Category: ‘Readings’

T.L. Taylor: Play Between Worlds

[Readings] (03.24.09, 12:13 pm)

Finding New Worlds

The opening describes Taylor’s experience at an Everquest conference. She explains this as a strange and shifting environment with a mix of real and virtual identities, and a blurring of the in game world with the out of game reality. There is an intertextual nature in the space, where the convention bleeds between real life and the concepts and themes of virtuality. It also blurs between what is part of the game and not part of it.

Taylor argues that the social connections and shared knowledge are central to the individual’s experience. She investigates social spaces, social systems of Everquest, but considers the types of players to be not clear cut or uniform (as suggested by Bartle). She explains her experience in character creation as being a process of identity formation and exploration. She chooses a gnome because both gnomes and humans have the least overtly sexualized female avatars, and, wanting to be adventurous, chooses the gnome over the human. She chooses to be a necromancer because of its appeal as referencing some of the lore evoked in the documentation.

Character choice determines social role and function, and ultimately how player is involved in the world.

Explains that process of ethnography in virtual world is playing in between worlds, because the ethnographer is stuck within between these multiple spaces. Advocates a kind of immersion, but this is not only within the game world, but also the fan made sites and forums.

Gaming Lifeworlds: Social Play in Persistent Environments

Taylor gives a review of the origin and history of MMOGs, through tabletop, then to MUDs, then to 2d and 3d worlds.

She explains that the mechanics of the world result in certain social practices and dependencies being created. Examples of this is the yell command and the corpse run, and the obligations created of players as they interact with the world– ie, a player is supposed to shout “train” if they are running away from a series of mobs which are in pursuit. This is interesting because it is a point with the creation of social obligations. This gradually translates into a much deeper network of social roles and obligations with groups, guilds, and raids.

Economically, these systems lead to certain emergent effects, which in early version of Everquest, resulted in players needing to sell things to each other directly, and thus created a kind of emergent marketplaces. Later, this was changed and led to a much more automated system for trading. This resulted in a cultural shift, where the emergent market districts essentially disappeared.

Beyond Fun: Instrumental Play and Power Gamers

Taylor describes the phenomenon of power gamers, who are gamers who approach the game instrumentally. Her discussion goes over popular negative attitudes by other players, over the blurring of Explorer and Achiever (because power gamers like to push the rules) and the goals and motivations behind them. They have a much more statistical and numerical approach to the game, seeing things as only the numbers, and are tolerant of critique and close scrutiny and analysis of methods.

She presents them in a much more positive light than frequently given to power gamers. Ultimately, power gamers are part of social groups who work around these values and develop repositories of knowledge. Often they are the ones who write FAQs and the like.

Where the Women Are

Women are not generally acknowledged as part of the standard “gamer” demographic, although Taylor notes that women form a substantial portion of the players of online games. Generally, women are not explicitly targeted or marketed to and are frequently actively disenfranchised, but they still are interested in these games. Taylor is interested in why that is the case.

She looks at the types of play that women like to engage in within online games, and finds that the types of play most valued are social and identity oriented. The identity play is about identity experimentation (a la Turkle) and taking on of personas. She notes that all forms of interaction occur through avatars, so even while someone might not think that a player is an elf, they are limited to the interaction with the avatar to form impressions. Because character appearances are limited (it is not uncommon to run across another character with the same face) players must distinguish themselves through dress and name. Avatars enable a kind of identity and gender experimentation that is otherwise inaccessible in everyday life.

Taylor explains that exploration becomes attractive to female players because the exploration of the environment is faced with gender neutral threats. This is in contrast to real life, where threats to exploration are often explicitly gender oriented.

Taylor rejects the suppositions that girls attitudes toward games are indicators of any inherent disposition or biological bias. She criticizes the tendency of researchers to focus on these issues to the exclusion of social and structural factors that have gone into establishing the culture and labels of gamers, which have emerged as explicitly exclusive to women.

A few more examples of play types are given. Players value in-game status (by demonstrating accomplishments), and integrate this in with forum life. Female players make use of a mysterious element that combines femininity with in game status (which may be of a traditionally masculine frame). Combat is often valued because of its collaborative nature, but also can be a ground for expressing aggression. Ultimately, women are still predominantly disenfranchised by the marketing and the projected hypersexualized roles of women in the game.

Taylor concludes the section by looking at design, and cites Brad McQuaid, who was one of the lead designers of Everquest, who purports to design with a color-blind and gender-blind approach. This is something that proves to be problematic, as a “blind” approach invariably privileges one group as the default. Taylor emphasizes the value and importance of designing for women, but challenges the simplistic models put forth by the pink games movement. She explains that greater visibility of gender (not less) in both the game worlds and the design are necessary, and that this requires a sociology of the body.

Whose Game Is This, Anyway?

Taylor goes over a number of emergent phenomena, ranging from the lawsuit between NCSoft and Marvel, the auctioning of in game content, the idea of time spent in game as labor, fan made mods (and extensions), and fanfiction. These each introduce complicated relationships between the users, the game companies, and the idea of property as relates to the online game world. The final resolution to this appears to be that worlds should be co-created between players and designers.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorTaylor, T.L.
TitlePlay Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture
Tagsdigital media, games, cyberculture, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

The Jane Austen Book Club

[Readings] (03.23.09, 12:11 am)

An important thing to note about this is that The Jane Austen Book Club was originally published as a book, and only recently was made into a film. Both book and film were released to a great deal of popularity. According to Wikipedia, the film departs significantly from the actual novel, though. This situation seems to be the case in all adaptations, however. The novel itself is arranged into six chapters, each focusing on one of the characters in the story, and correspondingly on one of Austen’s books.

One of the focus points of the story is an interesting turnabout regarding Jane Austen. Instead of the focus being on the characters, it is really about the readers. The process of reading and interpretation on the part of the readers themselves. This is explained in a good New York Times article.


Opening focuses on urban Californian landscape. We see a panorama of population with cell phones, cars, computers, shouting and full of confusion. This appears to be an expression of all the things that make the modern age different from Jane Austen’s world. There seems to actually be quite a lot with people’s interaction with and frustration with technology.

The opening gives various shots of the characters in their various lives, giving a very brief glimpse of each one of them. After the montage, we have segments focusing on the characters in more detail.

The characters first meet up at a funeral for someone (who is revealed to be a dog). An early interaction is between one of the characters (Allegra; who happens to be gay) and her father, who emphasizes the need for human connections, which suggests a connection to the pressure of marriage. (Hinting perhaps at ways in which Austen’s world is closer to ours).

There is an encounter between Prudie and her husband Dean, which reveals his  disinterest in her. She is a French teacher and has been awaiting a trip to France with her husband (who would be travelling as part of a business trip). She encounters him in a bar wherin he explains that the trip is off due to his business circumstances. The encounter is shot with his gaze fixed not on her, but on a television screen.

Sylvia later has dinner with her husband Daniel, where he explains that he has been having an affair and that he sees their marriage as ending. He explains that his relationship with the woman, with whom he is having the affair, is non negotiable, and that he won’t give her up. This encounter takes place around his car, and is met with general fumbling with the lock on the car door.

The next scene features some of the characters outside of a movie theatre going to a screening of Mansfield Park. While they are waiting Bernadette begins to have an argument with Prudie (the two have not met). Prudie’s being upset can be traced to her frustration with her husband, but their talking is quickly hashed out by describing the characters in the film. Prudie is upset about the filmic interpretation, and Bernadette jokes that “A little Jane Austen is better than none at all.” The two leave and meet up, Bernadette invites Prudie to the hypothetical book club.

There is a conversation between Sylvia, Allegra, and Jocelyn about the divorce. Jocelyn professes that one can get by without love, Allegra attempts to poses more optimistic and open ended ideas. This frames right away varying different approaches to life and love that are expressed by the characters literary analogues.

Jocelyn meets Grigg while he is attending a science fiction convention. They talk about books, and she invites him (off camera) to the book club.

The first meeting takes place at a starbucks, but begins with some conflicts between the characters. Most significantly occurs between Prudie and Allegra, who start off at each other’s throats. Some of this occurs via disagreements between interpretations, but generally falls into Prudie being oddly upset about things and repeatedly threatening to leave. When Grigg arrives, he seems a confused presence, because of his total lack of familiarity with the books and general silliness.


We see a few scenes with the characters on their own. We see Prudie ogling one of the students in the school that she teaches as he makes out with another student. Sylvia runs into her husband again, and then Sylvia and Jocelyn later discuss the book club meeting on the phone.

The connection to Emma occurs via Jocelyn, who is the emphasis of this section. Jocelyn breeds dogs, and also has been attempting to set Grigg up with Sylvia.

The discussion features the different interpretations of the characters on the novel. Allegra criticizes the chemistry between Emma and Knightley, remarking that it is more understandable that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are more in love because they behave badly. Prudie explains that subdued control over romance is more distinguishing of love in Austen’s novels. It is this kind of discussion about moral battleground using the book characters as testing grounds, not for the course of conduct, but for the actual interpretations in the novels. Grigg observes that Knightley only scolds Emma, the woman he loves, and Prudie remarks that men can do whatever they want to the women they love. This is a clear reference to her own relationship. Jocelyn quickly challenges this interpretation. This enables her to make an indirect statement about Prudie’s relationship to her husband without mentioning or even being aware of it directly. There is quite a lot of that.

Mansfield Park

This section has a significant variation from the novel, as Sylvia takes on Mansfield Park in the film, but it is really covered by Prudie in the book.

Prudie’s husband leaves for Detroit and she asks her mother (a somewhat scatterbrained pot smoker; Allegra might remind Prudie of her) to pick her up later. This does not happen, and Prudie is approached by the high school student (who she has been ogling since the beginning of the movie) asks her to help him practice his lines for the play. It is important to note that Mansfield Park involves a play taking place and the protagonists falling in love through first the play acting. The practice that Prudie has with the student swiftly moves into flirting.

Grigg is asked by Jocelyn to take Sylvia out to lunch, but also asks about Allegra. Grigg is confused by this, and thinks that she is trying to set him up with Allegra, and he asks his sister if this is some kind of test.

Sylvia in private discussion with Jocelyn explains that her interpretation of Emma is that the success of a marriage is dependent on its weakest partner, and that her problem has been that Daniel is just that. Daniel is a “wobbler”, like many of the characters in Mansfield Park, whereas Fanny Price is the stable rock of the family.

