For and Against: the video games violence debate

This topic is one that has been a great obsession of mine so I put all that research into this prezi (and missed some out because literally if I didn’t the prezi would be frankly neverending):

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Spectatorship theories- aka How Freud’s seeming silly theories sparked years of critical throwdowns

This theory was born from the curiosity with the human unconsciousness and film theory. Largely due to Freud’s unlikely influence on theorists there trying to connect our subconscious desires (often sexual and eerie judging by Freudian standards) with cinema’s semiotics to answer the questions on media’s effect and why we consume cinema. The theory itself went through three stages:

1970s

At first the theory was mainly focused on the Oedipus complex and thus male audience focused. Baudry, Bellour and Metz were the flag wavers of these particular theory: that a boy’s subconscious sexual attraction to his mother and identifying her as ‘she who lacks a penis’ is related to why males go to cinema to watch a film. This Oedipal outlook, of course sounds ridiculous in context, yet there was something else that it led to: voyeurism and viewers’ feeling of supremacy.

Baudry brought up the idea that cinema was an apparatus which is crafted (via filming, scripting, editing etc) in such a way that it obscures the work put into the film (back then they didn’t really have behind the scenes featurettes either) and thus produce a fantasy that tricks viewers. By tricking them into thinking that they know what’s going on and that they construct the ultimate meaning of a film (‘spectator as the transcendental subject’ as Baudry called it, a shorten way of saying it would be audience supremacy), when in fact the viewer is constructed and manipulated by the media. If we watch a pretentious science fiction where they babble nonsense words like ‘orbitorial liquidation is at 90%’, it makes us think that something high tech or complex is going on when in fact it is not.

Bellour added to the pool of spectatorship and by discussing the male viewer as narcissists who identifies themselves with the cinema before desiring it (i.e. wanting to become a character). He thought of cinema as acting as imaginary (viewer’s see a reflection of themselves in the medium) and symbolic (the film’s own language and semiotics as intended by the creators). This concept is mainly concerned with the fact that male viewers loved identifying themselves in a film before having so called ‘desires’.

This theory’s reach goes beyond film as it seems…

Metz would later help conjure up with a theory about the previously mentioned ‘desires’. He argued that cinema used semiotics (codes and signs) to give viewers a sense of lack, By giving what viewer’s think they may lack (heroism, muscles, parkour skills if we are going by action movie standards) and making them identify with the character much like looking into a mirror. Different from Bellour though, Metz believed that the spectator doesn’t really need to see himself in the film before understanding the film’s world. The spectator is ‘all-perceiving’. Whilst there is a heavy emphasis on the male viewer standing in the character’s shoes in order to make sense of a film, Metz also stated that the viewer was able to reject the notion that he is the character and still see films as a work of symbolical fiction- so they can realise that they aren’t James Bond or Van Diesel in reality.

The Oedipal thinking comes in when Metz linked the viewer’s desire for voyeurism with his supposed desire to sleep with his mum- which he suppresses in fear of castration. It was this belief and the popularity of Freud’s theory that contributed to the male-dominance and the male gaze (a term when simplified means, erotic shots of the female body). Other tropes and trends of mainstream hollywood narrative are also said to be inspired by this: strong men who must overcome dilemmas in order to please their father figures/authorities (you know, castration fear and all) and must form a heterosexual relationship at the end (so that the boy could stop worrying about receiving social disgust for sexually desiring his mother).

I could have used the gazillion examples to represent the Oedipal tropes (there are a lot of blockbusters that fits the bill) but instead I thought it would be more interesting to show two that didn’t care for the word subtle. Psycho and Peeping Tom both have protagonists that are obsessed with sleeping with a mother and pleasing a father respectively. Both had mixed reception due to their obviously upfront and gruesome portrayal of said hollywood trends. Now they are considered stone cold classics..

Post 1970s

Unhappy with the male only focus, Oedipus obsessed, one way nature of the spectator theory, Laura Mulvey pioneered the second stage of this theory. By bring to light that a lot of the conventions in cinema, its portrayal of women and the imbalance between male and female portrayal (most of the times the former is active and latter is passive). She particularly focused on the scopophilia occurrence in cinema; that viewers were in fact gaining pleasure from objectification of the opposite sex (which again reflects Freud’s concepts).

1980s

With the need to broaden the theory beyond its Freudian psychoanalysis clutches theorists began looking for other routes, now begins the third stage. Silverman and Studlar proposed cinema as a masochistic pleasure (we’ll now evolved from castration fears to self harm via consuming movies), whereby the spectators enjoy being submissive or passive. Doane furthered the argument by stating that female viewers would alternate between two positions: the masochistic position where she identifies with a passive female character or an active male character. Doane also mentions that it was easier for females to have transvestite desires and switch between identifying with both female and males than males (who sees transvestism as mere comic relief). Mulvey warned this black and white definition and indeed, later on this idea lead to more theoretical dominos to fall.

