i think that this is a great discussion, too. interestingly, i was struck by one of your parenthetical statements, matt, about kiefer sutherland knowing something about torture. i was struck by this comment because of recent publicity surrounding a united nations panel on human rights hosted by whoopi goldberg and featuring the executive producers and cast members from battlestar gallactica. it is interesting to note how similar this is to the actor who sells medication in a commercial because she plays a doctor on t-v.
immersion is powerful, and when it is instructive (or even historically fictive, as you say), it is also ethical.
Thanks for the excellent discussion topic and clip, Judd. I’d like to pick up on Ken’s point about the staged moments of transition into a game environment.
I agree that an effectively affective introduction of/into a ludic space whets our appetite(s) for gameplay (priming us to want to act in particular ways), and ought to be considered an integral component of broader immersion strategies. Additionally, some games also use these introductory moments to rationalize and justify future gamer actions. One powerful example that leaps to mind is the opening cut scene from Call of Duty: World at War (2008) [see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FjiBIvr1Mc]. Here, the player is first treated to a slick presentation that mixes color and B&W WWII archival footage with stylistic graphics. Next, the player is positioned in the bound, digital body of Private Miller, who is a captured and soon-to-be tortured American GI. And, finally, once Sgt. Roebuck (voiced by 24’s Kiefer Sutherland – who we all know knows something about torture) saves Miller from certain death, the player is handed a helmet and gun, as the Japanese camp erupts into a firefight. These three moments of immersion – the nouveau-newsreel, the introduction to the gamer’s first avatar, and the specific FPS gameplay conventions and mechanics (e.g., HUD, guns) – move the player from the general to the specific. The newsreel provides the player with impersonal, historical reasons for picking up arms, while the grisly torture/murder scene gives the player personal motivation. (BTW, I’m also struck by the final word of Ken’s response – “recollected” – as it seems especially apt for games like Call of Duty or Bioshock whose immersion strategies are integrally linked to their historical fictions or fictional histories.) To extend Ken’s (tasty) steak metaphor, then, the “sizzle” of immergence whets our appetites for the forthcoming gameplay, and signals that particular generic expectations will be met. Additionally, however, affective game introduction sizzle can also make the case vis-à-vis these tiered moments of immersion that the forthcoming action is an ethical, noble, and even pleasurable practice.
Matthew Thomas Payne PhD Candidate / Asst. Instructor Radio-TV-Film 1 University Station A0800 Austin, TX 78712-0108
mattpayne [at] mail.utexas.edu
Very interesting, Bryan, as usual. I like the idea of immersion not as entrance into something necessarily (another world, another state) but as an extension or doubling of something (in this case, pedagogical presence). It’s almost as if immersion is akin to invitation, that is, the willful extension of self with the intent to share. That’s certainly the case with chat worlds, as you so adroitly point out.
Also, your various questions about whether virtual work (you use "intellectualism," bless you) is really all that different from real world work (conceptually, politically, practically, and otherwise) got me thinking about the drive to produce immersion that underpins so many pedagogically-minded new media enterprises. Immersion is where the enhancement, the effect happens, goes the adage. After reading your Curator’s Note, though, I can’t help but wonder if the power of both virtual and real world work is not in immersion as immergence or ubiquity but immersion as invitation.
I was struck by your comment, Judd, that immersion "signifies what seems like contradictory (or at least contiguous) states." As is often the case, the tastiest morsels come in the smallest bundles—in this case, your parenthetical remark. You’re right: ordinarily, we think about immersion as a fait accompli, whether it’s with roller coasters, new jobs, computer games, VR environments, or heated arguments with loved ones. But immersion isn’t instantaneous. It is, as you say, contiguous.
The ultimate potency of an immersive experience is determined, I think, by the experience one has while transitioning into it. If it happens too slowly, it’s easy to bring the outside world along for the ride: What should I be doing instead of this? What would my friends say if they saw me here? I should have saved that twenty bucks for gas.
If it happens too quickly, it’s easy to deploy defensive mechanisms that will spare you from the more injurious aspects of the immersive experience: I hate this! This is boring! That’s totally unrealistic!
But if the lead-in is well executed—that is, if the contiguos components of the immersive experience are thoughtfully arranged—the immersion can be pure, total, and voluntary. This works just as well for joy as fear, comedy as for tragedy. And this isn’t just a case of the sizzle selling the steak. Rather, with good immersion the sizzle is the steak—or at least an integral part of it. Moreover, it’s not just the experiences that lead up to the actual immersion, but also the ones that follow from it; indeed, these are the ones that help make a memorable experience actually rememberable.
So, yeah—contiguity is right on. It’s the queueing up. It’s the getting seated. It’s the ride manager’s safety lecture. It’s the ride. It’s disembarkation. And it’s the purchase of the picture of yourself hanging upside and your billfold falling past your face.
The contiguous states that comprise such dramas have everything to do with how the core experience—the one that everyone talks about while forgetting all the peripheral work—is ultimately recollected.