In discussion, Prudie explains that her interpretation is about the long suffering daughter (who is Fanny Price). The discussion is about how the characters like Fanny Price, as she is solid, but not willing to accept fault in others. The discussion culminates in Sylvia getting upset about her husband (voiced through Fanny Price’s betrayal). After each of the meetings, there is a post-scene where some of the characters depart, and the other charactes talk about the departing ones.

Northanger Abbey

Grigg and Jocelyn go out furniture shopping, and while Grigg tries to inspire some emotion in Jocelyn, she encourages him to take Sylvia for dates. He asks about Persuasion, and Jocelyn immediately launches into an animate explanation of some of the plot. Later on, he takes Jocelyn out to a used book store, and shows her some books and gives a recollection of his childhood and relationships and experiences with science fiction books.

There is an encounter between Sylvia and Daniel. He comes by and attempts to mow the lawn and offers to fix some of the things in the house. He seems to be somewhat needy and discheveled. We see Trey and Prudie as he comes onto her and she relates some of the psychological abuses put upon her by her mother.

The party arrives at Grigg’s apartment, to be assaulted by a bunch of remote operated haunted house props. This is somewhat distressing to the women, but they see it as a reference and joke regarding Northanger Abbey’s gothic references. When they move on from there, Grigg explains that he read the Mysteries of Udolpho. Grigg sees Northanger Abbey as a novel about novels, and connects it with several of the anxieties of writing. There is less discussion of interpretations, but there is confusion over the romantic drama as Jocelyn finds herself jealous of Grigg’s interactions with Sylvia.

Pride and Prejudice

We find out that Prudie’s mother died, which is a moment of tension. After the funeral Prudie flips out at Dean due to her perception of his flirting with one another person at the funeral. The sequence is shot to portray a wall between them. He explains that the highschool drama is over, which she rejects.

Grigg does make a lunch date with Sylvia, and they discuss Jocelyn. This is done via Pride and Prejudice. Sylvia asserts courtship is easy; Grigg disagrees. We see a sequence of other scenes discussing mistaken identities and other conflicts.

This winds up finally at a library fundraiser (much like a ball) where the other characters are present. Here the conflicts between the characters are less spoken of through the books, and more are allusions to them. They do discuss the books, but use them in much more direct analogy to their own lives. The interactions become more dramatically conflicted, and raise to a head with a direct confrontation between Jocelyn and Grigg. Later there is some active speculation about what happens to the characters outside and after the novels.

Sense and Sensibility

Prudie leave a note with her high school lover (but this is left vaguely). Allegra falls in an accident while mountain climbing, and Sylvia and Daniel discuss their marriage while Allegra is unconscious. The book club convenes over Allegra’s hospital bed. The discussion focuses on how the characters wind up matched up. The characters discuss the characters in the book, and their discussion is much more directly in reference to their own lives and relationships.


The party convenes at a beach. Daniel comes by and asks if he can join, citing that Persuasion is about mistakes and second chances. We see Prudie go to visit a motel where she sees her high school lover, but is startled by a walk light which she sees to read “What would Jane do”. She then leaves and does not shack up. Grigg brings his sister to the book club. Allegra brings her doctor to the club as well.

In a dramatic scene, Prudie returns to her worthless husband and asks him to read Persuasion. He pretty strongly refuses. Prudie presses and presses, and finally begins reading to him. Finally, in a later scene, we see him reading to her.

The ending features a montage of the characters having come to their resolutions, which are generally all positive and reconciled. Jocelyn finally reads Ursula Le Guin, Daniel leaves a note to Sylvia who finally calls him. Dean and Prudie reconcile after he finishes Persuasion (having stayed up the night to read it).


The characters meet up at another library dinner the next year, where all of the characters have joined the book club, and everyone is happy.

Reading Info:
TitleJane Austen Book Club
ContextCaptures some of the culture surrounding Jane Austen
Tagsfiction, settings, media traditions, specials, fan culture
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Becoming Jane

[Readings] (03.22.09, 6:42 pm)

Becoming Jane is a fictional filmic adaptation of Jane Austen’s life. The film heavily stresses her relationship between Thomas Lefroy, although this is actually not a relationship that has much to support it in the historical record. Over the course of the film, the events and characters inspire her to write Pride and Prejudice.

The film presents a dramatization of Austen’s life as though it were one of her novels. Generally, this is an interesting blend between the world of Jane Austen’s stories and the historical and hypothetical accounts of her life. Throughout the film there are allusions and references to her novels in terms of events, situations, and types of characters. This supports a theory of textual extension, where the film may be considered a work that is Austen’s by proxy.

The film itself supports the theory of deep reading and the existence of characters beyond the page. This is featured in a couple of the conversations between the character of Jane her companions. The idea of textual extension is actually a necessetity for this work to even exist, because in order to acknowledge a fictionalization of Jane Austen’s life, we must understand that it extends Austen through the gestures of her character given by her writing, and the historical accounts of her life.

Most significantly, the film presents a weaving through the literature of and about Jane Austen. It presents an interpretation not just of her character, but also of her world.


Opening is scenes of natural countryside, matched with scenes of writing. Amidst writing, plays piano, to obvious distress of family. Presentation is that Jane is frustration of family, that parents need her to marry. Some of the scenes between the family give a slightly more suggestive and bawdy character, but this is relatively subdued.

Next scene shows Jane in church, as minister presents moral lessons that seem to be directed at Jane specifically: that a woman must be quiet in the morning, must have a husband later in life, and must keep her profound intellect a profound secret. This reverberates with “moral” literature for women of the time. “Wit is the  most treacherous talent of them all” Seems a clear reference to Dr. Gregory’s letter to his daughters.

We see scenes of Austen and her family visiting a wealthy neighbor, Lady Gresham, in a scene that is reminiscent of Elizabeth’s visiting of Lady Catherine. There is a suggested intention of Jane being set up to marry Gresham’s nephew, Mr. Wisley, who stands to inherit a large estate. The dilemma is presented that the family is in a similar situation to most of Jane’s protagonists, but that Jane will not be tempted by such petty things as wealth.

The film cuts to a scene featuring a number of men interacting in a bawdy masculine space. There is first a boxing match within a bar, after which they leave, while being manhandled by a number of women. One of these is Jane’s brother Henry, the other is Thomas Lefroy. The latter is a character who the historical record has shown to have only the most incidental connections with Austen’s life, but shapes up to be the love interest in this film. Lefroy is a “mischievous” character, but and is also a law student (one might go so far as to call him a rake). What is interesting about this encounter is how dramatically set apart his character is from the standard literary world featured in Austen’s writing. While Jane lives in a world that resembles the space of her writing, Thomas is in an entirely different one.

The men return to the Austen family house, leading to a return of domestic scenes. Jane proceeds to read to her family (a congratulatory letter to her sister Cassandra regarding her engagement), which seems greatly entertaining to the family as a whole. Midway through, Lefroy interrupts and causes something of a slight scene (and nearly falls asleep during the reading). Jane is somewhat distressed and frazzled throughout the reading. Afterwards, she flips out and burns the letter (she was reading the wrong one?).

The next day, both she and Lefroy take walks in the woods surrounding the house. Lefroy sees Jane and attempts to catch up to her, where Jane remains evasive. They engage in some verbal sparring, with Jane being the voice of proper conduct and manners and Lefroy being so much more wild. Lefroy attempts to flirt, but Jane seems to reject this flirtation and storm off.

There is a dance scene after this, where Jane dances with Wisley, who comes across as stuttering and awkward, going so far as to tread on Jane’s feet while dancing. This presents an allusion to Mr. Collins. Afterward, Jane criticises Lefroy’s purported arrogance. They dance, and there is again verbal sparring during the dance. Afterwards, their behavior is described as potentially damaging to Jane because of Lefroy’s reputation.

There is a cricket game some time later, and Jane displays her thwarting of gender roles by unexpectedly joining the game.

While visiting the Lefroy house with her family, she visits the library and finds Tom Lefroy reading. He reads a fairly sexually explicit passage aloud from a book about nature (that Jane suggested he read). Lefroy asserts that, in order to be an accomplished author, Jane requires experience. She protests and demures with rejections of Lefroy’s history and reputation. He then suggests that she read Fielding’s Tom Jones.

We see a few scenes where Jane reads the book, whispering aloud, and is echoed by Lefroy’s voice as she does so. The cinematography makes this appear to be an awakening moment of sorts. Later, she approaches Lefroy about the book, disapproving of it. She explains that a book ought to show how the world really works, instead of giving overt moral lessons (where the good thrive and the bad are punished). She explains that the novel should reveal the true meanings behind character’s actions. This suggestion is consistent with the idea of deep reading behind characters (as existing beyond the text).

She and Lefroy visit some carnival, which again appears to be a transgression into the sort of boisterous masculine space. Lefroy again gets involved in a boxing match. This appears to again be a kind of revealing moment focusing on Lefroy’s character and Jane’s reaction to it.

Later, we see Mr. and Mrs. Austen discussing Jane’s potential marriage to Wisley, with Mrs. Austen saying that she should marry soon, and Mr. Austen saying that she should marry whoever will make her happy. This again seems a strong reference to the Bennett family. The next day, Lady Gresham and Wisley visit, during which Wisley awkwardly proposes. Jane rejects, and is afterwards loudly chastised by her mother. The emphasis is on the family’s poverty, and of the terrible fate that would befall Jane should she not marry well. The business with Lefroy is problematic because not only does Lefroy not have any money, but his reputation is actively damaging.

The next scene features a private ball which the family visits, but is made to be quite elegant, but awkward. Jane dances with Wisley, whilst under some degree of scrutiny by others, but is visited by Lefroy. Over the course of the evening, Jane overhears some of the romantic exchanges between her brother and her Eliza the Comtesse, and is approached by Lady Gresham, and finally is visited by Lefroy, wherein they kiss. Finally Lefroy proposes elopement.

Jane visits Lefroy’s uncle’s (Judge Langlois) house. She writes a letter to Cassandra discussing the elopement, with a glowing voice. Jane immediately offends Langlois by praising the virtues of irony and wit. Jane and Lefroy visit Ann Radcliffe the next day. Radcliffe appears somewhat awkward and is a sobering influence on Jane, expressing that her life both writer and wife is difficult. Having had this encounter, they return and Jane cannot sleep. She wakes up and begins writing First Impressions. Whispers from throughout the book are heard, suggesting that she writes a great deal of it in that evening.

