Friday, February 20, 2009

Major Online Presence

Major Online Presence assignment. The goal was to examine our field of aspiration's presence on the internets. This paper received an A. A powerpoint presentation goes along with this, but I have no idea how to include that here so fuck off or something.

The breadth and scope of forms of writing found on the Internet are nearly as broad as the Internet itself; poetry, journalism, teenage-angst blogging, and forms of criticism are all prevalent, and are but a few of the possible forms that a writer might present himself on the Internet. Attempting to list, categorize, and actually read all of these poses not merely a daunting task, but an impossible one – even a quick Google search for “writing” returns more than 380 million results.

One of the more prevelant forms of writing on the Internet today is known as blogging. An inherently more social form of writing than has been traditional, both in academia and print/circular, blogging typically invites readers to both comment and to actively engage in the conversation taking place. As my chosen forms of writing is both creative and critical, a small selection of blogs of each type has been selected for examination.

The closest affiliation that I maintain with the creative section of the blogosphere is dedicated to the poetry of a small group of fellow students over Facebook called “Why Don't You Write a Poem About it, Pussy?” Being a closed group, the world at large cannot read the works found within – which is exactly the way that the founder intended it to be. By being isolated from the public, I believe that “Why Don't” provides a unique platform for writers to experiment with forms and ideas that they may otherwise be hesitant to share, and the expression of content that might be viewed with hostility by the outside world. As many of the groups members share their work with the public at a variety of open-mic settings, “Why Don't” also provides a set of experienced speakers and orators that can give advice to some of the younger aspiring poets. This collaboration sometimes extends to group presentations, in which several poets come together to create and ultimately deliver pieces to an audience.

The Readers and Writers Blog serves a similar purpose; to permit aspiring writers, typically unpublished, to come together to hone their craft. Readers are welcome and encouraged to not merely comment on posted items, but to criticize them in an effort to encourage them to produce better pieces. Although the concept of R&W Blog is essentially the same as that of the“Why Don't You” Facebook group, the openness to public discourse shifts the nature of the website and how writing manifests itself. The quantity of works posted to the R&W Blog are immense, and demonstrate the greatest strength of an open writing forum: a gigantic library of posted works, which writers can use both as inspiration and as a guide for their own writing. Although the website has only been around since April 2007, their archives contain several thousand entries, and the variety of writing styles found vastly eclipses that of “Why Don't You.” Although any piece can be commented upon and criticized, the level of response to a specific piece is seemingly random; some poems will receive hundreds of responses, while others receive none. Unfortunately, the community of R&W Blog tends to gravitate towards works that are short, easily-understood, and dealing mostly with upbeat themes like love and sunshine. Abstract, long-form and difficult forms rarely receive the level of attention that easy ones do.

An aspect that I often consider when posting various works to either of these groups is the audience; I must admit that what I post anonymously to the R&W Blog tends to be of a different nature than what I would post to “Why Don't You.” The anonymity of the former allows me to write on concepts that I find difficult to share with those that are close to me, particularly if a work happens to be about one of them, whereas I – and the other posters to the R&W Blog – are free to speak their minds in relative privacy. The other edge of the anonymous sword, however, is that anything posted to “Why Don't You” will never be read by a publisher or a talent scout. While unlikely, the possibility exists that a publisher might read something of particular merit on the R&W Blog and seek to hire the original author. Thus, one of the major functions of publically-open publishing such as through the R&W Blog is that it might actually help your career. It's just a shame that it is less likely to improve my craft, as my work tends to be of a more complex and abstract nature.

While there exists a substantial community for creative writing on the Internet, the financial demand for individuals vested in the field appears to be steadily shrinking. Although writing positions of all kinds have been terminated in recent months, the job availability and security of working for a regular publication is generally better than what could be expected with poetry. It would seem initially that tailoring my education and research into fields that are more likely to reap financial success is, in some small measure, the sale of a slight part of my soul.

Man, however, is not limited to singular passions, and as such the decision to focus on an alternate field – criticism – is one that will not compromise my soul. As my personal preference is gaming journalism, I tend to frequent a small set of blogs dedicated to the craft and have become familiar with both their Internet presence and the communities that have developed around them.

