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  1. 1. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS AS MEDIA STUDIES Morecambe Community High School MS1: Media Representations and Responses Case Study 2: Video Games This case study is designed as part of series which will focus on a range of different media forms. You will be expected to refer to these case studies in the summer examination, so keep it safe. Additional material for this unit can be found on the VLE as well as the 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. 2. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS AS Media Studies – Representations & Responses Media Audiences: Video Games case study How many different genres of video games can you think of? Provide examples for each. What are the conventions of video games? Try to suggest common elements 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 years Why do people play video games? Why do you suppose it is such a popular past time? Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar Games, 2008 Some 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 indulge themselves in a fantastical gameworld where they can virtually ‘live the dream’ by playing the gangster tough guy previously only observed in gangster films and TV dramas such as The Sopranos and The Departed. The developers of the game Rockstar North sent a 50-strong team to New York to research locations and people, and to take photographs to work up the mise-en-scene of the games. In early summer 2008, GTA 4 was seemingly unavoidable. It was on billboard posters everywhere; it was on the cover of most videogame magazines and 2
  3. 3. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS advertised on the back of non-gaming magazines alike. Since its release at the end of April it has grabbed acres of newspaper space in both gaming and non-gaming press. On Sunday May 4th, The Observer newspaper dedicated its ‘Arts and Culture Review’ section to debating whether or not GTA 4 is a work of art. The scale of the marketing exercise for GTA 4 is unprecedented. It was closer to what you might experience for big marketing campaigns which surround ‘event’ movies. This reflects the current state of the videogames industry. It looks as if GTA 4 has arrived at a tipping point where everyone knows about the 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. 4. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS The primary objective for TV executives and/or broadcasting ‘must-see TV which produces ‘watercooler moments’ the following day – where people talk about what they saw in last nights episode of Lost or Prison Break for example. GTA 4 has achieved a similar status, and within 24 hours of its release established itself with the status of a ‘must-play’ game. Some sections of British society and the British media see videogames as agents of moral corruption and as blunting the social skills of games. A counter argument could be that gamers talk about games like GTA 4 in the same way as they might discuss a TV programme or film. Plot twists, character profiles and game achievements are some possible areas of discourse. In addition to this are the on-line gaming communities which communicate and play against each other using teamwork and careful planning to overcome challenges posed by the game itself or gamers from all over the world. fan sites, web forums and virtual communities have been set up by gamers in the wake of GTA 4’s release. On such example community is Here it is possible to enter threads of discussion on a wide range of issues revolving around the game such as tactics, tips, even critical views on the game/plot/characters etc. Enabling players to learn about the game and to engage socially with types and numbers of people which would not be popular in the real world. Fans of the game are socialising with each other – both in the real world and virtually, people may be forging bonds and friendships over a game. In the process a sub-culture is developing. This kind of social interaction is often driven by individuals, not by corporations. We need to be vigilant about how we perceive the effects of media texts on those who choose to consume them. o Using the Uses and Gratifications model detailed below, identify what audiences get out of this particular video game. 4
  5. 5. AS MEDIA STUDIES Uses and Gratification Model (Blumer, McQuail & Brown) MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS 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. 6. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS Manhunt 2, Rockstar Games, 2007 BBC news Tuesday, 19 June 2007, Censors ban 'brutal' video game British censors have banned a violent video game from the UK for the first time in a decade. The video game Manhunt 2 was rejected for its "unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying", the British Board of Film Classification said. It means the Manhunt sequel cannot be legally supplied anywhere in the UK. The parents of a Leicester schoolboy who blamed the original game for the murder of their 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. That decision was overturned on appeal. David Cooke, director of the BBFC, said: "Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone. "There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game." 'Morally irresponsible' The original Manhunt game caused huge controversy and was blamed for the murder 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. Stefan's mother, Giselle Pakeerah, had condemned the sequel, branding the gaming industry "morally irresponsible". "We have been campaigning against these games for a long time and the BBFC made the right decision," she said. Police said robbery was the motive behind the attack on Stefan in Stokes Wood Park on 26 February 2004 - and not the video game blamed by Stefan's parents. Manhunt's maker Rockstar North has always insisted its games are geared towards mature audiences and are marketed responsibly. Leicester MP Keith Vaz, who campaigned with the Pakeerahs against the original version of Manhunt, praised the decision to ban Manhunt 2. He said: "This is an excellent decision by the British Board of Film Classification, showing that game publishers cannot expect to get interactive games where players take the part of killers engaged in 'casual sadism' and murder." 6