Lefroy the next day attempts to persuade his uncle to consent to his marrying Jane. This is promptly and vehemently rejected, after having read a letter that appears to have been sent by Wisley. Because Lefroy is totally dependent on his uncle, he refuses to elope and Jane is heartbroken.

Jane returns home, visits Lady Gresham, and news arrives that Cassandra’s fiancee Fowle has died of Yellow Fever. Cassandra is greatly upset by this. Jane learns shortly after that Lefroy is in town.

An interesting encounter occurs where Jane meets with Wisley, brings up his earlier proposal, and then calls him on his letter to Langolis. This encounter has a strong resemblance, and is a sudden reversal, of the proposal scene between Darcy and Elizabeth (where Elizabeth confronts Darcy about his separation of separation of her sister and Bingley). The point of this seems to be about attempting to make out and distinguish Wisley’s character. She then accepts his proposal, and storms off.

Lefroy visits Jane while she is walking with her brother George, and he attempts to offer an explanation of his conduct. Lefroy has been engaged, and a confusing interchange occurs in which he again proposes elopement. She consents to run off with him. Later, Cassandra chides Jane regarding how difficult it will be for her to write with such an elopement.

While leaving, Jane discovers a letter from Lefroy’s parents about how they were thanking him for his sharing his allowance with them. The implication is that, despite his reputation, he is a good person for allowing his family to  depend on him. Jane rescinds the elopement for the sake of his family.

There is further drama between Gresham and Austen’s family. Though Jane and Wisley meet up and part amicably. Wisley gives Jane the idea for the famed opening line of what would become Pride and Prejudice.

There is a glimpse in the future, where we see Jane at a musical performance, where Jane, despite her anonymity, is approached by a fan. She meets up again with Lefroy (now married), and is introduced to his daughter. Jane gives an extremely unusual public reading.

Reading Info:
TitleBecoming Jane
ContextFictionally recounts the life of Jane Austen, and illustrates her world
Tagsfiction, settings, media traditions, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Pride and Prejudice film adaptations

[Readings] (03.21.09, 12:27 am)

This actually contains not one but two analyses. The first is the 1940 adaptation starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, and the second is the 2005 version with Kiera Knightley and Matthew Macfayeden. My notes for these are primarily my notes taken from the films directly. I have some analysis, but I don’t think I can post that right away. On the whole, I think that, by virtue of being films, both had to take significant steps to condense the complex narrative of the story, and thus they distinguish themselves by virtue of what they choose to include and what they focus on. I found the 1940 film to be dramatically estranged from both the literal events, as well as the values of the story world. It does however emphasize the elements of social class with some effectiveness. The 2005 film focuses predominantly on matters of public and private space, but also repurposes the story as a neogothic romance.

Most of my analysis is done in comparison between these and the 1995 BBC miniseries, which is the version I am the most familiar with. The visual language used in this is simply the most familiar to me. For the actual narrative events, I aim to make comparisons to the actual novel.

1940 film

Film opens with busy village scenes, there is an initially urban focus. Elizabeth comes across immediately as more dominant and presented as more attractive.

They have HUGE dresses.

The opening is a fabricated scene with  introduction of Mrs. Bennett, Elizabeth, Jane at a clothing shop. Gossip and introduction of Bingley and Darcy occurs here. The calling on Bingley is posed as a contest between the Bennetts and the Lucases, who will make contact first. This contest results in a new fabricated scene where the two families engage in a carriage race. Wickham is also introduced right away in the village scene, speaking with Lydia, before they run off.

Conversation between Mr & Mrs Bennett occurs privately in Mr. Bennett’s study. A lot of the irony and negativity of Mr. Bennett’s statements seem to not be picked up- ie, sending daughters alone, having Mrs. Bennett go and be more charming, inviting Bingley to marry any of the daughters.

These scenes are all fabricated! Wickham is flirting with Elizabeth at Meryton Assembly. Her approach is to constantly play it coy. Darcy dances with Miss Bingley at Meryton Assembly. All the daughters and the mother are together awaiting arrival of Netherfield company.

The interaction is all much more dense in the assembly, a lot of the interactions are taking place in there.

Darcy seems to be more intermingled in the action, and is getting constantly suprised. The space presented in the film is much more open and interconnected. The slighting of Elizabeth and then the invitation to dance is immediate. The slighting focuses on the class of Elizabeth’s family, not her beauty. Elizabeth plays it submissive and coy, but effectively slights Darcy by immediately agreeing to dance with Wickham in Darcy’s presence.

Elizabeth’s visiting of Jane occurs spontaneously, there is no leadup to it. There is some reaction, but not a lot. Card scene and letter writing scene are merged together. Elizabeth moves to play cards after the reading. Mr and Mrs Hurst are absent, which makes the card room scene rather lonesome. The “resentful disposition” bit is absent. Elizabeth and Jane return to Longbourn without the embarrassing scene of Mrs. Bennett at Netherfield, but this is suggested in recollection.

It seems like most dialogue is conducted by interruption. Mr. Collins is Lady Catherine’s librarian. Collins character is that of a buffoon. Collins makes his selections of the daughters in the presence of the entire family. There is no direct mention of his silliness by reputation. He is described as being ostensibly ugly, though.

Netherfield ball is outside, gives opportunity to see soldiers and younger daughters being entertained. Collins chases Elizabeth, and Darcy helps her evade him. Elizabeth and Darcy play archery. It is here that there is another encounter between Elizabeh, Darcy, and Miss Bingley. She hints at the history between Darcy and Wickham at this point, but is all done indirectly and hypothetically. After this is Miss Bingley and Elizabeth have their sparring session, but it is focused on Wickham’s class. Elizabeth retorts to Miss Bingley with utter confidence.

Mary’s singing takes place at an interior scene, and is her singing with a backing band. This is interior and relatively out of the way. However, Mary’s singing was also hinted at earlier. Miss Bingley then insults Elizabeth on her family. Immediately after this, she becomes vulnerable and is supported and consoled by Darcy, but after this he is frightened off by her family. This make him seem much more flighty, ie, someone who offers friendship and then withdraws it.

The actions are much more theatric and kinetic, there is a lot more energy in gestures, that makes the interactions seem much more showy and spectacular. This is especially evident with the big poofy dresses, which exaggerate every action. This and the music lead to the film appearing as a comedy.

Collins proposal scene is centrally about his character, not Elizabeth’s. Elizabeth’s reasons for rejecting him seem much more about the undesirability of his character than her own. The pauses and interaction seem to be misplaced. Instead of Elizabeth needing to interrupt, Collins pauses for her noticeably. There is no mention of Elizabeth making Collins happy or vice versa. This is probably because Elizabeth does not have a character. I find this omission to be really startling because I think it the most important line in the entire proposal.

Wickham comes by after Darcy and Bingley leave, and he gives the rest of his story at that time. Collins and Charlotte Lucas then visit immediately afterward. There is a close interaction with Charlotte after, where Charlotte speaks some about the virtues of not knowing the faults of the husband. This is really the first that we’ve seen of Charlotte on husbands. Lady Catherine has a grave and serious air, she is scrutinizing and commanding. She seems to be much more cold to Collins’ compliments. She also seems much more actively interfering, actively attempting to unite Darcy and her daughter, attempting to separate Elizabeth and Darcy.

We do not see the scene where Elizabeth learns that Darcy was behind separating Jane and Bingley, but we do see Elizabeth return and relate that entirely to Charlotte. This is surprising, it make sense narratively, in terms of revealing information that needed to be cut, but it also betrays the information games played by the characters. To my knowledge in the novel, Elizabeth never tells Charlotte about that, as it is something that could be considered much more private.

Darcy’s proposal scene has him waiting for her, not his intrusion on her. He first maneuvers graciously, and we do not see as much of his frustration. All through the proposal scene, while listening, Elizabeth is still to the left of the screen, taking up more area, and maintaining dominance. But when referring to her sister, she bursts out crying for a moment. Immediately at this point, Darcy moves to be apologetic. They argue extensively, and he maneuvers to placate her at every gesture.

Elizabeth returns to Longbourn after her stay at Rosings, and is greeted by Jane, and this marks the point where Lydia and Wickham run off. This comes across as a total surprise, because we see none of the reflections about how Wickham’s character was first loved, nor do we see Darcy reveal the true nature of it. Collins visits and speaks the part of his rude letter, directly to Mrs. Bennett, which makes public the otherwise private communication. Darcy visits amidst all of this. There is no letter, rather he comes to intervene regarding Wickham, and he actively offers his services and tells the story about Georgiana.

After this, he leaves, Jane returns, and Elizabeth tells Jane about Darcy’s proposal, glowingly, and confesses that she actually loves Darcy. Both Jane and Elizabeth lament the loss of their respective loves. Jane describes how she dreams of Bingley. This is in contrast to her stated determination to forget Bingley. After this, we see Darcy, Bingley, and Miss Bingley, who are playing pool. Miss Bingley reads some letter and gloats over the Bennett’s misfortunes, to the distress of both Darcy and Bingley. Later, Mr. Bennett returns and the family is preparing to move and leave Longbourn. The news that Lydia and Wickham are about to return occurs immediately afterward and the two return in the next breath. Lady Catherine appears shortly thereafter.

The appearance of Lady Catherine occurs at a point where the house is at the most comedic of states, packed with people, full of things lying about in preparation of being moved, and with general confusion. At this point, Lady Catherine comes across as annoyed, but not as commanding. Elizabeth is cooler and calm. Their interaction is much more amicable, most of the statements are not fully conflicting. Lady Catherine poses an interesting dilemma, though, that she has the power to strip Darcy of his wealth should he and Elizabeth marry. This is presented not as a threat, but as a warning, and does not come off as something to stop Elizabeth in her tracks, but as something that she should be okay with before moving forward. Essentially, Lady Catherine is being deferential to Elizabeth. When Elizabeth denies that she expects to see Darcy again, Lady Catherine chides her for not realizing that Darcy is in love with her. It is this point where Lady Catherine comes across as a oddly supportive figure, in the next breath Lady Catherine explains that it was Darcy who made Wickham marry Lydia.

