What’s in an Ending?: Mass Effect 3 and Interactivity

When it comes to narrative entertainment, endings have always been difficult things to get right. Though their primary function is to act as cessations or stopping points for the stories that preceded them, audience members usually expect them to justify, wrap up, or make sense of the narrative as a whole as well. An inordinate amount of hermeneutic weight thus gets placed upon the final segments of stories. We look to them to learn “what it all meant” and derive some sense of interpretive closure. When an ending fails in this regard—sometimes by refusing to offer such closure, other times by appearing out of sync with the rest of the narrative—the entire story can sometimes seem ruined.

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Economics, Finance, Capital—and Literature?

Thanks largely to the recent recession, economics has become—for perhaps the first time since the 1980s—a central part of public discourse in America. Economists such as Paul Krugman have become household names, difficult economics texts such as The Black Swan have topped the New York Times Bestsellers list, and hard-to-grasp financial issues such as debt ratings and currency valuations have made it into presidential stump speeches. Within such a context, the de facto position of the humanities with respect to economic logic—that it is either exterior or antithetical to humanistic thought—has been increasingly hard for literature and other humanities disciplines to maintain. The last few years have thus seen an increased interest by both humanities scholars and scholarly organizations in the possibility of a rapprochemont with the discipline of economics.

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Defining Added Value

For an article titled “Added Value: Marketing Basics?,” originally published in a 1996 issue of the Journal of Marketing Management, marketing scholar Lisa Wood surveyed eighty marketing textbooks for use of the term added value in order to clarify its meaning for the discipline. Although discovering that all eighty books made use of the term (or principles typically identified with it), Wood concluded that there was significant variation in how they used it, a problem stemming in part from the fact that very few (only four books) explicitly defined it. Shortly after Wood’s article was published, however, added value suffered a major dilution in meaning as media marketers began using the term to refer to DVD bonus content in an effort to encourage consumers to upgrade to the new entertainment technology (see, for example, this 1999 piece from DigitalContentProducer.com). Although such usage transformed what had been a conceptual term into a product label, it gradually caught on with media scholars and commentators so that, over the past few years, the use of added value as a synonym or qualifier for bonus content has become part of the critical parlance of media industries scholarship and media marketing discourse.

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Digital Virtual Consumption?

Barely a decade old, the twenty-first century has already seen a host of radical changes to the way cultural goods and media are produced, distributed, and consumed. Social media, the proliferation of mobile and wireless technology, media convergence, sharing services such as YouTube, touch- and motion-sensitive interfaces, apps and app markets, digital media—each has altered our expectations of what a cultural good is and how it should be used while together re-fashioning the internet as the primary forum for cultural consumption and exchange. Over the last decade, cultural goods have thus increasingly found themselves assuming a digital dimension as they migrate from factory production lines and retail shelving space to corporate servers and digital storefronts. Such migration is not simple, of course, and many questions remain as to how consumers use such goods, how they understand them in relation to their physical counterparts (are they a supplement or a replacement?), and how much they are willing to pay for them.

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Narrative Worlds: A Provisional Definition

In everyday parlance, the word world usually means one of two things. Either it describes a planet—and all of its countries, inhabitants, and natural features—or it describes a confined domain of human experience; that is, a milieu (as in “the world of professional boxing”). We use world in the first sense when engaging in scientific, environmental, or political discourse and in the second when speaking in a sociological or anthropological mode. If you were to browse through recent scholarship in video game studies, transmedia storytelling, and digital-era fiction, however, you’d discover a third usage, employed in discussions of twenty-first-century (and late-twentieth-century) fiction and narrative. Few new media scholars offer explicit definitions of what world means in this context, but in their application of it to fictional texts and intellectual properties they clearly intend for it to signal a new model for understanding narrative. By approaching fictional texts as worlds, it would seem, emphasis shifts from the study of stories themselves to that of the imaginary settings or spheres in which stories happen. It thus becomes possible to think of storytelling as what Henry Jenkins calls “world-building” or, in Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s rendition, the authoring of “vast narratives.”

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