall and David Morley to analyse audiences responses to media messages • This takes into account the social position, age, gender and ethnicity of the demographic • Media texts are encoded so that preferred reading is presented to an audience. • The audience may or may not accept the preferred reading There can be three types of audience response: 1. Preferred reading – when the audience reads into the texts what the sender wanted them to. 2. Oppositional reading – when the audience take the opposite reading to the one the sender desired. 3. Negotiated reading – when the audience combines a preferred and negotiated reading 12

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