Right afterward, Lady Catherine meets Darcy, who is waiting in the carriage for her, for Lady Catherine to confirm that Elizabeth is there and is obstinate as ever. She then tells Darcy that Elizabeth is a perfect match for him because she will stand up to him. This structure poses Lady Catherine in an almost “fairy godmother” role which brings the two of them together. Darcy then supplicates and thanks her for her help and assistance.

Darcy and Elizabeth then watch as Bingley returns and speaks to Jane. Darcy then explains that Miss Bingley made Mr. Bingley return for the sake of his happiness. After this, we see Mr. and Mrs. Bennett watching to them. After this, they see Kitty and Mary flirting with two men in the drawing room, yielding the impression that all of the daughters will be married.

Some thoughts:

We see Elizabeth as a powerful character, not because anything she does, or because of her character, but because of how everyone around her acts. Cinematically, she is presented in a way that dominates the other characters. This occurs with visual presentation, with speech, with gesture, and the changes in text that make the others defer to her. We see occasional moments of sudden public vulnerability, which seems wholly out of place. At these moments, every other characters leap to console and placate her. I find that these moments detract from her strength as a character,

2005 film

Opening is environmental, we see Elizabeth walking through green field, reading. Conversation scene with Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Bennett occurs in privacy, but is spied upon by the daughters. Elizabeth is much more engaged with silly antics of her sisters. The revealing that Mr. Bennett gives of his calling on Bingley is given right after denial, as in 1940s version.

Ball scene is crowded, we get a good view of the diversity of classes participating in it. Elizabeth is much more engaged in chatting and engaging in gossipping.
When Bingley and company arrive, the entire room (music included) stops and the three (Bingley, Darcy, Miss Bingley) walk down hall. Afterwards, Mrs. Bennett approaches Mr. Bingley directly, which makes sense as ball scene is so crowded. Darcy is totally somber and silent. There are a few closeup shots of Darcy’s gaze, which shifts about elusively.

Bingley seems very impressed with Jane, and immediately shifts into friendly bumbling. Darcy’s slighting of Elizabeth occurs and appears to be as an excuse to further withdraw. He manages to stay back and look out grimly on the scene of the dance. Elizabeth manages to brush off the slight, but does not ostensibly tell anyone about it, other than Charlotte (who is with her at the time).

Jane’s beauty is discussed quickly, by Mrs. Bennett. This is described to Bingley and Darcy, and the discussion of poetry occurs in this encounter as well. At this point, Elizabeth uses the opportunity to reference Darcy’s slight to challenge him.

The discussion of the the dance (and the arrival of Jane’s invitation) occurs over breakfast. A few of the conversational points about the necessity of marriage occur during this point as well, as a noisy moment. The scene places the family as much more tightly interwoven with the servants, and the place as much more earthy and grounded, for lack of better terms. Jane’s arrival at Netherfield and her illness are swiftly elided, though the severity of Jane’s fever is presented as not all that significant. The father’s role in this seems fairly ineffectual, and his remarks about Jane dying is less biting. The father is additionally much less interested in the family affairs, and the mother is much less ridiculous.

Elizabeth is seen to simply walk toward Netherfield, and this is demonstrated as a surprise. There is no fear or any attempts to talk her out of it. At Netherfield, Bingley appears much more silly. The reading scene and the turn about the room again occur in the same scene. Miss Bingley is again biting, but in a quieter way. Introducing the turn around the room scene, Miss Bingley does not speak her request, but instead does so through touch.

Officers are introduced by a parade in Meryton, making much more evident their appearance in the neighborhood.

Throughout, the cutting is quick, and moves form one place to another, but does so in such a way as to indicate more passage of time. Mr. Collins arrival is presented suddenly, though, and we have very little forewarning of his character. He simply appears, first at the door, and then at dinner, and is met with somewhat hostile looks. He appears much more interested in financial and status matters right from the bat. There is less general apologies, he seems to take himself much more seriously and gravely. Instead of delivering his lines as though he thinks he were paying compliments, he delivers them in total deadpan. His slighting is cold and distant, rather than silly.

In town, Wickham is presented congenially, is immediately friendly and charming, and quickly invites the daughters to go shopping. Wickham explains himself after meeting Darcy, and he and Elizabeth discuss this in the middle of a grove. Wickham is presented friendly and gently.

The private ball at Netherfield is also crowded. We see Darcy following Elizabeth around a little bit in the shadows. During first dance, Collins talks to and stares intently at Elizabeth, but Elizabeth talks to Charlotte Lucas. Darcy proposal to dance is very sudden. The conversation with Dance is emphasized to be especially awkward. During the conversation with Darcy where she discusses Wickham, the staging removes the other characters giving a sense of Elizabeth’s self driven isolation, and the camera moves in a disorienting manner. Following the dance, a number of quick scenes occur: Collins’ approaching Darcy occurs (revealing how much shorter Collins is in comparison to Darcy), Miss Bingley makes an ominous (but not especially rude) comment to Elizabeth, Mr. Bennett silences Mary singing (without Elizabeth’s request), and we see Mrs. Bennett gossiping about potential marriages. After this, Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas talk about how Jane should be more revealing of her desire.

During the outro of the ball, there is a panorama of the people within the ball, ultimately revealing Elizabeth hiding in the dark. This suggests a conflict between public and private space as a central theme within the film. When the family finally leaves Netherfield, it appears to be very early morning, just before the sun rises.

Leading up to the Collins proposal, Collins approaches requesting private audience with Elizabeth while the family is having breakfast. This results in a rather dramatic scene wherein the entire family is removed from the dining room. This involves a painful scene where Mr. Bennet leaves Elizabeth despite her asking him to stay. The declining of the proposal is quickly and forceful. Afterwards, Elizabeth runs out of the house. What is most striking about the proposal is Collins’ utter passionlessness in the entire matter. He seems to view it as primarily a political alliance, not as something due to any thoughts or feelings, genuine or otherwise. The encounter between Mr and Mrs Bennett and Elizabeth occurs outside, and Mrs. Bennett’s protests also seem primarily financial in nature. Elizabeth refuses seemingly on grounds that she doesn’t want to marry him, and protests the thought that she might be forced.

Like the 1940s version, Jane receives the letter of Mr. Bingley’s departure from Netherfield immediately after she returns to the house. Jane’s departure to London is given as basically Elizabeth’s idea. After she leaves, Charlotte returns and tells Jane personally the news of her engagement with Collins. This encounter is focused on Charlotte’s necessity to marry, as she cannot afford to be romantic (unlike Elizabeth). Charlotte leaves protesting that Elizabeth not judge her for her choice to marry Collins, citing how she is a burden on her family. This again touches on the theme of individualism. After this, there is a scene suggesting the passage of time, where Elizabeth sits on this swing and going around sees a yard at different stages of time. Finally, we get a voiceover of Charlotte’s letter inviting Elizabeth to visit her.

Lady Catherine is in a very opulent environment, but is rather quiet. She is gray haired and reserved. The camera positioning gives her an air of authority. Quickly afterward Darcy appears. The drawing room conversation occurs during dinner, during which everyone appears to be having soup, and maneuvers their spoons in synchrony. Lady Catherine is very grave and serious. She seems to maintain dominance over the scenes as a full voice of cold authority.

The scene while Elizabeth plays piano and chides Darcy occurs mostly in private, and her suggestion that Darcy practice conversing with others is quiet and between the two of them.

Fitzwilliam’s revealing of Darcy’s role in Jane’s removal from Bingley occurs during a church scene with Mr. Collins giving the sermon. There are meaningful interchanges of gaze from Elizabeth to Darcy. The scene afterward features Elizabeth running along across a stone bridge in the rain, and Darcy finally approaches her while she is standing in some building with columns. This gives a further push in the direction of Gothic romance. The actual proposal takes place with utter surprise outside in the rain. On Elizabeth’s rejection of Dary’s proposal, he first asks if Elizabeth is laughing at him. The two argue, again, first about the genuine nature of Jane’s affection, and then about Wickham. The interaction degenerates into shouting very quickly. Much of what was communicated in Darcy’s letter is moved into this argument. Toward its conclusion, Darcy moves closer and closer, until they finally appear right up next to each other.

The scene following contains Elizabeth moving with some gloominess and confusion throughout the house at Hunsford, illustrating passage of time and suggesting that Elizabeth remains withdrawn, not doing anything. Finally, Darcy appears to her, out of the shadows, inside, and leaves his letter. This appearance makes him seem almost like a ghost, a gesture that pushes this again in the Gothic tradition.

Elizabeth returns to Longbourn and meets Jane. Jane describes her rejection of Bingley. Asking what news, Elizabeth says that she did not hear anything (unlike the 1940s version) keeps quiet about both Darcy’s proposal and his role in separating Jane from Wickham. She keeps quiet about this even when the two talk at night, Elizabeth denies hearing Darcy talk about Bingley, but cries privately while doing so.

The Gardiners bring Elizabeth to Darbyshire, giving a great panorama of the area, and the grandness of nature. Afterwards, they recline in the woods, and decide to visit Pemberley. On visiting the house, Elizabeth surveys this collection of marble sculptures, which are all quite sensual. Elizabeth’s response to these is of this fascination and awakening awe and wonder. Losing her relatives and the housekeeper, she walks out and explores some of the rooms of the house alone. While this occurs, she hears piano music from another room, and finds Georgiana, as well as Darcy. Darcy appears, hugs his sister, and then catches Elizabeth’s gaze spying on them. The profound embarrassment of the situation is reflected on Elizabeth’s side, but less on the part of Darcy. He seems earnestly helpful, eager, and fascinated, but the encounter is brief.

Afterwards, we see Elizabeth returning to the inn at Lambton, where the Gardiners relay Darcy’s invitation. His conversing with the Gardiners occurs during this encounter as well. Afterwards, the next evening, Elizabeth gets the letter from Jane, but this is revealed suddenly, via Elizabeth’s reaction. Darcy and the Gardiner’s are present as Elizabeth makes the announcement. Darcy leaves quickly, but first after asserting his blame. The Gardiners then encourage the return to Longbourn.

Back home, Mrs. Bennett’s fear and anxiety is much more consistent, focusing on her loss and fear. There is none of the vacillating between distress and talk of wedding dresses. Throughout this, Mrs. Bennett appears much more sympathetic. Mr. Bennett returns, and as he does so, the letter from Mr. Gardiner arrives asserting the finding and engagement of Lydia and Wickham.

