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Notion of Authorship in Digital Media

In: English and Literature

Submitted By kmeshna
Words 1998
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Authorship and Digital Media With the widespread adoption of personal computers, especially those connected to broadband Internet, the media landscape has changed drastically. All media-related industries, from newspaper to television to music and more, are experiencing this shift and are desperately attempting to react to the changing media landscape that has placed much of the control on the consumers rather than the producers of these media forms. Two digital media forms experiencing particularly interesting shifts of power are video games and digital music. Consumers of digital media forms such as video games and digital music files have complicated the traditional notion of authorship through their use of digital media technologies, which allows them to use digital media as an instrument of expression. Before delving into the intricacies surrounding this new form of authorship present in digital media it is first important to discuss the notion of authorship prior to the emergence of this digitally induced phenomenon. In non-digital mediums such as books, radio, and television, authorship exists as an individual endeavor, as authorship is only granted to the original author(s) of the media. As a consumer of this non-digital media the only point of contention as it relates to authorial expression is limited is the debate over authorial intent or narrative interpretation in these non-interactive cultural forms. Books, television, and radio are more or less consumed passively and the only means of authoring something from these forms of media is to create an entirely new piece of media that is related to the original. For example, a viewer of a television show or movie has the opportunity to create a satirical interpretation or write a review of the original. While this certainly may be construed as authorship, this version of authorship is of an entirely new work, even though it may be based on the original, and it does not bestow authorship onto the consumer within the work itself. Advancements in technology, most notably the inexpensive access to personal computers and broadband Internet, have profoundly affected these previously held lines of media production, consumption, and authorship. In the discussion of the resulting effects brought about by these rapidly emerging and evolving digital technologies, many theorize about the role of the producers and consumers of digital media. However, many theorists continue to define digital media forms in the terms of the more traditional media forms. Celia Pearce notes, “film and literary theorists have begun to discuss game theory within their own idiosyncratic frameworks” (143). These frameworks and notions of narrative and text place a more authoritative level of authorship on the original creator of the media form. This is to say that for these traditional media forms, sole authorship lies with the original author. When applying these frameworks to new digital media, this notion of authorship must be relinquished for a new participatory form of authorship. Henry Jenkins and Pearce each note a shift in authorship as an integral part of analyzing digital media forms, especially with respect to video games. What makes video games so vastly different from traditional media is the intrinsic need for human input in video games. In Jesper Juul’s essay concerning the notion of time in video games he states, “Games require at least one instance of the player interacting with the game state” (134). It is as if the game does not truly exist as games without input on the part of the user, even though the original author(s) of the games created it by writing the code and transferring it digitally onto a compact disc. Although the first thing that comes to mind when considering video games may be the original software-encoded disc or hardware console, this ignores the necessity of the user and what comes from the user’s playing of the game. According to Pearce, “A game is most simply described as a framework for structured play” (144). The framework itself exists as that which is authored by the game designer. However, when “play” is introduced, the notion of authorship is complicated, as the media is no longer simply “pushed” onto or consumed by the user. Instead, the user is able to interact with the media, which often allows for an additional level of authorship. Through this mode of play users can manipulate digital media in a vast array of capacities, which allows the user to be the author of a narrative that is not necessarily one that was directly intended by the game’s creator. One instance of the user-centric authorship is present in what Pearce describes as “collaborative fiction.” These collaborative fictions exist in their finest form as Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), and authorship within these games occurs on multiple levels. In these games authorship exists not just for the game designers as the authors of the code that eventually becomes the tools with which a narrative can be created. While this level of authorship exists, the designers of MMORPGs also author both the backstory—the overall narrative framework of the fictional game world—and the individual metastories of a “predesigned story world and the various plots within it” (148). This intentional authorship on the part of the game’s creators lends itself to an authoring by the players as they “take actions that construct their characters on the fly” (149). The collective play by the entire body of MMORPG users allows for the creation of a collaborative narrative in which all players capitalize on the original game framework. This collective narrative is made possible by the originally authored framework, and more importantly by the existence and use of the Internet and personal computers, the combination of which grants users a unique means of expressing themselves through the creation and maintenance of a digital avatar.