Like the results to a manga survey I mentioned in a previous post, this film survey shows the gender fluid tastes of a range of female viewers. The male list lacks the films associated with traditional femininity whilst the female’s has a combo of films typically towards men (i.e. Braveheart) as well as the ones targeted to females (i.e. Gone with the wind). It’s possibly these kind of similar trends that persuaded Doane. That or reading too much into Freud.

Modleski put forward how female viewer have an innate bisexuality when it comes to viewing cinema. The reason why there’s such fluidity between female’s desires is because at child stage a girl is attracted to the mother, in later years that desire moves to the father (as that is considered the ‘normal femininity’) but the first love desire never fades- the Freudian influencetranscends time as always. On the other hand male spectators generally hide or push their femininity onto women, however Modleski thought it was possible for his to be bisexually positioned if a male character changes between passive and active roles.

Cowie broadened the argument surrounding spectator’s role in identifying with characters in films. Using the basis of Laplanche’s and Pontalis’s three characteristics of fantasy (the primal scene, the seduction fantasy and the fantasies of castration) she stated that it was possible for viewer to be in all three positions. As the view can identify or place themselves into multiple character perspectives in cinema.

Many has criticised this theory for its narrow focus. For instance gay and lesbian theorists such as the likes of Teresa de Lauretis, Andrea Weiss, and Patricia White have argued that lesbian and gay audiences challenges the very foundations of the spectator theory- that’s largely based on heterosexual desires. Bell Hooks and Jacqueline Bobo also brought up complications of race (especially those of a black female) in relation to the spectator theory and the lack of representations of black females in cinema which causes these reading to occur. Source.

A boy views his parent’s secret dvd and a hilarious, awkward but reasonable (and certainly challenges the theory) explanation of why lesbians may watch ‘gay man porn’ ensures. From the movie ‘The Kids Are All Right’ directed and written by Lisa Cholodenko who has been bring lgbt representation to mainstream cinema in recent times. Credits to Film4 for broadcasting this gem, perfect timing for this post.

The theory has slowly shifted away from being singular (that subject A must be identifying with character A because of reason A) and instead into something more diverse. It’s also interesting to note that factors beyond gender (race, sexuality, creed, cultural backgrounds etc) are being considered to have an effect also on why and how we read into films.

Queer Theory

Whilst often mistaken to be theories just regarding lesbian and gay theories, it is in fact resolved around the idea that we as audiences do not fit in one group or any form of singular identification (i.e. gender). The queer theory challenges the notion that our identities are set, rather it argues that identity is made up of many characteristics and can be unpredictable. We should not be viewed as a collective based on one characteristic as a result.

Content analysis- aka Evaluation

Where we look back on our concept:

Topics of discussion:

Representation

Our games were designed with deaf teens and blind teens in mind. For the text adventure we made sure that the game would be easily accessible by adding audio control and fully voiced text and braille keyboard compatibility. For the visual novel, whilst writing the script I made sure to be descriptive about sound to enrich the experience. The game demo that David and Chris made were also visually intriguing.

Representation was a big factor in our idea though since there are rarely any deaf, blind or mute teenagers that take up a significant role in any form of media let alone video games. So it was both crucial that we chose to make our main characters blind, deaf and mute but not incapable of enjoying and studying music like everyone else. The whole point is to not just to make the characters relatable to the target audience but to be a fair representation on them.

As Chris mentioned on his blog, more representation of disabled people in media is a good step into building awareness and increasing understanding.

Design

For the cover design I went for a CD cover format (to make further reference about the game’s scene) whilst making the logo minimalistic (though enough detail to show the instruments that our three main protagonists plays) and colour scheme a pastel grey to reflect the classiness and tranquility of Jazz. I chose a bold but distinct font for the captions for the same effect.

David and Chris went for used san-serifs for maximum eligibility in the visual novel demo (as reading is the most crucial factor). Whilst different coloured fonts distinguish the characters ‘ names from each other. The artstyle of the character were bright and colourful to represent their exuberant personalities (and also because I like colour).

With the text adventure we had gone for a classic black and white aesthetic to fit into the themes of other text adventures. Also visuals are not necessary since the game’s emphasis is on audio so that it’s accessible for blind players.

What did you personally learn about audiences by making this product?

From my research I actually discovered that there was a lot of blind and deaf teenagers that enjoyed gaming as their daily hobby no matter the difficulties (I was especially surprised to see the popularity of fighting games amongst blind gamers). There are hardly any games targeted at this audience despite the player and charities’ preaching for more games designed for disabled gamers. As an aspiring games creator, looking at the design guidelines set written by AbleGamer, a fire of inspiration lit in me. It’s these kind of challenges that makes games design so intriguing and this project has taught me that this is a niche market worth targeting.