Wickham’s arrival is friendly and more somewhat amicable. Lydia’s mentioning of Darcy appears at dinner, publicly. The entire encounter between when Lydia arrives and when she departs is very quick. There is some gesture of the coldness between Wickham and Mr. Bennett, but not very much.

When Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy arrive, there is a mad scramble for the mother and daughters to get the sitting room in shape. When the actual men arrive, they are present with utmost awkwardness. Afterward, there is an encounter between Darcy and Bingley, as Bingley practices his proposal with Darcy. he returns to the sitting room at the house right afterward, and makes a bold request to request Jane’s company immediately thereafter. We then see the beginnings of his proposal. During this time, the entire family eavesdrops in (echoing the beginning).

Afterwards, we see Darcy walk away from the house in a sense of distant melancholy. Then there is a pan by of several of the rooms of the house from the outside. There is a view of the parents talking with some degree of happiness and amicability. After we see Jane and Elizabeth talking, in the middle of the night, Lady Catherine visits.

They talk in the drawing room. The scene gives Lady Catherine dominance and command within the encounter. The point where Lady Catherine tells Elizabeth about her supposed engagement with Darcy, there is a subtle vertigo, suggesting that Elizabeth realizes suddenly what might be taking place. Lady Catherine’s power is emphasized by severe closeups on her face. Elizabeth’s response is quiet, but strong, finally she verbally forces Lady Catherine out. The family, again, eavesdrops on the encounter. When it ends, they move to inquire as to what it is about, but Elizabeth shouts at them to leave her alone (for once in her life).

Next morning, Elizabeth stalks through the heath before sunrise. Darcy emerges from the mist as she is walking by, and approaches her. They immediately get to the point that it was Darcy who helped Lydia and Jane. Darcy professes his love rather emphatically. Elizabeth responds by moving forward and touching his hand (remarking that it is cold; there have been a lot of shots of his hand), and the camera zooms in on the two of them approaching to kiss as the sun rises behind them.

Darcy visits Mr. Bennett personally to profess his intentions, and Elizabeth steps in after Darcy steps out. During this conversation, Elizabeth tells her father of Darcy’s amends to the family. The encounter is very emotional (he gets red in his eyes) and reveals some of the father’s breaking distance. I think that one of the suggestions is that underneath the layers of withdrawal and distance, that the characters are still emotionally warm inside.

Some general notes:

The gothic connection is actually quite strong, as the gothic romances usually involve the opening up of the female protagonist through the exploration of a historical and narrative environment, and this is given here as very naturally focused. When she hears the good news, Mrs. Bennett’s joy seems much more to be genuine relief, but is also subdued.

Reading Info:
TitlePride and Prejudice
Tagsfiction, settings, media traditions, specials
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Leonard Foner: What’s an Agent, Anyway?

[Readings] (03.19.09, 4:07 pm)

Opening poses agents as a trend in software design, to lend computer applications a human face. This was seen early in Macintosh file finding programs, as well as in a variety of other places. Foner’s goal is to outline what “true” agents are, to identify how they are made up and what they have the potential to do.

The agent Foner spends most of his time examining is Julia, which was developed by Michael Loren (“Fuzzy“) Mauldin. Julia is a MUD chatterbot, which acts like any other player of a MUD and can talk and interact with other players.

The interesting thing with Julia is that because MUDs are textual online worlds, players interact with each other at a level through textual commands. Julia is essentially in the same position as any other player, having a character to interact in this world. As a result, other players interact with Julia just as though she were another player. The interface of the MUD creates an ambiguity between players and agents, because there is no clear or immediate way of distinguishing one from the other.

Julia is often used by other players as a helpful guide in the online world, like a knowledgeable friend who is always around and can always spare the time to give help, directions, or advice. Much of Julia’s function is giving help to others, and she can answer many questions about the world, that are not easily answered any other way.

At this level, it is possible to compare Julia to a documentation system, but instead of being faced with extensive documentation, Julia can give immediate and quick responses. The MUD environment is also constantly changing, so an agent who can explore the space like any other player is a potentially very useful resource. Her encyclopedic knowledge is part of what makes her ordinarily human behaviors give way to her robotic nature.

For her human-like qualities, Julia contains several subtle and very particular variations in her behavior in the world. For instance, she moves waits a second or two before moving from one room to another, she varies her responses, and she usually has somewhat coy responses when asked whether she is really human or really female. Foner explains that these human like characteristics make her functional behavior even more useful for other players. Foner gives an anecdote where another player, herself a programmer who knew that Julia is a bot, remarked on how she missed Julia when whe was offline. This is an interesting emotional reaction to something that the speaker knew was artificial. However, it is hardly unusual. People anthropomorphize things that are not human, often that are not even animate and develop attachments to them.

I would argue that an interesting reason for some of this success is the way in which she is adapted to and situated in the MUD. She is not emobided, but then again, no in-MUD character is really embodied. She has the same sort of virtual body that everyone else does.

Toward the end of the paper, Foner gives a series of bullets that characterize agents. These definitions describe agents as primarily functional things, that exist within some computational format, and are there to carry out tasks on the behalf of users. It is important to note that this is relevant from the perspective of developing agents as software tools, but for the purposes of simulations and of games (such as The Sims), Foner’s definition breaks down somewhat. The characteristics are as follows:

  • Autonomy: The agent performs actions on its own, and takes initiative.
  • Personizability: The agent adapts and learns to different users, adapting itself to them.
  • Discourse: The agent talks back and communication is two way, unlike other tools.
  • Risk and trust: The user can delegate a task to the agent and trust that the agent will do the task correctly. The risk of the agent failing must be balanced with the user’s trust.
  • Domain: The degree of specialization and risk is dependent on the domain being explored.
    Graceful degradation: Failure at a task or improper understanding of the task should exhibit graceful degradation, revealing that there might be a problem without, for instance, producing an error message.
  • Cooperation: The relationship between the user and agent is cooperative, and conversational, as opposed to commanding.
  • Anthropomorphism: Foner argues that agents are often anthropomorphized, but that they do not need to be. Similarly, many anthropomorphizied programs (such as Eliza) are not agents.
  • Expectations: The agent should be able to respond reasonably to most users’ expectations.
Reading Info:
Author/EditorFoner, Lenny
TitleWhat's an Agent, Anyway?
Tagsdigital media, art, social simulation, specials
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Janet Murray: Inventing the Medium

[Readings] (03.18.09, 9:43 pm)

It should be noted that this hasn’t been published yet. The following notes were taken on a draft which Janet Murray has distributed to her students. Thus, when it finally is published, my page number references are likely to be very wrong. We are also not supposed to cite from this, but there are a few short definitions which I went ahead and cited anyway because they seemed very valuable.

My notes here are also a little cruder than usual, since I took them directly rather than through my normal 2-step method, so apologies for this in advance.

Chapter 1: The Goals of Design

Design is a historical phenomenon, ancient in its origin. It reflects cultural biases and values. Murray proposes inclusion in design as a way to achieve the best designs.

Design crosses media, as well as existing within media. Murray uses the analogy of building blocks. Digital media is new, and therefore has cruder building blocks, or more homogeneous ones. A new medium has undifferentiated pieces with potential, but everything must be built from scratch. An established medium has more specialized and varied pieces. Digital media also inherits many building blocks from legacy media. This raises a problem over whether to use the old ones or build new ones for the medium.

Chapter 4: Inscription and Transmission

Media are everywhere, and we are surrounded by not only the media, but the discourse about media. This omnipresence makes it difficult to identify and define what a medium actually is, as it exists at cultural and cognitive levels. Murray asks how design takes place and what occurs in the process of inventing a medium. This is given by three purposes: inscription, transmission, and representation. These are systems of meaning making.

Inscription is process of learning and use of the medium. Writing takes a long time to learn, but once learned becomes transparent. In immature media, the inscription does not seem transparent, but confusing and cumbersome. Inscription is the dimension of the human interaction with the medium on the surface.

Transmission is also transparent in a mature medium. Transmission is about how the medium works underneath the surface. The example given is with a telephone line, which has developed to be an invisible but pervasive part of infrastructure. The alphabet is too a means of transmission, because it is a method by which written information may be stored until retrieved. With media that are not yet mature, the flaws and inconsistencies in transmission rise to the surface and become painfully visible, for instance incompatible formats of computer files.

The last dimension is representation, which is about how people can make sense of the content transmitted by the medium. This is characterized by cultural codes, and also genres. This is the dimension that is most closely associated with cognition, and meaning making. It ties into the dimensions of practice and use. At this level, the difference between a mature and immature medium are quite clear. The mature medium is one which has a long practice and history of usage and interpretation, which the immature medium lacks. Artifacts in immature media are confusing and require more attention because we do not know how to interpret them as we know how to interpret other things.

Argues that cognition is tightly related to the development of media, and that cultural development works in synchronization with media. Media works because of schemas, or cognitive patterns of meaning. “Inscription is the intentional shaping of a receptive physical material with an appropriate technology so that produces a perceptible pattern.” (p. 62; draft) This thus requires an intentional agent, a markable material, an appropriate technology, and a perceptible result.

In discussing transmission, Murray uses the transmission model of communication, where communication occurs along channels, and is encoded as to reproduce with the most clarity the original “meaning”. This is an interesting model because it assumes a certain literal sense of the content that goes through the medium. In many cases, this is exactly what is intended and needed, but for some practices, most notably artistic ones, purpose of the artifact is not to reproduce data, but to encourage active meaning making on the part of the audience.

Chapter 5: Language, Sign, Genre

Chapter introduces language as a model for media conventions. This denotes what is the content of a medium, and this can range from spoken to written words to the visual language of film, described in shots. Language is intrinsically arbitrary and dependent on social agreement of meaning. I would actually argue that the arbitrariness of language is actually contestable. Several of the dimensions of language, especially visual and other languages, are dependent on other factors, which may be either cultural or cognitive.

To understand language, Murray suggests the use of substitution rules. However, with substitution rules, the connection between written language and other media becomes difficult, as substitution rules may be used to analyze other media, but these rules are usually not sufficient to as generative syntax. The example she gives is of filmic language. This is a distinction that I argue is a differentiation between descriptive and generative models. It is important to note that a single medium may be analyzed using many different forms of language (or models) which describe and account for different aspects of the medium.