Among the most personally influential is that of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a UK-based PC-gaming blog run by four freelance gaming journalists. Although they don't have a specific focus aside from games based on the PC platform, they write with an intelligence and wit seldom seen in the gaming blogosphere. Often, the entries contain good measures of dry, English humo[u]r while providing thoughtful commentary on the issues they find presented. While the pithy nature of the writing is entertaining and engaging enough to ensure two visits per day, it is the capacity of the four freelancers to examine the larger issues raised by games – whether it comes in the form of strange or clever design decisions, the use of action and environment over dialogue as a method for delivering narration, or the implications of the plethora of recent software piracy studies – that allows for its rapidly-growing audience to proliferate.

Their community consist of two primary sources. The first, which functions similarly to the majority of blogs, is the comment section. A user, whether anonymous or registered, may post a comment after each post. Often this creates a somewhat stilted form of conversation, particularly with controversial topics such as software piracy. While the freelancers of RPS provide ample reason to visit, the level of depth found within their comments community is surprising; the most well-informed, researched and reasoned debates that I've been able to observe on software piracy have occurred there, and each school of thought boasted several software developers providing opinion and insight.

A more recent addition to Rock, Paper, Shotgun is the forum. Although the forum architecture itself is typical, the community is entirely positive. Software developers don't seem to involve themselves in the forum as much as they do the comments section, but the conversations that take place remain productive and thoughtful. Many readers of Rock, Paper, Shotgun appear to be older, and nostalgic thought and archaic reference are common when their influences are felt in modern games.

Although RPS has generated several provocative discussions about piracy, one website – Gamasutra – has generated enormous volumes of conversation on many aspects of gaming. Although most of their content is straight gaming-journalism, often reading like a newspaper, the more interesting features posted focus on the intellectual aspect of gaming. Questions such as, “Are videogames art?”, “Are videogame regulations working?”, and “Do game developers understand visual-floating dot points?” are commonplace, and present to the world-at-large a more intelligent and developed forum for thought and writing about video games than would otherwise be thought by people that spend their lives playing videogames.

In itself, hosting a discussion or posting a feature about a particular issue is nothing special; the primary difference here between Gamasutra and Rock, Paper, Shotgun is that those articles posted on Gamasutra are often linked to throughout the gaming blogosphere – while Rock, Paper, Shotgun is not.

Much of the world still views gaming in general as something for children and for idle minds, and not a real form of either art of media. Since the release of the first Mortal Kombat, games have often been scapegoated for the rise in school violence and moral depravity in general. Blogs such as Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Gamasutra stand in stark opposition to this, providing a place for intelligently and well-made games to be celebrated, and those that fail to meet the rigors of quality development are panned. Either of these groups are organizations that I personally would enjoy writing for, as I personally – along with many of their regular readers – find that their objectives and methods of delivery are directly in line with my own.

Unfortunately, not every video game blog is pushing the industry as intellectually forward as Gamasutra or RPS. One blog in particular, Kotaku, is notoriously inept and demonstrates everything that is wrong with both video games and their publish manifestations. Although reliable enough for rapidly-deployed news about gaming across all platforms, the various posters of Kotaku have tendencies for not merely self-indulgence, but of outright using their positions as publically-read writers to sway the minds and opinions of readers. Where the function of RPS and Gamasutra is to, generally, provide nearly-objective criticism, commentary and interviews, Kotaku often makes terribly clear its biases and preferences to the reader, forcing them to struggle to adopt their own.

The community that regularly reads Kotaku is almost expected based on their blog entries; where the forum users and entry commentors of RPS tend to be well-written and thoughtful, Kotaku gravitates towards the sentence-long, gut-reaction soundbyte form of public discourse. An argument could be made that Kotaku is even in danger of pushing the industry backwards due to how it handles content; the owner and a regular poster of Kotaku, Brian Crecente, has developed a reputation for ranting and writing irrelevant entries. The many enemies of video games latch onto figures such as Crecente, and assume that, due to his pointed rhetoric, that all gamers are of a similar mindset.

Thankfully, there are writers associated with gaming that aren't incendiary and biased, just as not all gaming websites are dedicated to the intellectual aspects of gaming. The quantity of different writing styles, forms and types on the Internet are as diverse as the Internet itself is – even though a great deal of content is now being delivered via video or music, someone has to write the content surrounding it. As my intended major and profession is a fairly broad goal, it's difficult to select a particular area to focus on as I plan on doing a great many things with my degree.

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