In addition to authorship in collaborative fiction, in his essay on narrative architecture in video games, Jenkins points to “emergent narratives” as a means of allowing players to be the authors of new narratives within the video games they are playing. Jenkins defines emergent narratives as those games which “are not prestructured or preprogrammed , taking shape through the game play, yet they are not as unstructured, chaotic, and frustrating as life itself” (128). Jenkins’ primary example of such a video game is The Sims, which allows players to create intricate suburban worlds and author their own narratives through the ways in which they interact with the game state. Although Jenkins does not directly address the notion of “authorship” in his essay, he does state of emergent narratives, “players can define their own goals and write their own stories” (128). Pearce also comments on emergent narratives such as The Sims and notes that player-centric authorship has resulted in “a new play trend… in which players have transformed the game into a storyboard authoring tool” (151). As a result, while the original game designers are the original authors of these emergent narratives based on their writing of the code used to create them, these primary authors simply write the tools and basic rule structure with which the user is able to author their own unique narrative. Out of the authorship of the designers, a vast array of user-authored material arises, which creates an interesting dynamic when considering the effects of digital media as an instrument of user expression. Rather than simply consuming media, consumers of the media are able to express narratives by using the media as an instrument to create a new digital cultural form, with the game creator acting as a facilitator rather than a true author. The Internet then acts as an additional instrument as it provides a means of publishing these acts of expression, thus legitimizing the authorial nature of the player, much as publishing serves as the final barrier to legitimizing oneself as the author of a novel.
The notion of the dissemination of user-generated content on the Internet brings authorship of digital music into the discussion, especially when considering mash-up culture. Mash-up culture exists mostly through entirely digital means, as the media itself, the means through which it is produced, and the space in which the culture inhabits each operate in a digital sphere. For instance, in mash-up culture the primary media form is a splicing of digital MP3 files, which have been reworked with the assistance of digital software such as Abelton, and then posted in a digital space such as a forum or blog. As is the case with the video games previously discussed, these digital media forms possess an original author: the author of the pre-mashed-up recordings. Authorship in this instance stems from “access to various materials, including powerful personal computers, high speed Internet connections, listening practices and devices, as well as knowledge of postwar popular music” (Shiga 110). The access to these materials allows for the widespread dissemination of mash-up-authored works, which helps the culture grow. This cultural growth in turn allows for the authorship of further digital media forms, because it is the means by which these new consumer-producers are able to obtain, distribute and legitimize their craft through peer review. Much like the authorial transformation seen in video games, the Internet and music production technologies “have become emblems of democratization,” which allows authorship to no longer be confined to the experts in the music industry (Shiga 98). This creates an interesting economic landscape for the music industry, as musical production becomes less defined by the sale of records and more focused on the cultural capital of developing one’s “brand name” (Shiga 101). Rather than focusing on the monetary capital associated with the distribution of musical tracks, those of mash-up culture (and with them many players in the music industry) focus more on cultural capital of creating a name for themselves, which may result in fame and economic capital later (although this is not necessarily an end goal). This cultural capital is created by using digital media as an instrument of expression in a unique but intelligible way in order to develop a “trademark” or “brand name” that links one’s works together and to the brand name (Shiga 101). As a result of the advances in musical production technologies and the Internet, the mash-up artists that were formerly simply consumers of popular music morph into a hybrid of consumer-producer, authoring their own forms of digital expression from the reworking of musical frameworks provided by the original authors. Just as video game developers provide users with the instruments necessary to build new worlds and author unique narratives of expression, mainstream music producers indirectly provide mash-up artists with the instruments needed to author their own digital forms of expression. The expression that is the result of the manipulation of the original digital forms works in a cyclical fashion, in that the use and success of the newly authored music perpetuates further use as the digitally rendered mash-ups gain popularity and strength within both mash-up and mainstream communities.
The use and adoption of digital media, especially video games and mash-ups, creates a shift in the notion of authorship from that of producer as author to consumer-producer as author. The result of this transformation thus alters the landscape of how users interact with all types of digital media, which in turn causes users to view digital media as an instrument of expression, rather than just something to be consumed passively.

Works Cited
Jenkins, Henry. "Game Design as Narrative Architecture." First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game (2004): 118-30. Print.
Juul, Jesper. "Introduction to Game Time." First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game (2004): 131-42. Print.
Pearce, Celia. "Towards a Game Theory of Game." First Person: New Media as Story,
Performance, and Game (2004): 143-53. Print.
Shiga, John. "Copy-and-Persist: The Logic of Mash-Up Culture." Critical Studies in Media

Communication 24.2 (2007): 93-114. Print.

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