Languages and models may be understood as the interchange of signs, and thus the content or the representations enabled by media consist of signs, which depend on social agreement to suitably designate meaning. It is at this point where the expressive variability of a medium becomes significant. Murry explains that signs may have meanings shared by an interpretive community. Different communities may endow the same sign with varying meanings. Signs thus contain some inherent ambiguity that is different from noise. Murray argues that context is necessary to make sense and absolve this ambiguity, but may also make the ultimate meaning deeper.

Genre is about conventions. These conventions may be determined by ritualized codes, practices, physical constraints, among others. Under this definition, genre would be seen to be greatly determined by the shape and structure of the medium. Murray does acknowledge a difference between media-specific genres and media-independent genres. Genre is basically a meaning making system, based on patterns of interpretation according to conventions. “We can think of a media genre as a powerful substitution system based on a flexible set of conventions that allow for the right mixture of predictability and variety to allow us to focus on the meaningful elements.” (p. 99; draft) In this sense, a genre is a model in the purest sense. It is a system for meaningfully interpreting structures in a specific and internally consistent way.

This understanding of genre also includes as genres many things which may often be described as media. In this distinction, the medium is the system of encoding, communication, and channels, while the genre is the system of conventions. It is important to note that media also depend on conventions, for the use and understanding of content transmitted through the medium, but the importance of media is tied into the channel itself. This is rather unconventional in terms of some conventional uses and definitions. Thus, telephone communication is a medium, but a buisness call is a genre. Physical gesture and enunciation is a medium, a theatrical performance is a genre. At this point, the relationship between media and genre becomes convoluted, though, because a play exists in written form, as something crafted through direction, and finally as a performance.

In examining the genre of a theatrical play, Murray looks at several of the conventions that are used to compose it. Social conventions prescribe how the audience and actors are arranged and separated. Physical staging conventions give specialized meaning to the changes of lighting, as well as the transformation of scenery, and the vocabulary of gestures and props used by the actors. Plays are subject to conventions of temporal segmentation, establishing a special understanding of the passage of time within the performance. Finally theatre makes use of conventions of plot, the variations of which are what are colloquially referred to as theatrical genres.

Chapter 8: Abstracting Complex Behaviors

This chapter is admittedly the one most relevant for my work. The focus of the chapter is on abstraction, and this ranges from a conceptual understanding of abstraction, to procedural to simulation focused.

Murray introduces the chapter by citing the Oxford Dictionary of Computing definition of abstraction, which focuses on what is ignored in the subject being abstracted. The process of abstraction is necessarily one of simplification, and thus it requires ignoring some things, but also emphasizing others. Abstraction can be seen to work at levels, where something (either data or procedures) are successively “abstracted away.”

The focus of this chapter remains on design, and how abstraction may be used as a tool for design, and as a design strategy. This knowledge is generally significant by thinking about designed content in a form that is modular and extensible, that is, it can be made to work with other things, and can be put toward other goals, and especially be made useful for other users.

Abstraction been woven integrally into the fields of programming and system design, and is a necessary requirement and component of any medium. Using Murray’s definition, media are communication systems, which depend on data encoding and transmission, and these require means for abstracting that data.

Abstraction exists in distilling systems, which are means of analyzing some data to produce a simplified statistical model of that data. Examples of this are used frequently in economics, to model groups of consumers, but are also frequently used in silly quiz websites that attempt to define what type of person the user is by getting them to ask several questions. Abstraction also exists in substitution systems, which are means of collecting a large collection of possible options under one heading. Any of those options could be employed in the substitutions.

The core principles of abstraction are things that I would call models. My understanding of a model is principally about abstraction, it is a way of interpreting some system into another, simpler internally consistent system. Under this view, I think that both media and genres are essentially models, where a genre is defined by the interpretation of its conventions and a medium is defined by the interpretation of its encoding.

Murray discusses simulation. She gives a definition of a system: “A system is a set of processes and actors that work together in an integrated manner.” (p. 215; draft) This definition is general, but can be applied in interesting ways to different subjects. This definition of system also hinges on a temporal nature, seemingly excluding static structures.

Abstraction in simulation is about defining the boundaries of the simulated world, which are both physical and conceptual. Simulations must also be designed at a certain level of granularity, which is the “depth” to which the simulation may be understood. Giving the example of Sim City, she explains that its level of granularity does not include individual citizens. Simulations do not need to model the real world, they may in fact do nothing of the sort; but in order to be believable, the simulations must be consistent.

In presenting a particular abstraction of the world, a simulation includes with it its own system of values. The rhetoric of simulations often is through its implicit and unstated assumptions. Murray discusses the persuasive games Darfur Is Dying, and Gonzalo Frasca’s games Kabul Kaboom!, September 12th, and Madrid. These games are systems that encode the designer’s values into the very rules of the simulated world.

Murray compares these and some others with Papert’s concept of the microworld. Papert’s original concept was oriented around learning mathematical and scientific concepts, but political games introduce a dimension of social and political science into the mix. These communicate effectively by explaining their assumptions, their model, and how the consequences of the game relates to the real world. Not all games do this, and I would argue that games can be dangerous when they fail to communicate or miscommunicate their assumptions. Civilization is a great example of this.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorMurray, Janet
TitleInventing the Medium
Tagsmedia theory, digital media, specials
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Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel

[Readings] (03.18.09, 11:47 am)

My interest in Diamond comes not from an anthropological perspective, but from a systemic one. Diamond is important because he gives an account of human history that focuses on the systems that give rise to current situations. This is presented as a gradual change from ultimate factors to proximal factors. The question Diamond seeks to answer in the book is why Western Europe came to dominate so much of the globe. Why didn’t the Incas sail to Europe and lay waste to the Spanish instead of the other way around? The arguments that are usually employed to explain and justify European expansion tend to involve such racist themes of inherent superiority of people. While these arguments are false and usually acknowledged to be so, they are often accepted subconsciously as folk explanations for history. Diamond first presses to look first at the direct causes for the domination (technology, ships, diseases, steel, horses, etc), but shows that these are not enough. Why did Europe develop guns and steel weaponry and not Polynesia? The ultimate causes for these can be traced back to environmental factors.

Diamond is relevant for three reasons. The first is that he presents a view of the world that is system focused, that views human history as an emergent system that is the product of rules and circumstances. The second is that the system perspective can be employed pedagogically, as a theory which can be used to empower students by offering an alternative to conventional theories. The third is that it can be used as an alternative model in other historical simulations, most notably it can be compared with the system of history presented in Sid Meier’s Civilization. Much of what I am interested in is using this to compare against Civilization, and to show how the models used in Civilization encourage the classic racist interpretations of history.

I am not alone in my interest in these comparisons. Ian Bogost makes an analysis of Jared Diamond as a procedural representation of history (both here and in his book Persuasive Games). There is also a now defunct group that has been interested in using Guns, Germs, and Steel as a model for Civilization IV, the most recent installment in the series, which offers an extensive modding platform. It is arguable, though, that such a model would not be successful as a game because of how inequality is a natural consequence of Diamond’s model. Ironically, in attempt to make the game fun and even, where all societies have an even chance, the game makes them assume the history of the colonizers.

A Natural Experiment of History

Diamond gives a small test of a larger hypothesis. He looks at a particular conflict within Polynesia, specifically between the Maori and Moriori in New Zealand. The latter lived in a constrained environment that prevented excessive growth, while the Maori grew, developed a population beyond what was needed for support, and fought internally. In the same pattern as other colonizing and expansionist forces throughout history, the Maori eventually found the Moriori and destroyed and enslaved them. This small encounter reveals a microcosm of patterns that emerged across the world.

On the whole, Polynesia is interesting because it contains an intense diversity of cultural groups, and an equal diversity of environments in which these groups reside. To examine the issue of Polynesian cultural diversity, Diamond looks at environmental differences, specifically the variables of climate, geological type, marine resources, area, terrain fragmentation, and isolation. An interesting detail about this is that these types of variables are things that are receptive to simulation. These are also variables that occur within the game Civilization, although the model of the game is constructed to give every player a roughly equally “valuable” exchange of these variables.

These environmental factors give way to first issues of sustinence, which can be expressed in what types and volumes of food are available, ranging from hunting and gathering, to domestication of animals and agriculture. This then leads directly to population density and size. The size of a population is dependent on the size of the political unit, which may be a single island, a part of a large island, or a cluster of islands. The political unit size is dependent on the isolation of the mass. The population size affects the number of potential non-producers. Non-producers are people who do not spend their time on sustenance, but can be chiefs and bureaucrats, craftsmen, artists, and so on. The number of these  non-producers and the population size tends to lead to greater social complexity. Again, several of these factors are available in Civilization. The game has a model of producers versus non-producers, but this dimension is included in the model anyway. The important distinction is that Civilization takes size and complexity as assumptions, as inevitabilities.

Further factors emerge in the types of tools that are developed and used, which is dependent on the number of specialists, as well as the available materials. With large numbers of these, there can be ever greater production sizes, leading to the massive monuments at Easter, among others. These are dependent on the centrality of the political organization. The interesting dimension is that these types of monuments seem very reminiscent of other sorts of monuments in other cultures, notably the Egyptian pyramids. Diamond suggests that the size of the monuments is directly related to the scale of labor that the political leaders could draw from the population.

Collision at Cajamarca

Diamond in this section looks at the Spanish destruction of the Incas at Cajamarca, and the capture and ransom of Atahuallpa. He discusses the differences between the sides coming from their history. These differences are presented step by step through a series of questions. Why did Pizarro capture Atahuallpa? How did Atahuallpa come to be at Cajamarca? How did Pizarro come to be at Cajamarca? Why didn’t Atahuallpa instead try to conquer Spain? Why did Atahuallpa walk into the trap? These each depend on some particular difference between the forces. The Spanish captured Atahuallpa because of their guns, horses, and steel weapons and armor. The Incas were vulnerable because of civil conflicts and the smallpox epidemics spread by other Europeans. The Spanish invaded the Incas because of the massive political and economic infrastructure that enabled expansion. Writing and the literate tradition enabled Europeans to communicate their experiences with the Native Americans and make use of successful strategies in their bloody conquest.

What is remarkable about this is that each step is defined by an environmental difference, where the Inca civilization took one route and the Spanish took another. In Civilization the game, these steps are not assumed to yield differences. Instead, the course of history that the Spanish followed is the course that everyone must take in Civilization. Essentially, it assumes that all societies must inevitably develop the kind of power that colonizers have used to oppress others. In Civilization’s model of history where these steps are natural and inevitable, it would appear that the destruction of the Inca’s was their own fault, for not developing the technology and production that came so naturally to the Spanish. Civilization’s model is thus racist because it disregards the existence of other options in cultural development.