Interesting clip…when we think of immersion as being immersed into an environment vs. being immersed into a person or both, we come up with sometimes contradictory ideas…immersion into an environment, into a somewhat believable situation plays with our persona to the point where often shocking, violent scenes need to take place to elicit our fear response to save the "Alt" that we have become…but it’s still in a sense a "game"…an unbelievable situation that manifests itself through the environment itself…
When we take fear out of the equation, immersion is lessened…in a "game"… A virtual world, however is different, because many of our "real-life" colleagues are there, represented in various forms but believable on a totally different level…is fear present…no…can gaming exist…most certainly…within a virtual world…anything can happen and it’s very close to experiencing the "real"…
Bryan Carter, Ph.D. Associate Professor, English University of Central Missouri AIM: bcrx7 MSN: firstname.lastname@example.org (not for email) Yahoo: hannibal697 (not for email) Skype: bcmini753 Second Life: Bryan Mnemonic SkypeIn: 660-675-5027
expats in prime time television… that’s fantastic!
To answer your question, I actually came to the show by chance, not design (and the longtime holdover of a boyish fascination with snipers didn’t hurt either), and I was really enjoying it before it struck me that this was Toronto. I also had a deja-vu sense of knowing this series, even though it was the premiere. Then I remembered that I "knew" it because I’d heard you present on it at ICA, I think. Certainly, thereafter, knowing it was Canadian "endorsed" my liking of it, making it both okay to like it, and making me look at it all the closer. I’m sure I read more Canadianness into it when it’s surrounded by Americanness on my television, but perhaps that’s just as much the experience that Canadians in Canada have as Canadians in America have? Maybe, in other words, most Canadian viewers are "expats" in prime time television?
I don’t know how it’s been received by Americans. Other than my wife, who also likes it. I try to proselytize, but nobody seems to be listening.
I think I was writing as you were posting, Michele. Hence the same comment re. the star system. Trina McQueen articulated a situation that has been a long-standing concern of actors, producers and network execs. Greater celebrity recognition means more viewers which translates into more domestic television and allows actors to stay at home rather than seek success down South (if they so desire). Much of this hesitation to foster a celebrity system might actually be a symptom of the English Canadian sensibility — the reluctance to participate in over the top promotionalism (seen as so American in character). The result is that many potential audiences have little connection to Canadian actors until they’ve made it in Hollywood. At which point they are proudly reclaimed as national icons.
Jonathan, I agree with your reading of Flashpoint and think it speaks to the politics of Canadian TV production — i.e. the assumption that if a domestic series borrows too many elements from popular American genres it somehow loses that elusive "Canadianness." This type of critique overlooks subtleties of tone, characterization, and narrative (it’s also a huge source of frustration for many producers seeking funding). I’m interested in whether or not your expat positioning affected your choice to watch (and continue watching) the series? That "a ha" moment of recognition, the sense of knowing the place and how the story might progress. Do you have any sense of how its been read by Americans? One U.S. television critic disliked it because he couldn’t tell which city it was.
Showcasing Canadian talent is also an important and overlooked element of the series. The failure to foster an English Canadian celebrity system is often cited as one of the main problems with growing the audience for domestic TV. Flashpoint also exemplifies cross-promotion: Hugh Dillon’s music is incorporated and this introduces him to an audience that doesn’t remember The Headstones or his stint in Hard Core Logo.
The hit issue is contradictory. Many are concerned that it will stifle creativity and encourage the "generic." What’s interesting is the CRTC implies that the public stream doesn’t produce hits. I’m interested in that as I’m also working on comparing co-pros like The Tudors (a global smash hit), which has nothing to do with Canada (beyond colonial imagination, perhaps?)
Like Jonathan, I’ve become a fan of Flashpoint. As someone who lived in Toronto for several years, I’m always aware of the city as a player/character on the series, but one whose specificity might not be visible to everyone. I also hadn’t considered it in relation to Numb3rs, although I think they both play with ideas about masculinity and law & order. On Numb3rs, this seems linked to family and ethnicity (see Will’s note on my post from Monday), and on Flashpoint this translates into something we might call "Canandianness" that keeps coming up this week.
The "hit factor" question is interesting. I remember at the "Are we American?" conference at McGill last year, Trina McQueen talking about building a Canadian star system. The choice to balance the very popular but clearly Canadian star Hugh Dillon with another Canadian, Enrico Colantoni, who most viewers will probably know best from his role as the father of Veronica Mars—I don’t know if anyone has seen (him in) the TMN series ZOS—is another way of slightly hiding the series Canadian roots.
I like what Jonathan said about the way Flashpoint plays with genre. We had a lot of years of CSI network domination and those very emotionally truncated characters. Serra, I remember you talking about DaVinci’s Inquest being syndicated in the US and the surprise that it found a following given that it was perceived as being too… rooted in discourses about social welfare for a mainstream US audience. Flashpoint isn’t like D.I., but it does focus a lot less of "truth" and "evidence" than on life circumstances, emotion, consequences, and all this often within the confines of the construction of masculinities and male relationships.