Final game demos + concepts

SHS-Logo

We set out to design a concept around a visual novel game catering the deaf teen market. Using a free engine called Renpy David and Chris created two prototypes and demo videos (whilst I provided the script, which can be found in full here):

Demo video by Chris.

 Demo video by David

The game plot:

Radhey (Raddy) Sharma is a new student arriving at Indigo high, this is one the few arts schools that accepted students with disabilities and as a talented blind pianist he really couldn’t pass up an opportunity to study there. During his year there he meets a mute drum Mikko and a jazz enthusiast named Jordan (who turned deaf when he was young) and they were put into a group and asked to perform as a band by their tutor. The game chronicles their collaborative effort to create music and work together despite communication hurdles.

Text adventure game for blind teens (the other version of the game in audio text adventure format)

Now why on earth would a text based adventure game be good for people for are blind? Well if the text adventure game was audio focused then it would be perfect for people with sight disabilities. There are audiobooks after all so why not audio games. Here’s an outline of our audio game (code named, See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil).

A text adventure game is all about examining objects and surrounding as well as interacting with scenes. However unlike point and click games with graphical interfaces, text adventures rely on describing what you see with words (and players’ imaginations) not pictures. Thus it’s suitable for a blind audience.

The game will be playable via speech, a voice recognition system will allow players to dictate their character’s actions:

The controls:

Braille keyboard.

Players will be able to use a keyboard designed for the blind or just a mouse. Players can right click to bring up the mic and left click to carry pause or resume text, rolling the mouse can rewind and fast forward text.

If you are interested more details about the characters are here. Hopefully one day this game becomes more than just a concept.

Addressing Audience Needs- The Manga Demographic Divide

In Japan Manga is as crucial part of the culture’s mass media consumption as books are to the British. Cheap prints of manga magazines litter Japanese trains as much as newspapers do and people of all ages are attracted to a type of manga. There are two main genres that stand taller than the rest though, and it highlights an industry divide between what girls and boys read or at least what the industry think they read. That’s the phenomenon of shonen and shoujo manga.

Shonen means literally young boys and shoujo means young girls (or more accurately adolescence males and females respectively) like all genres they possess tropes and traits that appeals to its demographic. Warning: stereotyping ahead.

Looking at manga magazine covers

Whilst art-styles vary from manga artists (mangakas as theyy are known, usually they not only devise the artwork but the story as well), looking at shonen magazine covers there are clear similarities. Common suspects include male protagonists posing in a powerful and hot-blooded manner (displaying their masculinity with pride) and female characters with overly exaggerated body parts, posing provocatively. The former is to give male viewers a sense of empowerment whilst the latter simply caters to sexual attractions and desires.

On the on side of the spectrum we have Shoujo, which is heavily characterised by flowery imagery, elegant male characters (if another male happens to be present, then homoerotic undertones is hinted, and not the kind aimed at the lgbt community either) and plain looking females to hint at romance to come. Again the former provides a much more gentle visual appear for a demographic believed to be less bombastic and the latter is to tap into female romantic fantasies.

It would be easy to leave it at that but like all stereotyping and generalisation it paints a bad picture of the media/medium. If these primitive, biological theory based methods were the only ways shonen and shoujo manga targeted its audience, then the industry would be the most narrow-minded in all creative mediums. Judging by how manga artists act are auteurs to their work as much as novel authors are and the diverse audiences; the stereotypical points I brought up before can not be the only reasons why manga aimed at adolescents captured the attention of the Japanese and beyond.

This list is a part of a survey conducted in 2012 . A large majority of participants are over 20 (only 6.8% were 15-19 of age). Yet when asked about their favourite mangas  nearly everything on the list is either shonen or shoujo (seinen and josei manga are less frequent despite being catered for adult men and women respectively).

This list is a part of a survey conducted in 2012 . A large majority of participants are over 20 (only 6.8% were 15-19 of age). Yet when asked about their favourite manga nearly everyone mention either a shonen or shoujo manga (seinen and josei manga are less frequent despite being catered for adult men and women respectively).

To better analysis how shonen and shoujo manga (which obviously have different target audiences by the very nature of their names) appeal to audiences I will take a look at two of the most popular manga (globally so that we are not limited to Japanese audiences) in each category. One Piece and Fruits Basket.

One Piece (original artwork).

Fruits Basket (original artwork).

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first (because I like to save twists for last), what makes these two mangas click for the presumed target audiences (teenage girls and boys)?

A page from one of the Fruits Basket volumes (there are 23 of them so I don’t know).

When it comes to artstyle even though both are simple and detailed there’s a clear distinction that Fruits Basket has a much gentler and less exaggerative body proportions than One Piece. Or more notably we can see that the male characters have less muscle definition in the former than the latter (and the female characters in One Piece have much more defined ahem, body parts). Whilst cynical, it’s the same method of appeal that I mentioned earlier. In truth people will base their first impressions on a manga’s art so something as trivial as how males and females are drawn can appeal to different audiences due to what they find attractive (if we are presuming that teen females like skinny dudes and guys like busty ladies). It isn’t as explicit as some of the adult magazines naturally (these mangas are aimed at those maturing but they are not mature), just a toned version of our perception that hot guys and girls sell.