Farmer Power

The last thing I want to include is a handy picture of the transition from ultimate factors to proximate factors.

Ultimate to Proximate factors

Ultimate to Proximate factors

Reading Info:
Author/EditorDiamond, Jared
TitleGuns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
ContextExtremely useful for contrasting against the rhetoric of Civilization.
Tagsspecials, media theory, anthropology
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

James Carse: Finite and Infinite Games

[Readings] (03.17.09, 5:34 pm)

Finite and Infinite Games is ultimately a philosophical work, reverberating with a kind of immanent philosophy that might be found in the Tao te Ching. Content of work is really two ways of looking at the world, juxtaposed. These are the finite and infinite games. One can view the world in a finite sense or an infinite sense. In Carse’s view, finite and infinite are literal according to their etymology. Meaning literally with or without end. His aim in the book is to explore these as apply to political, social, sexual, philosophical, and religious lives. My own interest comes from application to games of the digital variety, but also in finding ways to apply Carse’s concepts to a theory of models.

Finite games are played to be won, whereas infinite games are played for the sake of continuing play. Finite games are also distinguished by the role of opposition, where there must be at least one opponent. There may only be one winner of a finite game. Rules in finite games are fixed, but in an infinite game, the rules may and must be changed over the course of play.

There is a complex relationship between past and future in these games. These are discussed as depending on the role of surprise, which is an unexpected occurrence or situation. Surprise is a victory of the future over the past within an infinite game. Surprises are positive things in infinite games, as they reveal new beginnings. In an infinite game the present is not predetermined by the past. In finite games, surprise is usually feared or undesirable. To be prepared against surprise is to be trained, whereas to prepare for surprise is to be educated. Training is the means of removing the possibility for surprises to occur, while education reveals the inherent uncertainty of the past.

At stake in finite games are titles, indicators that one has won a finite game. These titles manifest in power over others, and the goal of a finite game is to obtain that power. Infinite players play to gain freedom and is enabling of others rather than constraining or forcing them.

Carse describes society and culture in opposition, where society is a more finite game and culture is more infinitely oriented. Society is about enabling deviations from the script, whereas society is about sanctioning them. This view is very different from anthropological senses of culture.

Another dimension is between drama and theatricality. The former is an infinite concept, where the latter is a finite one. The essence of drama is something that Carse calls “genius” but is a term that relates more to its etymological root rather than its conventional usage. Genius in Carse’s view means more of the generator or originator of something, and is tied into the concept of spontaneity. To speak as a genius is to speak to somebody. To speak not as a genius is to recite to an audience. Dramatic action is totally original, becoming gone forever once over.

This perspective is interesting in relation to Goffman, who attests that interaction is inherently theatrical, and involves reciting of existing ideas rather than original actions. Goffman’s view can be seen as in the spectrum towards Baudrillard, who argues that due to simulation, there are no spontaneous gestures, only reflections of others, ad nauseam. Carse’s view is also interesting from the perspective of cognition and AI, because his idea of the infinite player asserts a self that is more than its parts. “A robot can say words but cannot say them to you.” (p. 5 in summary)

The infinite perspective reveals that our understanding of the world is ireperably incomplete. Essentially, to see that one’s own view is incomplete is to see at all. This is an extremely important concept and is a cornerstone upon which a theory of models must be built.

Carse compares the idea of the “Master Player” to the eternality of nature. The master player is a finite player who masters all the rules, and the future of a finite game. “It is the desire of all finite players to be Master Players, to be so perfectly skilled in their play that nothing can surprise them, so perfectly trained that every move in the game is foreseen at the beginning. A true Master Player plays as though the game is already in the past, according to a script whose every detail is known prior to the play itself.” (Chapter 16) The Master Player concept is woven into the concepts and assumptions of AI. To some extent, this is necessary, but it reflects a philosophical problem. Games (of the electronic variety) that can be mastered teach the players to be Master Players, to embrace the finite nature of the game.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorCarse, J.P.
TitleFinite and Infinite Games
Tagsgames, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Brian McFarlane: Novel to Film

[Readings] (03.17.09, 3:24 pm)

McFarlane prefaces his book with noting that there is a prevalence of adaptations from novel to film. His stated aim is not to devise an elaborate analysis, but to understand how the novel is related to film in adaptations. What kinds of content may be transferred and what may not (these are narrative and enunciation respectively). The focus of adaptation is on realist novels. McFarlane is light on issues of authorship, and acknowledges this as a potential area of study.

In mainstream games, the role of adaptation is extremely important. Frequently there is a process of adaptation from a text (often in comic form) to film, and then into game. With many titles, the sequence is synergetic and sustained. For instance, the film and game are released simultaneously, and later, both have sequels, which in turn influence each other. It is important to look at the process of conventions and transformations as pertains to the respective media. This is similar to McFarlane’s exploration of the relationship between novel and film, and something may be gained from that analysis.

The book is organized into two parts. The first is relatively short and discusses the general theory that is used, and the latter is an analysis of case studies. I am focusing my analysis exclusively on the former.

Background, Issues, and a New Agenda

The affinity of novel to film adaptation can be supported by trends in the novel as a form, which emerged as a result of the realist movement. One of the first points of emphasis comes from Conrad’s famously stated intention of making the reader “see,” and this image oriented desire is continued in James. This desire makes the image a focus of fiction, and supports the idea that the image is used to understand, something that was picked up by Griffith. In the novel, the prevalence of the realist image denotes a different relationship between the author and the text than occurred previously. This was a shift from telling to showing, which was analyzed in detail by Booth.

Approaches to adaptation seem to exist midway between the poles of artistic reverence and capitalism. Film makers express a range of views of reverence, but nonetheless, both still tend to make conservative and literal transformations of the original novels. Very few film makers create transformative and bold takes on the adapted texts. Adaptations can be seen as concretizing the world of the novel visually.

McFarlane discusses elements of fidelity criticism, at some distance, without endorsing it. He discusses Beja, who asks what the relationship betwen the two works should be, and asks if fidelity is even possible. This question seems to be the crux of McFarlane’s investigation. The Beja quote cited is: “In asking whether there are ‘guiding principles for film-makers adapting literature, he asks: ‘What relationship should a film have to the original source? Should it be “faithful”? can it be? To what?'” (p. 9; Beja, Film and Literature, 80) Also relevant is McFarlane’s encapsulation of what fidelity criticism is about: “Fidelity criticism depends on a notion of the text as having and rendering up to the (intelligent) reader a single, correct ‘meaning’ which the film-maker has either adhered to or in some sense violated or tampered with. There will often be a distinction between being faithful to the ‘letter’, an approach which the more sophisticated writer may suggest is no way to ensure a ‘successful’ adaptation, and tot he ‘spirit’ or ‘essence’ of the work.” Essentially, fidelity criticism depends on the existence and homogeneity of interpretations of a work’s meaning. McFarlane suggests that fidelity is a distraction, while the real goal should be intertextuality, where the original is used as a resource.

McFarlane makes a distinction between adaptation proper and transference. Transference is where elements from one medium can be carried over non-problematically into another. Adaptation proper requires finding different renditions of the work that might be equivalent in the new form. To address this problem, McFarlane invokes Barthes, looking at how a text is composed of narrative functions. There are two kinds of these: distributional and integrational, also known as functions proper and indices. The former are actions and events, and are horizontal in the sense of narrative time. The latter are the density of description and the discourse, which are vertical. The difference is between doing versus being. Indices are clearly more important in terms of adaptation for film, because they involve visual presentation, which is the entire content of film. However, functions proper are operational. As presented, functions proper are used to designate narrative events, but these could also be integrated into a perspective of the systematicity of the story world, and would be ideal for looking at for game adaptations.

Functions poper are divided into two categories: cardinal and catalysers (which Chatman calls satellites). Cardinal functions are the “risky” parts of narrative, where the outcome of the event could potentially be different. This is where there is room for discrete decision points in an interactive rendition of the story. The catalysers are extra details that support the reality of the world, and can be used to contextualize the cardinal functions. Indices may be divided into indices proper and informants. Indices proper are the atmospheric dimensions of a narrative, the characters and moods. Informants are the “facts” about the story world: names and places, ages and professions, and so on.

McFarlane gives a differentiation between narrative and enunciation, which roughly corresponds to story and discourse in Chatman’s terms. It is the narrative which can be transferred into film, whereas it is the enunciation that must be adapted. These are distinguished by the following definitions: (p. 20)

  1. those elements of the original novel which are transferrable because not tied to one or other semiotic system–that is, essentially, narrative, and
  2. those which invovle intricate processes of adaptation because their effects are closely tied to the semiotic system in which they are manifested–that is, enunciation.

It is the enunciation which must be adapted. However, for the systemic world of games, which are not narrative in the pure sense (games lack an authorial control over the sequence and linearity of the narrative), the narrative must be adapted as well! Because modern mainstream games share many of the features used by the visual semiotic language of cinema, much of the enunciation may be simply transferred into the game. This is a striking turn of structure. The adaptation process from novel to film is in essence the opposite of the process from film to game. Of course, this is not completely true, as it assumes a purely systemic and simulation oriented approach to the game and a straightforwardness of the visual language, but this is a point worth noting, nonetheless.

In the space of novel to film adaptation, the work of transference focuses on communicating the functions of the original. A surface level of “fidelity” could be taken as the extent to which the cardinal functions have been transferred. The transference requires making use of the mythic and psychological patterns found in the work. Adaptation proper in notvel to film requires working in between two isnifying systems. Moving textual cues into visual and iconic ones. This also requiers using codes, which must be interpreted by the viewer. This requires presenting instead of representing, and making operable the representation. The idea of making the work operable again is true and of importance in adaptation to games.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorMcFarlane, Brian
TitleNovel to Film
Tagsadaptation, narrative, film, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Erving Goffman: Forms of Talk

[Readings] (03.16.09, 11:29 am)

The outset frames the book as a largely experimental work. The subject is talk in a general sense, and the content poses models of a few particular types of talk. His goal is not for these to be seen as definitive and final, but rather as possibilities. I would venture to call the models that Goffman puts forth prototypes. The general aim is to think about how to understand the dense layers of meaning in talk. Talk in person is laden with many forms of communication beyond language, including glances, posture, intonation, and so on. The idea is to understand what these are, but also to understand how people can understand and decipher all these signals in the first place. There are three matters that are important: ritualization, a participation framework, and the fact that words are frequently not our own. These dimensions are characteristics of dramaturgy. The essence of this is that talk contains the requirements of theatricality.

