This is an exemplar essay I put together at the start of 2017. I hope AQA legacy students find it helpful for their section B preparations.
New and digital media have contributed to the process of globalisation: the idea that the world is becoming increasingly interconnected through one global culture.
Using your own case study, evaluate the impact that new and digital media have had on globalisation.
- Wider contexts: Debates/issues and concepts (representation, audience, ideology)/theory
The question asks two things. Firstly how connected NDM is to the process of globalisation and secondly how much that globalisation has been shaped by NDM. In the 1960s the Mcluhanist image of the global village was reflected in the Coca-Cola “I’d like to teach the world to sing” advert. The globalised world could be united, although maintaining cultural differences, by centralised conglomerations. Television, like the soft drink, was, as Gauntlett points out, was broadcast from on high to a passive audience. The changes wrought by new technology have shaped that model of globalisation as much as they have shaped the interconnectedness of the world. My case study of gaming did not even exist in the 60s and is a pure product of NDM and its relationship to globalisation.
To develop Gauntlett’s argument new media has widened the pool of producers and led to increased interactivity, rather than passivity, between producers and audiences. In the 2014 documentary “Bedrooms to Billions” by Nichola and Anthony Caulfield the film makers outline how the British gaming industry began as a homebrew, DIY, culture which had to develop new means to get product to audiences (through fairs, magazine and postal ordering and shop and distribution deals). This model was eventually exported to the USA and was adopted by bigger media players such as Electronic Arts. In this way NDM changed the shape of globalisation. This process has continued as online platforms such as Steam allow users to download games to PC from anywhere in the world. In some ways this is like iTunes however users gain access to reviews (both professional and amateur) and technical support. In this way gaming (the most quintessentially NDM product area) has changed the form and nature of media products.
One of the key elements of globalisation is uniformity. People need to share common systems to be part of a global network. Like Steam, Twitch is an online service but it is one that allows users to watch other players livestreaming, or showing recordings of, their gameplay. It has become the home of Esports and was acquired by Amazon for close to one billion dollars. It is a big, and rapidly growing, media entity and has a user-base which is worldwide. Twitch viewers used the service as traditional media organisations are not interested in this area; part of a generational divide in the way users interact with NDM. This demonstrates aspects of Tim Berners Lee’s original concept for the internet, where common protocols and shared ideas allowed global reach. In this way media products have hastened globalisation and NDM, in the form of gaming, is looking to shape globalisation in the same way as the 45rpm single shaped popular culture in the mid-20th century.
One of the ways that NDM is different from earlier forms of media is that it is participatory. Online gameplay has a history which reaches back to the MUDs (Multi-user dungeons) which developed in the 1970s. World of Warcraft is the largest MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game) and has 5.5 million subscribers. It is also the highest grossing game ever (10 billion dollars). In the game players interact with other players, and characters, in a fantasy environment. This is different from the passive consumption of fantasy works like The Lord of the Rings (in book or film form). In this way gaming demonstrates Henry Jenkins’ definition of New Media as a participatory rather than passive culture. As players may be anywhere in the world, with as many players in China as the USA, this shows how gaming has accelerated globalisation in a way that other media has failed to do.
A further Jenkins concept is convergence. He sees this as the flow of content across multiple media platforms driven by audience. Casual games, such as the stupidly funny flash game QWOP, where players control the calves and thighs of an Olympic athlete – usually only managing a step before face planting in a tangle of limbs, is a media product driven by Jenkin’s concept of a restless audience searching for content. Over 30 million people have played the game, presumably while avoiding boring office work, and it is a product whose purpose is created by a globalised office working environment and standardised media platforms.
The use of online gaming services allows producers to reach the widest possible, global, audience. In the 2012 documentary “Indiegame the movie” the directors Swirsky and Pajot show how Edmund Mcmillen and Tommy Refenes managed to sell a million copies of their game Super Meat Boy. Team Meat are a tiny production company who worked from Mcmillan’s house on a virtually no budget. Their success demonstrates Chris Anderson’s concept of The Long Tail where consumers can gain access to niche products which would be uneconomical for traditional sellers such as shops. The audience is able to connect from any location and markets are truly global. One of the most innovative products of 2016 is Superhot, a first person shooter where time moves only when your character moves, and was created in Poland. There is no barrier to the game’s consumption based on territory which is globalised in a form that cinema, T.V. and music struggles to emulate.
The ability of small scale producers to advance the potential of the form is one of the key advantages of NDM and is bolstered by its globalised reach. The multiple award winning 2014 game “Papers Please” by 3909 LLC, a dystopian passport control simulation featuring retro 8-bit graphics and regimented psychopathic gameplay, was widely praised by critics as “art” (Ars Technica). This is an example of Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 where user generated content (there was only one programmer), the wisdom of crowds (the game succeeded due to enthusiastic forum discussion about gameplay) and the network effect (audiences learned of the game via NDM interactivity) came together to allow the media product to flourish. These three concepts shape the nature of post-NDM globalisation.
One of the features of globalisation is conglomeration and control. Large media organisations swallow up smaller ones. Disruptive technologies however offer chances to break out of controlled structures. Sony’s masterstroke with its PlayStation console was to allow third party product development. This allowed small scale innovation, however Sony kept control over final product and was able to buy up successful independent developers as part of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios (a good example would be the 2010 acquisition of Media Molecule, the developer of “LittleBigPlanet”). This illustrates Aleks Krotoski’s theory that there is still a conflict in NDM between controlling, capitalist, surveillance and conglomeration forces and disruptive, libertarian, hacktivist and open source forces. NDM is clearly subject to globalisation’s processes however it offers chances for small producers to produce independent work and break out from the control of old media.
If this is all part of globalisation the concluding evaluation has to be about the quality of the globalised conversation that we are having. Sherry Turkle argues that we are “connected but alone” and much of mainstream gaming appears to be low on meaningful connection between individuals; even toxicly antagonistic in the case of GamerGate. I would argue however that genuinely artistic products create meaningful (even life-changing) connections (not least between producer and audience). There are a number of recent products which I could reference which would fulfil this role (“Everyone’s gone to the rapture” and “Firewatch” are easy examples) however “This war of mine: the little ones”, released this month, is a war survival game which focuses on the civilian experience. Developed in Eastern Europe it draws on the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990. This is a darkly realistic game, the designers used real war diaries as source material, and is designed to help the player empathise with those who have suffered. During the game’s creation the war in the Ukraine erupted and one of the designers, Sulecki, refers to the game as having “something important to say,” a purpose. Through products such as this games, like other NDM products, are bringing about Mcluhan’s “global village” in a way that a soft-drink and a hippy-themed television advert never could.
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