Moving away from human desires there’s also a clear distinction between the use of graphics, fonts and page decals. Whilst a typical page from Fruits Basket will try to convey warmth and calamity through soft shading, flower patterns and overflowing composition (a lack of regard for rigid comic panels in other words); One Piece’s pages usually screams action and excitement just by the usage of speed lines, stark shades and emotive (spiky) speech bubbles.

A page from One Piece out of the 60+ volumes (it’s a very enduring series).

Narrative wise One Piece focuses heavily on action scenes and adventure where characters get stronger as the story progresses (much like sport tales if you like) these tropes have been proven popular and success in the shonen genre amongst the intended audience (at least, according marketers). Fruits Basket also has elements of romcoms (hilarious scenes and cutesy heteroromantic scenes, dangerously high blushing rates) that capture the spirit of what defines the genre and associated with shoujos plus their readers.

Whilst tropes are often considered clichéd there’s a ton of good reasons why people like them: audiences feel satisfaction when they see heroes prevail after numerous struggles and the smiles provided when people’s love prevails has a similar contentment. It’s because these themes are so grounded and popular that they inspired mangakas to repeat them in the first place. Whilst snuffed by some, proven conventions are crucial for targeting specific demographics and when well done can please even the cynics (in this sense both series tick the boxes as they are considered the cherries of shonen and shoujo manga even by jaded critics).

Both manga also strays from the same tropes that makes shonen and shoujo successful which helps increase further interest and fulfill audiences’ desire for new ventures. One Piece is imaginative, the scenarios that characters encounter are bizarre, the art style is unique and there is a real sense of exploration as plot moves to exotic locations. Themes you don’t usually see in mindless boys’ tales also pops up: segregation, redemption and questions of what is justice (the main antagonists are the marines government so politics are thrown into the mix at times). Fruits Basket would be a generic romcom if not for its focus beyond romances: loneliness, family, prejudices and insecurities are all perfectly tackled in the series whilst never losing its non-misunderstanding based comedy. These traits provide a balance between formulaic and unique points to attract both mainstream and niche markets.

This panel has even more significance when one understands the racial tension between humans and fishmen. One of many moments that One Piece shows itself as more than a mindless action manga.

Too many scenes to choose from. Natsuki literally loaded this manga with inspiring quotes about human understanding as much as romantic scenes and flowers.

The reality however is that despite being catered to two different demographics the series manages to attract people from both genders. What makes these blatantly different types of manga have broad appeal- if we put asides the fact that the human psyche is complex so of course people with like different things for one second? To try to answer this question, I scoured the internet to see netizen’s opinions. Since people usually have a smart or persuasive excuse other than I’m a guy or I’m a girl.

Comments on Fruits Basket:

I love how true to life the series is because I can sometimes relate to what is happening to some of the characters.

While it’s got plenty of good comedy, it can really hurt when it wants to. – Male Forumees recommending the manga to an unsure reader.

The real strength of Natsuki Takaya’s artwork isn’t that that it looks good—though it definitely does, from its beautiful characters to the intricately rendered textures of their clothing—but how well it communicates mood and emotions. Not content to rely on facial expressions, though she does them well, Takaya is particularly apt at using shading and shadows to indicate character’s mental states… The details of character’s emotions—the disparity between Tohru’s private emotions and her public front, the punishing intensity of Kyo’s feelings for Tohru—are not only discernable but tangible, all without a word being spoken. – Carl Kimlinger long time writer and critic for AnimeNewsNetwork

Thanks to Takaya-sensei’s (Fruits Basket’s mangaka) words, there were a lot of times I was able to get back on my feet and keep trying. – Kei-san a Japanese reader feature in the Fruits Basket fanbook.

Now onto One Piece:

Professor Yasuda of the Kansai University believes that One Piece‘s uniqueness lies in the characters’ strong bonds with each other—that One Piece‘s Luffy emits a leadership that many real life organizations should look up to. – From a Kotaku article in which they mention One Piece’s popularity even amongst academics.

…because it’s awesome, has a good story, good humor, good characters. and all that has nothing to do with gender.

I like the action, the story, the thrills, the sobs, the laughs, the characters, and the world. – Female Forumees’ response to another user’s question of why is One Piece so popular amongst girls.

