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USC Interactive Media Application: Cinema-Television Personal Statement

I'm eager to attend the Interactive Media program in the USC School of Cinema and Television. Between the school of Cinema & Television and the Annenberg center, USC has a rich mix of minds researching the future of media and mobile content. As a content developer working with modern technology, I can't imagine a better place to practice production.

For over ten years I have worked as a freelance writer, traveling the world to report on the future of fun and ethics in electronic entertainment. How are video games shaping our minds? What spirit lurks when humans play with machines? What kinds of games will we play together over the mobile networks that connect and accompany us wherever we roam?

I've had a chance to explore these issues in a number of venues: private conversations and interviews with game designers and critics; lectures and presentations to audiences in Europe and the United States; essays and journalism in a wide range of print and online sources.

But an academic setting, especially one focused on production, would give me the chance to handle the media I love, to twist it around, to see it from new directions. To understand the forms, and ultimately to make them my own. Quibbling over meaning and context in media is important for framing culture in society. But people connect over stories, deeper than they connect over analysis. This program will allow me to understand and craft stories in the twenty-first century.

I come from the world of writing and critiquing games and digital media with a few specific passions:

Ethics -
Video games are a relatively young medium, but widely regarded with both fear and awe as people come to understand their potential to stimulate and shape an audience. Virtual worlds with their own internal goals engage players in ways unlike older media. What are the ethical concerns here? How do game creators practice ethical design today; what positive and negative feedback are they receiving from their audience and their community? These questions loom larger for video games as they are increasingly a mass medium.
I have some years of experience researching and writing on these issues. One example: last year I was the only game-industry journalist at the "Christian Computer Game Developers Conference" at a Bible College near Portland Oregon. Games frequently play on the profane; is it possible to make a game that engages the sacred, or spirituality, without pandering or appearing pollyannish?
I would like to explore ethical issues in games and game narrative during the course of my work at the school. USC Interactive Media adjunct Professor Eddo Stern would be an excellent advisor for any projects or research in this area.

Independent Game Development -
Fostering the development of independent games is critical for the long-term health of the industry. As production costs grow for the AAA titles, innovation will come from the individuals and small studio with a passion for new ideas. Much as film festivals and film schools support creative efforts outside of Hollywood, there is great potential for games to grow in areas outside of large-scale commercial development. The internet presents tremendous distribution opportunities for small developers, but the major console manufacturers could resist this kind of freewheeling content distribution. As increasing numbers of gameplayers sit in front of their televisions, how will they find independent interactive media?
I would like to study these questions, and work on solutions. I have a number of friends and associates who are both independent game designers, and people working within the industry to promote nontraditional and noncommercial video game development. For the last three years I've participated in the Indie Game Jam, a world-recognized four day programming marathon meant to jumpstart innovation in game design. I'd love to bring the ideas and contacts I've encountered through these channels to promote independent games at USC.

Play and Mobile Media -
Somewhere between the location-based collecting game Mogi and Moblogging (mobile weblogging) is a set of tools that uses your mobile phone's buddylist to make a play space and photo album out of the world as we inhabit it together with wireless technologies. There are numerous projects already in progress at the school, and other work being done, particularly in Asia, that I would like to explore and expand upon during my time at the school. Console and computer video games are exciting, but mobile multiplayer presents the largest possible audience and the widest possible play space - all of social interaction, and all of the world. Integrating mobile media could fulfill the promise of cameraphones and mobile weblogs to bring us closer to our friends and even strangers, creating new social arrangements and hitherto unseen forms of gameplay.
I have been exploring the future of mobile multiplayer in panel discussions and articles since 2000. I look forward to a chance to more deeply examine and design these kinds of applications!

My experience and contacts in the game industry give me a strong sense of purpose - to use the extensive resources of the school to learn the tools of production, to study how the stories of the future will be told. I am eager to upgrade my media literacy, to develop skills in digital filmmaking, screenwriting, animation, game design and prototyping. I have been peering over the shoulders of game designers for years now and I am eager to see what I can do when I sit at the table.

My friends in the game industry ask me, "do you want to make games?" I answer them: I want to tell stories. I want to take what I love and fear in the world, and figure out how to convey that story through a screen. I've experimented on the web. But that's text. It's nearly old media. What is interactivity? What kind of depth of emotion is possible in electronic entertainment? Can the timeless questions about our living and loving be answered in any new ways with these tools? That's why I am excited to enter this program, to explore those questions in the company of other active minds.

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