  7. 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 Magazine June 19, 2007 Manhunt 2 Banned, Rockstar Responds The ruling means it will be illegal to supply the PS2 and Wii-bound title anywhere in the UK. “Rejecting a work is a very serious action and one which we do not take lightly. Where possible we try to consider cuts or, in the case of games, modifications which remove the material which contravenes the Board’s published Guidelines,” said BBFC director David Cooke. “In the case of Manhunt 2 this has not been possible. Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing. “Against this background, the Board’s carefully considered view is that to issue a certificate to Manhunt 2, on either platform, would involve a range of unjustifiable harm risks, to both adults and minors, within the terms of the Video Recordings Act, and accordingly that its availability, even if statutorily confined to adults, would be unacceptable to the public.” Rockstar has responded to the BBFC's decision by expressing disappointment at the ban. The company suggested that ratings of media products should act as a guide enabling consumers to make up their own minds about what they wish to purchase. 7
  8. 8. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS "We are disappointed with the recent decision by the British Board of Film Classification to refuse classification of Manhunt 2. While we respect the authority of the classification board and will abide by the rules, we emphatically disagree with this particular decision," reads a statement from the company. “Manhunt 2 is an entertainment experience for fans of psychological thrillers and horror. The subject matter of this game is in line with other mainstream entertainment choices for adult consumers. “We respect those who have different opinions about the horror genre and video games as a whole, but we hope they will also consider the opinions of the adult gamers for whom this product is intended. We believe all products should be rated to allow the public to make informed choices about the media and art they wish to consume. The stories in modern video games are as diverse as the stories in books, film and television. The adult consumers who would play this game fully understand that it is fictional interactive entertainment and nothing more.” Paul Jackson, director general of ELSPA (Entertainment & Leisure Software Publishers Association) believes that the BBFC’s decision to ban Manhunt 2 proves that the UK has an "effective" ratings system. “A decision from the BBFC such as this demonstrates that we have a games ratings 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 on screen entertainment,” he said. "The games industry is a creative phenomenon that produces all kinds of games across all kinds of genres that appeal to all kinds of people across the country, young and old, male and female. The important thing to know is that all games are rated according to age suitability, with over 70 per cent of games being available to all ages over three years," he added. Rockstar has the right to appeal the decision under the terms of the Video Recordings 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. 9. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS Clearly, games such as GTA 4 and Manhunt 2 require classification which makes them suitable for adults only. Indeed they both carry 18+ certifications issued by the BBFC (Manhunt 2 was granted a UK release in October ’08 on the basis of ‘significant cuts’ to its more graphic scenes). But, with an industry which is enjoyed by both children and adults, there has been a real cause for concern in terms of children accessing such games without parental knowledge or understanding of content. Following the Byron report in spring 2008 which looked at the issue of children and digital media, the government issued 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. 10. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS The Observer, Sunday May 4 2008 ‘Fresh guns for hire...’ The computer game Grand Theft Auto IV is set to become the biggest-grossing title ever, with sales outstripping Hollywood's biggest films. But is it art? We asked three critics - and GTA novices - to fire up their consoles and put it to the test Peter Conrad, Observer writer and academic As a non-driver who hardly remembers being a teenager, I don't belong to the demographic category targeted by video games. But I agreed to man the console of Grand Theft Auto IV because I'm curious about the future. Can it be true that this geekmobile will have more customers than Hollywood's noisiest, flashiest blockbuster? Industrial spies report that the movies may soon vanish into the gadget I was gripping, with its fiddly gearsticks and handbrakes, its zoom control and directional pad: technology is being developed that will enable you both to direct and to perform in the film you're watching. I spent an afternoon hijacking cars and totalling a satisfactory number of pedestrians. My alter ego at the wheel was a granite-visaged eastern European thug called Niko, sent to ferry his mobster cousin's cronies around New York. I realised - once I got over the lethal joy of running red lights and skidding on to the pavement - that I had signed on as that dreariest of nocturnal drudges, a minicab driver. But I soon gave up asking where I was going, or why. The plot is an excuse for motion: cinema is kinesis, and I'm happy enough to watch John Wayne riding or Steve McQueen driving or Matt Damon running. Hitchcock once likened his films to rollercoasters, and interestingly GTA IV skirts the derelict funfair at Coney Island in Brooklyn. Hitchcock knew that he was programming sensations, infecting audiences with motion sickness as his characters struggle to control runaway cars; smirking sadist that he was, he would have liked the way video games place us in the driver's seat and allow us to crash and burn. GTA IV is about the revved-up tempo and suicidal trajectory of our mechanised lives. But it has a more reflective dimension: games like this dramatise the interplay of fate and chance, or destiny and contingency. Niko's cousin asks what he's doing in America. 'What's anyone doing?' he shrugs. 'I'm just trying to make the right decisions.' That's also the gamester's occupation. Do I go left or right? Forwards or in reverse? Do I return the call in which the slinky Michelle begs for another date? Such decisions are quickly, unthinkingly made, but their consequences unfurl peripherally in a nuclear chain reaction. 'This is fucking chaos,' someone says during a highway snarlup. In fact, it is chaos theory: I began as a fluttering butterfly an hour ago, and the result of my impromptu thumb-twiddling was this thunderstorm of concertinaed metal and squirting gore. Although GTA IV takes place in a mythically sombre America, its producers are based in Edinburgh, and I suspect they have designed a satire on the selfdestructive superpower across the ocean. Liberty City (which is what they call their version of New York) enshrines the glutted liberality of capitalism, but the freedom it offers - to turn this way or that, to drink Patriot beer or the imported 10
  11. 11. AS MEDIA STUDIES MS1 REPRESENTATIONS AND RECEPTIONS brew called Pisswasser, to go bowling or lap-dancing - deludes us with variants 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 a cabaret called Perestroika. 'Now enjoy what you asked for.' In the game's guidebook, an ad for a grease-clogged burger rants against the liberal obsession 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 a virtual realm and goad us to sabotage it. 'Is your best friend a terrorist?' a shock 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. With the console in my hands, I was indeed a terrorist. A minute later, the screen faded to black. Had the X-Box 360 malfunctioned? No, it was my fault: I was dead, though I had the satisfaction of taking several fire hydrants, lamp posts and letter boxes with me. Not quite the World Trade Centre, I know, but I am a beginner. Is this a game, or a holy war conducted by other means? Bidisha, author and critic It's a long, hard, bitter task filling the shoes of Niko, the avatar-protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV. Cursed with a chunky, clenched-bottomed running style and stilted right hook, labouring under the weight of a massive racist stereotype, garbling unfunny puns in a comedy Balkan accent, Niko acts as a gofer for his greasy cousin Roman's syndicate of lowlifes, hustlers, skanks and shysters and their ethnically cliched associates. There's the jive-talking Rasta dealer, the timid and inarticulate Oriental shopkeeper and the Serb thugs. Liberty City, the sarcastically named venue for this obvious trawl, is an expansive, pixel-speckled wasteland of tenement buildings, dead ends, wafting litter, chicken wire and trees that look like yellow and green cotton buds. It's not arcane enough to create any frisson of otherness (as the epic, mythic games Halo and Assassin's Creed do) and not realistic enough for you to imagine that you're 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. Niko's small, dead eyes, thick skull and broken nose bear poignant witness to his brutalised biography: Tiny Tim goes techno. Visually this is a basic arena in which bored, boring men engage in lumpy mutual rucks scripted with bad guy-on-guy thug porn in mind. Peripherally, though, it's witty. There's the Memory Lane bowling alley, the hijacked car that has asinine sat nav droning in the background, the hyper radio advert that crows, 'For too long TV game shows have been the province of women clucking over things they know nothing about,' and promotes 'The Men's Room, bringing masculinity back to television'. Another radio phone-in listener bawls, 'I blame the blacks and the Jews!' while a woman touts 'a Ukrainian delicacy: chocolate-covered pig fat'. In Roman's office the boss is ribbed for his aftershave: 'What's it called? Sex Pest?' Whoever scripted these incidentals should call HBO and pitch a show, leaving the rest of the team to design more hit-and-runs. When I was done I went home and happily played my Dungeons & Dragons board game by myself. Laura Cumming, Observer art critic 11
  12. 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