One Piece is a fun adventure story, with an ensemble cast that is continuing to develop, with great action and character drama. -Mania Entertainment writer Jarred Pine

If we are looking at psychographics aspects of audience theories (that we consume media because of our interests, ideals and personality rather than any gender or racial influence) these comments does bring to light how the two series cater to audiences needs. Keywords such as comedy, drama and ideology (whether it is coming from a professor or an inspired fan) keep on popping up in people’s reasons for liking either manga. All those categories easily breaks away from gender stereotypes that many marketers (and readers) think of as the reason for a media’s appeal; they are universal. Satisfying audiences are never as simple as stereotyping after all then, not if you want universal appeal that is:

The results of asking Japanese readers' favourite genres in manga. Both Fruits Baskets and One Piece fit into the categories highlighted in yellow.

The results of asking Japanese readers’ favourite genres in manga. Both Fruits Baskets and One Piece fit into the categories highlighted in yellow.

To throw my own spanner in the mix, I think the light-hearted portrayal of interpersonal relationships are the heart filling remedies that many admire or desire regardless of demographic (in laymen’s terms, a lot of people just love seeing friendships that are true and pure, is feel-good stuff after all):

Audience theories (decoding hypodermic gratifications)

There are two different views on what audience really is and means. Analogy and critical thinking ensues. Are audiences, individuals who have their own view and experience with media like atoms that are cut off from each other (a popular saying amongst media critics)? Or do we all have a shared experience no matter who we are or where we are from because ultimately the media product we experience is the same? Or do you like me thing is a combination of both?

Now that the thought-provoking rhetorical questioning session is over we can have look at some wacky (and persuasive) theories:

The Effects Model (aka Hypodermic Theory)- Like the name suggests this model is based on the effect that media has on audiences. Media was thought to have a profound and influential effect on its audiences to the point that media can even bring about behaviour change. This theory was incredibly popular in the 1940-50. Due to the rise of technology such as radio and television so did advertising and propaganda practises. These were main strategies that many companies and governments utilised to ‘effect’ audience and people in general (the Nazi’s heavy emphasis on using media to promote their views is a key example of this).

The other name for the effects theory, the hypodermic needle theory is based off the actual medical equipment. The media content is ‘injected’ into our brains and we can’t reject it.

It was believed that media can have great impact on a population’s thought process as long as the desired message is delivered via the media in a powerful, effective and even entertaining manner. The media is described as a bullet shot in the viewers heads (this analogy basically illustrates the theory’s idea that people can not escape the effect of media, bullets are hard to dodge after all). This was inspired by the persuasive industries and their popularity (the Nazi’s rise is often accredited to their use of media) that has served as strong basis for the theory: that we can’t help but follow the message of the media.

Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl. One is the propaganda mastermind behind Nazi’s campaigns and one is a pioneering film director who created some of the most infamous (and well made) propaganda films.

“Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths.”  ― Joseph Goebbels Geobbles believed in the dominant impact of  propaganda as illustrated by his policies. This quote also echoes that one reason that everyone thought of propaganda media as 100% accepted, almost hypnotic, is due to its popularity.

Criticisms of the theory (because socio-psychology theories can’t be without them) include that it portrayals media only in a negative light and the lack of conclusive research that links human behaviour to media which disregard the fact that people have a choice whether or. People still can’t seem to agree on the real effects of media have on our psychology. By placing blame on the media, it also takes away responsibility from the people and consumers themselves. My advice: don’t ever draw conclusions since individuals react to media differently but never disregard the potential for media to inspire and engage.

Despite its major downfalls and age this theory is the most popular amongst the press. You an making a wealthy living for the number of penny received for every news and articles that blames films, games, music and whatever form of media that’s currently trending (media doesn’t realise how hypocritical they are or don’t care). A major example is the Columbian shootings where blame was place on artist Marilyn Manson and his music and other facts such as the fps game Doom- thankfully media is also capable of looking at other, more sensible factors; see Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’.

Moore questions the hypodermic effects of media on the possible causes for Columbine. Whilst nudging at easy gun access and media’s continued obsession of instigating fear in people.

Uses and gratification theory- This theory focuses on the audience more than anything else. It’s more about what appeals to specific types of audiences due to their personality and needs (that’s why the word gratification is in the name) rather than a hypnotic draw that the effects theory tries to explain.

The theory is divided into four types of gratification:

Diversion (using media as a way to distract themselves from the outside world and into the fantasy/fictional confines of media); otherwise known as escapism. A lot of video games have detailedly developed worlds that appeals to the player’s need to escape into fantasy (i.e. Skyrim).

Personal relationships (we consume media to feel like a part of a community, a socialising tool basically). Even media (soaps) portrayals everyday people conversing about what happened on ‘Reality TV Show X’ or ‘Dramatic TV series X’ last night. It’s the reason why advertisers are so enthralled with getting audiences to recommend or share a media product with others. Peer pressure sells even stale cakes.

Personal identity (media is seen as a way to represent and personify individuals/ourselves). Examples of this is littered throughout nearly all profile or bio pages; people would include their interests in order to give an impression of themselves, 9 out of 10 times these would include media.