Replies and Responses

The subject of this chapter is the schema of reply and response. This is initially very simple, but begins to complex on realizing the layers of context and embeddings that take place within replies. Responses are dependent on the frame of the question, and are significantly dependent on them for the purposes of understanding their meaning. Goffman is at first using examples of questions and answers, of particular interest are layered responses. Where the person asked the question must pose another question in order to give the response. Alternately, some implicit contexts might be assumed and simply done away with. An example of this is a simple diner script: (p. 8, but coems from Marilyn Merritt)

A: “Have you got coffee to go?”
B: “Milk and sugar?”
A: “Just milk.”

In this brief example, B’s response not only implicitly answers A in the affirmative, but also suggests a state change. A is not asking a question for information, but rather is asking for service. On the request, B moves to fulfill it.

Goffman explains that there are three types of listeners in conversation: those that overhear; those that are ratified participants, but who are not specifically addressed; and those ratified participants who are specifically addressed. The system of particpants is again suggestive of theatrical models. The assumption with talk, though, is that the central goal of it is to communicate, and for the listeners to correctly understand what the speaker means, whether or not they agree with what was said. Speech uses many cues to provide feedback to confirm understanding. This is interesting in relation to games, where, when the player communicates with non-player characters, comprehension is treated as a given (not necessarily rightly so).

Talk is presented, initially, as a communication system, in terms of transmitting and receiving messages. Feedback occurs on a “back channel.” In this system, the two-part exchange of question and response is a natural form. The example of the communication based model is a case in which the theory shapes the interpretation of communications. Later on, Goffman explores examples which are very challenging to the communication model. Goffman suggests an approach to this model that formats exchanges as statements and replies, rather than questions and answers.

For the speaker, the communication model suggests a protocol of gestures and pauses. The general effect of these is a way of bracketing the talk, so that it is clear what each statement means, and what its frame and context are. The full channels model  is beyond my needs, but is remarkably thorough. Goffman suggests several requirements for talk in this model: (p. 14-15)

  1. A two-way capability for transceiving acoustically adequate and readily interpretable messages.
  2. Back-channel feedback capabilities for informing on reception while it is occurring.
  3. Contact signals: means of announcing the seeking of a channeled connection, means of ratifying that the sought-for channel is now open, means of closing off a theretofore open channel. Included here, identification-authentication signs.
  4. Turnover signals: means to indicate ending of a message and the taking over of the sending role by the next speaker. (In the case of talk with more than two persons, next-speaker selection signals, whether “speaker selects” or “self-select” types.)
  5. Preemption signals: means of including a rerun, holding off channel requests, interrupting a talker in progress.
  6. Framing capabilities: cues distinguishing special readings to apply across strips of bracketed communication, recasting otherwise conventional sense, as in making ironic asides, quoting another, joking, and so forth; and hearer signals that the resulting transformation has been followed.
  7. Norms obliging respondents to reply honestly with whatever they know that is relevant and no more.
  8. Nonparticipant constraints regarding eavesdropping, competing noise, and the blocking of pathways for eye-to-eye signals.

Talk is not all about pure and raw communication. Talk is heavily dependent on social codes and other conventions around politeness, etiquette, privacy, and so on. Communication may contain layers of subtext, for instance, a greeting that is meant to be inviting to further conversation or closed to it. Necessary for the inclusion of these subtexts is to see talk as having a ritual form, or be composed of ritualized interchanges. The system of ritual concerns works by imposing a set of constraints on allowable actions and behaviors. Goffman gives three primary points for ritual communication (p. 21), summarized here.

  1. The speech act makes implications about the character of the speaker and his relationship to the listeners.
  2. Offensive or potentially offensive actions may be ameliorated by apologies, but these must be acknowledged as acceptable to the listener.
  3. Offended parties must give a sign that offense has been made, otherwise they are enabling a lapse of the ritual code.

Addressing the problem of dialogic analysis, Goffman turns to the question of units. What are the units of conversation? Classical linguistics looks at sentences, but a more general term is needed (not least because many utterances are not sentences). Goffman suggests the idea of a “turn,” which means an entire period of speech. Instead, he settles on the idea of a “move.” Both of these terms are associated with games, and lend a certain game-like quality to the model of talk, something which is encouraged in the text.

Goffman is critical of the noncontextual approach to conversation, which is normally introduced in looking at replies and responses. The noncontextual approach is reminiscent of the classical models of linguistics and cognition, where the person is a frontend for a database of known facts. Goffman emphasizes the primacy of context in the comprehension of interactions. The model of statement and reply does not adequately account for the process of communication, only its content. So, Goffman suggests a system where conversation is rather a system of responses, where each statement is a response in reaction to the context which has been induced by the last move. Goffman gives four bullets describing the properties of responses: (p. 35) Note that these are extremely worth considering in the conversation simulation projects.

  1. They are seen as originating from an individual and as inspired by a prior speaker.
  2. They tell us something about the individual’s position or alignment in what is occurring.
  3. They delimit and articulate just what the “is occurring” is, establishing what it is the response refers to.
  4. They are meant to be given attention by others now, that is, to be assessed, appreciated, understood at the current moment.

Goffman begins to challenge the primacy of the statement, and then the entire communication-based model. Switches to the idea that talk is simply a sequence of response moves in reference to each other. He emphasizes the idea of context and social setting as fundamental: “So, too, we would be prepared to appreciate that the social setting of talk not only can provide something we call “context” but also can penetrate into and determine the very structure of the interaction.” (p. 53)

Finally, Goffman explores an interactional view of talk: “What, then, is talk viewed interactionally? It is an example of the arrangement by which individuals come together and sustain matters having a ratified, joint, current, and running claim upon attention, a claim which lodges them together in some sort of intersubjective mental world.” (p. 71) Tellingly, he uses the analogy of games. The difference is that the moves of conversation are not composed of tokens and positions, but utterances and other nonverbal cues. Statements and responses may be seen as deriving from moves, not the other way around.

Response Cries

The subject of this chapter is “response cries,” which are exclamations that one might give in response to oneself. Examples are things such as “hmm,” “ow!,” “ooh,” and so on. These are analyzed in detail. These kinds of expressions are not merely situated, they are situational. They are indicators of one’s own mental and physical state, partly aimed at others, to serve as indicators regarding potential interactions. These are thus theatric in nature.


The focus of this paper is the concept of “footing,” how the mode and frame of conversation is determined and how that is controlled (or not) by participants. Goffman’s first example is a transcript of president Nixon teasing and embarrassing a female news reporter, shifting the ground from a serious and official mode to a sexual one where the reporter is disempowered. Footing is important for the general understanding of reference (bracketing), and also for the role of power, which strongly relates to Johnstone’s status.

Instances of footing changes are conversational shifts. Examples of shifts are given here: (p. 127)

  1. direct or reported speech
  2. selection of the recipient
  3. interjections
  4. repetitions
  5. personal directness or involvement
  6. emphasis
  7. separation of topic and subject
  8. discourse type, e.g., lecture and discussion

Footing is important in fiction, as with social interaction, it is represented by various cues. In fiction and text it cannot be communicated subtextually through signs of gaze and posture. These signals exist, but they must be explained and raised to the level of the surface text. However, fiction has authorial shifts in terms of voice and focus, especially in the practices of different forms of speech (free indirect speech, for example), are closer indicators of footing changes. Footing changes are emphasized in film, and often are accompanied with special cuts to draw attention to the shift. The medium that probably would be most adept at communicating footing to games (in an interactional sense) would be comics, which are able to represent content with both text and images, with a great deal of simplification.

Goffman lists several qualities of footing in attempt to give a definition: (p. 128)

  1. Participant’s alignment, or set, or stance, or posture, or projected self is somehow at issue.
  2. The projection can be held across a strip of behavior that is less long than a grammatical sentence, or longer, so sentence grammar won’t help us all that much, although it seems clear that a cognitive unit of some kind is involved, minimally, perhaps, a “phonemic clause.” Prosodic, not syntactic, segments are implied.
  3. A continuum must be considered, from gross changes in stance to the most subtle shifts in tone that can be perceived.
  4. For speakers, code switching is usually involved and if not this then at least the sound markers that linguists study: pitch, volume, rhythm, stress, tonal quality.
  5. The bracketing of a “higher level” phase or episode of interaction is commonly involved, the new footing having a liminal role, serving as a buffer between two more substantially sustained episodes.

Normal language (channels) to denote speaker and hearer misses the other cues, and the other types of relationships: proximity, touch, gaze, and so on, that occur between particpants. These sorts of elements are crucial in footing, and are incidentally a substantial part of filmic language.

The first dimension is elaborating the relationship between the speaker, the addressed recipient, and the bystanders. This framing reveals the complexities of these interactions, especially as bystanders may talk and communicate amongst themselves, or there may be various levels of interaction between each level. Goffman explains these types of itneractions as byplay, crossplay, sideplay, and collusion. The act of speaking invovles more than just the speaker and receiver: “The point of all this, of course, is that an utterance does not carve up the world beyond the speaker into precisely two parts, recipients and non-recipients, but rather opens up an array of structurally differentiated possibilities, establishing a participation framework in which the speaker will be guiding his delivery.” (p. 137)

Goffman looks at the different modes of the speaker as: the animator, the author, and the principal. These roles each entail a different relationship between the speaker and the actual activity and content of speech. The animator is the dynamic dimension of the speaker in action, with the emphasis on the delivery and performance of speaking. The author links the speaker as the originator of the words that are encoded. The point of the principal is to stand, not as merely the speaker of words, but rather as the authority or the one whose position is established and identified by the words. The principal is not necessarily an authority figure, but rather someone who is committed to the words and who makes a connection between himself or herself and the words spoken. Together, these form the “production format” of the utterance.

Changing footing is not so easy as simply and mechanically dropping one context and assuming another, but rather, holding the old context in abeyance with the potential to be reengaged.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorGoffman, Erving
TitleForms of Talk
Tagsspecials, sociology, performance
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon
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