For instance this tsr user here is a gamer who enjoys Come Dine With Me. Our interests often speaks about who we are.

For instance this tsr user here is a gamer who enjoys Come Dine With Me. Our interests often speaks about who we are.

Surveillance (people consume media because they want to know what’s going on in the world, a desire to learn and find out new information). People’s obsession with news in any form is a good example of this. Whether its about the world in general (i.e The Guardian) or news about specific topics (i.e Wired). Documentaries also fit under this category.

There are still problems with this revolutionary theory, for one it doesn’t consider the fact that we are the products of our society and our social groups despite being individual (the individualism also makes it hard to measure and conduct research on). Moreover the focus has been removed from the media products itself.

Reception Study: The encoding and decoding model- Another theory that focuses heavily on its audience, this time the viewer’s race, age, gender and whatever defines them is the basis of how they perceive media. The key hypothesis is that we are interpret things distinctly due to our diverse circumstances (demographic). However like code that has to be decoded, we can create code with specific meanings (like how directors create movies or games) but the interpretation of that code differs from person to person. The process of trying to create media that can be coded (made) in a way (i.e. by sticking to a particular genre) that can garner a general decoding from audiences (so they see some parts of the media as the same as others; I mean we can all agree that Doctor Who is a timey-wimey sci-fi), is called preferred reading.

An extract from a large research conducted by Phd film buffs in America. It shows that whilst some tastes are universal, there are concurrences between people’s race/culture and the cultural and racial focus of a film. For one you can see the likes of ‘Malcolm X’, ‘The Joy Luck Club’, ‘Mi Familia’ appear in their respective ethnicities’ lists.

Stuart Hall was the one to concieve this whopper of a theory and in doing so, allowed people to perceive the meaning of media in a different perspective. Not only does it reject the fact that users are passive it also emphasises that a media creators’ original intent and messages are not the true meaning. The meaning in Hall’s theory is a combination of: the coders’ conveyance of a media’s meaning and an audience’s own decoding (interpretation based upon the individual) of that meaning.

If all that code analogy wasn’t confusing enough here’s the breakdown on the three types of decodings/positions, Stuart Hall (the original conceiver of this elaborate theory) came up with:

Dominant position (hegemonic)- The viewers decodes (interpret) the media exactly how it was coded (how the creators intended it to convey) and accepts (agrees with the message it sends) this decoding. There are minimal misunderstandings as to how the work is perceived. For instance if I were being dominant when watching Doctor Who I’d accept the cheesy and at times non-sensual plots because the writers made it that way; I’d not mind the fact that the main character’s is always a white male with a pretty female companion at all and laugh at every joke whether bad or not.

Oppositional position- Same as dominant expect this time the consumer does not agree with the content’s meaning even if they know what in the world is going on in a piece of media (I wish I could say the same for my initial encounter with this theory). Reasons can vary from the viewer’s cultural backgrounds, religion, ideology or any other social situations they are in (so propaganda won’t turn you into a brainwashed hypocrite if you don’t agree with it). If I were oppositional, I’d be really ticked off by Doctor Who’s plot holes and outer image of being targeted towards teenage white males. Also I would not agree with the Doctor’s fashion tastes.

Negotiated position- The 50/50 of all positions, this one describes the consumer both rejecting, accepting or tweaking the code (media) in a light that suits their own opinions and interests. So it’s not giving in to all of the original creators intent but not completely ignoring the media’s meanings either (I do this, a lot). If I were negotiated (in which I am, 90% when consuming media), I’d criticise the moments where Doctor Who’s writing is unimaginative or give off an impression of being nonrepresentational (though not on the grounds of interspecies gay relationships or aliens that look like potatoes) but can still write an article about why I love the show for its sense of humour, themes on consequence, family and sci-fi lore. Following this theory, reasons such as my overly curiously brain and cultural acceptance of British witty (no matter the barminess) may suffice with my decoding of this piece of media.

From an episode of Doctor Who.

Flaws exist for this model of course: it only sees media as a set of products with injected with intended meanings and semiotics which really isn’t true if the creator(s) did not do that in the first place- sometimes people just make pure entertainment (i.e. I really can’t detect Freudian nor Pluto or social commentary in Tetris or anything produced by CBeebies). Plus who can truly define a person’s culture, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender etc. The human mind is too erratic for conclusive definitions. Now you know why sociologist, psychologists and other theorists hassle over this that so much.

Defining Audiences

Time for some psychology and audience types. Click on the images to go on the sites mentioned.

Quantitative data

Quantitative refers to numerical data, hard facts if you like. This kind of research produces stats and measurable data, in the world of media this can include: TV ratings, game sales, site hits, box office earnings, number of downloads etc.

These kind of data are popular amongst analysts. As they are easily presentable and act as precise stats that can be used as factual evidence to make important decisions, or just getting a general idea of the market.  However numbers are arbitrary and is not useful as constructive feedback (number can’t give hints to how media works can be improved quality wise for instance).

The largest radio audience research group has been commissioned by the BBC for years. In an era where technology is shifting there's no guarantee if BBC's radio efforts will be relevant. Judging by these data the medium is still as strong as ever (which would explain BBC's continued investment).

The largest radio audience research group has been commissioned by the BBC for years. In an era where technology is shifting there’s no guarantee if BBC’s radio efforts will be relevant. Judging by this data the medium is still as strong as ever (which would explain BBC’s continued investment).

It’s also interesting to note that RAJAR’s data shows an increase of radio consumption via mobile phones amongst young people is increasingly which would push BBC to support and expand their radio apps (i.e. iPlayer radio which is consistently updated).

BBC\s TV ratings (collected from barb), EasterEnders is unsurprisingly dominating it. Only New Tricks is higher (wow).

BBC\s TV ratings, EasterEnders is unsurprisingly dominating it. Only New Tricks is higher (wow). TV ratings are used to decide whether more episode should be made, i.e. BBC commissioned for more episodes of New Tricks when the pilot episode had a decent viewership.

VGChartz is a giant database for number of games sold around the world. It’s a good source for game researcher to see what kind of games are popular where.

In the commercial world even great games can flop miserably when it comes to sales due to whatever reasons. It’s also a factor when it comes to continuing a franchise (sometimes companies make hush decisions), looking at two Ubisoft IPs: one was a blown away success (total sales of 5.32 million on Xbox 360 alone) and has spawned numerous sequels and spinoffs in less than 5 years.

I’m talking about Assassin’s Creed of course.

Compared to the innovative, though dividing amongst critics (a qualitative factor I suppose), ZombiU which had any hopes of a sequel cut short due to its low sales (0.54m is low in terms of Ubisoft standards).

We’ll never see a zombie game set in London again.

Even long standing series can be ended if the lastest game doesn’t sell so well. For instance Fire Emblem Awakening the 13th release in a series dating back to the nes era was going to be the last if the sales did not exceed 250,000 units at least. Luckily it ended up being the best selling game in the series and already surpassed the million mark at time of typing (and that’s not counting digital copies).

“Due to declining sales of the Fire Emblem series, Nintendo had told the Fire Emblem team that if sales of this latest game didn’t reach 250,000 copies, the series would come to an end.” -Siliconera. Now that goals been broken Nintendo’s already partnered up with another company, Atlus to create the next installment in the series SMT X Fire Emblem.

Mojo is a records box office grossings as well as the original film's budget. The higher the profit the higher the chance of a sequel.

Mojo is a records box office grossings as well as the original film’s budget. The higher the profit the higher the chance of a sequel. I mean just look at how many Pirates of the Caribbean there are even after the two hottest cast members left, their still making sequels. It’s one of Disney’s most popular franchises after all.

The abc is (not the infamous US broadcaster) a media data gatherer in short, an organisation that partners up with media organisations to provides audits on how well their service is doing. Their speciality is in print media so magazine publishers use the results of print circulation for promotion or tracking their success. Here’s a BBC article doing just that.

Qualitative data

Qualitative research requires gathering opinions and in-depth data given by individuals usually collected in text form. In the media world this includes: interviews, online forums, reviews, comments, surveys (with open questions) and even complaint and reaction letters to TV broadcasters can be used as research material. This type of data became more in demand as psychological studies of audience rose in importance. Individual opinions helped give an overall view of a media product and the popularity of reviews became a marking sheet for improving said media. The date is also crucial for understanding a media’s reputation amongst consumers. Though qualitative data can be highly subjected to bias and impossible to measure statistically.

Nintendo gives out stars (reward points) to people who take survey for the software they register.

Nintendo gives out stars (reward points) to people who take survey for the software they register. Some of the feedback is used in promoting their products (nothing beats taking quotes from customers).

Browsing through the Nintendo website there is a whole section that houses the company president’s (Satoru Iwata) numerous interviews with game developers that serves as an insight to development (thus promoting the product at the sametime to consumers) as well as to build stronger relations with third parties and Nintendo employees (whilst gaining insights as to what makes developers want to actually work with Nintendo).

As it is Nintendo we are talking about here, the interviews are a very unconventional way of building business relations.

Metacritic collects and aggregates reviews of games, films, TV and music from different websites. Much has been debated about using it as a basis to judge a product though.

There has actually been some controversy surrounding the quantitative  score outputted by the aggregator (including one notorious case where a job application from Irrational games demanded applicants with: “Credit on at least one game with an 85+ average Metacritic review score.” with was considered baffling irrational by the same critics that gave out scores). The actually reviews themselves collected by the site however has had impact on how creators can improve:

Borderlands 2 had much more plot and variety than the previous installment and that was due to the common criticisms the latter received from gaming journalists.

Focus group screenings are a popular way of getting pre-release audience responses to see what people liked and didn’t like in order to heighten a movie’s reception amongst viewers. Last minute edits and scene changes are usually made after this.

The Simpsons movie had a very special focus screening where they decided which scene to keep by the amount of laughter; one church scene almost got cut out until someone bursted out in hilarity.

Audience profiling:

There are bazillion ways to label audiences, some are odder than others, but there’s a theory for each since psychologists and researchers have a field day coming up with them. For the sake of examples this

  • Socio-economic status–  people’s cultural, their societies’ views and their financial status.

Whilst the old British class system has only one group, a recent (depending on when you are reading this) survey done by a collaboration of socialists have identified 7.

  • Demographics– age, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity of your target audience. This is the one that everyone brags on about the most as it plays a big factor in deciding target audiences of any piece of media.

Sometimes companies research into demographics in order to know more about a game’s audience. This chart helps illustrate the audience demographic (in terms of age and gender) for games in the animal crossing series. Is a way to determine how to market the game to such target audiences (we can see that the game is popular amongst 10-12 boys and girls as well as 19-24 females) and how games in future should cater to them. Also note that these results are obtained from the survey earlier. Nintendo carries out gallons of research.

  • Psychographics– a category that characterises audiences on what they like and what makes a product tick for them (a deeper analysis into the product rather than the audience’s demographic etc). The name says it all: is about what people think, their personality and the kind of lifestyle they endeavor. This method of profiling is slowly starting to replace the demographical methods, with the rise of internet surfers and thus easier to obtain behavioural data and survey distributions, it’s only natural that psychographic profiling is on the rise.
psy

Due to the complex and flexible nature of psychographics, organisations usual come up with their own classifications like the 4Cs above. These lifestyles are meant to be cross-cultural.

  • Geographic location– Where the target audience resides. Sort of similar to cultural as well but really it’s an excuse to include different dialects within your product to better relate to people of a particular region (otherwise known as regional-identity). PlusNet’s brand identity is a good example, they take pride in their Yorkshire roots (hence why their mascot is a friendly man speaking with a regional yorkshire accent):
  • Consumer behaviour/attitudes/awareness– Qualitative research is carried out specifically to support this type of profiling. By getting reactions from different audiences on your product, you can start pinpointing which type of audience find your product the most appealing (this is linked to psychographics of course).
App store reviews often dictate what future updates are based around, whether small (bugs) or big (new additions to the app). Image above is reviews for LinkedIn Pulse app.

App store reviews often dictate what future updates are based around, whether small (bugs) or big (new additions to the app). Image above is reviews for LinkedIn Pulse app.

And the subsequent updates that follows after customer feedback.

And the subsequent updates that follows after customer feedback.

  • Education– how educated is your audience? This is not a case of seeing how smart your audience is but rather their know how in a particular area. Their literacy level should determine the words you use, their understanding levels of a subject should dictate the amount of jargon or explanations you include.
From Guardian's audience profiling page. You can see that they are using grounds of demographics, education and age to highlight their target audience's sophistication and diversity.

From Guardian’s audience profiling page. You can see that they are using grounds of demographics, education (look our reader are more educated!) and age to highlight their target audience’s sophistication and diversity.

  • Mainstream- products that are marketed to the mainstream compete with the latest and most popular medias. Since this audience group are big on trends and wouldn’t actively seek out a piece of media unless heavily advertised or is well know. That’s how the industry define mainstream: the will buy what is hot folks. Media creators will often try to imitate successful products in order to cater to that familiarity, that’s why we now have a million superhero films and first person shooters (this might all sound strange if you are reading it in future, trends always change).
  • Niche- Refers to a market that is small but dedicated groups that share common interests. It’s a very specialised audience. Usually media with limited appeal but a dedicated fanbase of another product in a series or similar medias, are considered to have niche appeal. Targeting niche markets usually requires less brodacious advertising efforts than targeting for mainstream audiences since the former is more likely to seek out what they like.

By looking at this we can see clearly that action adventure will be considered mainstream and indie/art house films are considered niche. Indie films are usually broadcasted at film festivals for the dedicated film lover and critics (targeting the niche so to speak). Whereas action adventures are advertised everywhere: a glimpse at the dvd sections will reveal a collage of guys with guns, if you are lucky there might be an obscured corner that houses indie films. There’s a clear difference in method of marketing here, as it is assumed that only the obsessive will seek out the least popular genre. I personally think this is a chicken and egg matter, are indie films naturally unpopular or is it the lack of effort (and budget) in their marketing? I’d go cinema more if they actually had a more diverse range of genres or indie films.

The humanist in me likes to think that we are all unpreditable individuals. Not so sure that works in the world of marketing though. Audience profiling is important but there should also be considerations regarding excluding other potential audiences (which might not be your target demographic but still want to enjoy the product).