NES Homebrew and the Margins of the Retro-Gaming Industry

From Fans and Videogames: History, Fandom, Archives, 2017.


This chapter addresses a complex array of historical, social, political, industrial and economic concerns that coalesce around the practice of contemporary NES homebrew game development. I foreground the retro-gaming industry that commodifies digital game nostalgia, drawing connections between the formal operations of this industry and its alternative forms exemplifed in NES homebrew development. While existing within the greater economy of the retro-gaming industry, retro homebrew differs considerably from industry interests in that it insists on the continued value of aging technology in the face of rapid innovation, preserves historical development practices, and encourages a model of game development and consumption that indirectly challenges the larger cultural myth of the technological sublime and opposes the consumer electronics industry practice of manufactured obsolescence.

Creative Labor in Cinema and Media Industries: A Critical Bibliography.

Co-authored with Michael Curtin and Kevin Sanson, Oxford Bibliographies. April 28, 2016.


The rapidly burgeoning popularity of cinema at the beginning of the 20th century favored industrialized modes of creativity organized around large production studios that could churn out a steady stream of narrative feature films. By the mid­1910s, a handful of Hollywood studios became leaders in the production, distribution, and exhibition of popular commercial movies. In order to serve incessant demand for new titles, the studios relied on a set of conventions that allowed them to regularize production and realize workplace efficiencies. This entailed a socialized mode of creativity that would later be adopted by radio and television broadcasters. It would also become a model for cinema and media production around the world, both for commercial and statesupported institutions. Even today the core tenets of industrialized creativity prevail in most large media enterprises. During the 1980s and 1990s, however, media industries began to change radically, driven by forces of neoliberalism, corporate conglomeration, globalization, and technological innovation. Today, screen media are created both by large­scale production units and by networked ensembles of talent and skilled labor. Moreover, digital media production may take place in small shops or via the collective labor of media users or fans who have attracted attention due to their hyphenated status as both producers and users of media (i.e., “prosumers”). Studies of screen media labor fall into five conceptual and methodological categories: historical studies of labor relations, ethnographically inspired investigations of workplace dynamics, critical analyses of the spatial and social organization of labor, and normative assessments of industrialized creativity.

The Crunch Heard Round the World: The Global Era of Digital Game Labor

Co-authored with Michael Curtin, Production Studies: The Sequel, 2015.


This chapter examines the troubling relations of production in the video game industry. It describes the specific practices and protocols of the productive apparatus that feeds the major game publishers, demonstrating the impact on workers and labor organizing efforts. Tying together insights from political economy and production studies, this chapter offers a middle-range analysis that connects specific local labor conditions to the elaborate global production networks of the major game publishers.

A Vanishing Piece of the Pi: The Globalization of Visual Effects Labor

Co-authored with Michael Curtin. TV & New Media, 2015.


This essay analyzes the increasingly globalized mode of production in the VFX industry. It critically examines the specific practices and protocols of the VFX business, demonstrating their impact on workers and labor-organizing efforts. Tying together insights from political economy, creative economy, and production studies, the essay offers a middle-range analysis that connects specific local labor conditions to broader trends in the media industries.

Silicon Beach Shows Promise, Not Profits

Media Industries Project Research. December 2014.


As a young cluster, Silicon Beach has yet to launch a single breakout success story. As such, it currently represents a growing tech bubble built on eyeballs, not direct spending, and depends on a workforce and investor class structured by risk. On top of that, the relationship between the technology and entertainment industries remains fraught. Although Silicon Beach represents the potential for a union between technology and entertainment, the experiment might also prove to be incompatible with Hollywood interests.

TV that Watches You: Data Collection and the Connected Living Room

Co-authored with Karen Petruska. Spectator, 34, no 2 (2014).


This article examines data collection technologies that power the economics of over-the-top video players, though the relevance of our study extends beyond the living room to all connected devices. After reviewing key moments in which media companies, journalists, scholars, and consumers have publicly debated enhanced mechanisms of data collection powered by digital technologies, we offer a detailed case study of the rhetoric surrounding Microsoft’s planned release of the Xbox One gaming console and the Kinect One camera peripheral. We argue that these examples demonstrate the ways corporate media policy evolves through the lived experiences of consumers, with companies struggling to account for broader anxieties over the sacrifice of privacy for the conveniences of technology.

Policy and Politics Dictate the Growth of the European SVOD Market

Co-authored with Hannah Goodwin. Media Industries Project Research. April 21, 2014. 


With some estimates putting the value of the EU market at $1.1 billion by 2017, these companies are positioning themselves to reap the benefits of market growth. Nevertheless, they face formidable competition from over 700 local VOD companies sprouting up throughout the region over the past five years. How this transnational battle plays out will contribute to the ongoing evolution of the global digital media ecosystem.


Co-authored with Michael Z. Newman, in Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron’s Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies, 2014.


This chapter considers the gendering of games in terms of representations of masculinity in game images and stories. It recognizes how gendering structures the production of games and the experiences of players. It also recognizes the intersection of masculinity in both texts and contexts with other identities such as age, race, and sexuality. Despite the existence of diverse participants in gaming, it is young male players who are most likely to identify as “gamers” and who are most often addressed by games and their culture.

Cord Cutting Anxiety Oversimplifies Distribution Revolution

Co-authored with Kevin Sanson. Media Industries Project Research. Jan. 31, 2014.


For consumers, cord cutting represents the potential for a reconfigured viewing experience, one in which prohibitively expensive pay-TV subscriptions are replaced with an a la carte entertainment diet from the likes of Apple TV, Amazon, and Netflix. For content providers and pay-TV operators, cord cutting challenges long-standing, and quite lucrative, distribution models. However, the trend is just one of many pressures currently upending the way the television industry conducts its business. Thus, the real anxiety is rooted in much deeper fears about a future media environment in which pay-TV operatorsare no longer kings.

Guilds Struggle to Organize Reality TV Labor

Media Industries Project Research. December 2, 2013.


Today reality TV programs are ubiquitous across the television landscape with whole channels dedicated to the genre. But despite their central position in the new TV economy, the working conditions for reality TV crews have improved little over the last decade, leading to clashes among creative and craft labor, networks, and production companies. For example, in April 2013, writers on the reality show “Fashion Police” filed two complaints against the E! Network and Joan Rivers’ production company Rugby for allegedly failing to compensate writers for all regular and overtime hours worked on the show. Twelve of the program’s writers went on strike demanding back pay and WGA representation. Most reality TV workers are not unionized, which has led to abuses on the job and tensions in the workplace. Such disputes illustrate how corporate bottom lines rub up against the welfare and organizing ability of reality television employees.

Warsaw’s Gaming Sector Gains Global Standing

Media Industries Project Research. June 7, 2013.


Although still young, Poland’s gaming industry is beginning to stand out as a notable player in the international digital games business, cultivating its own local industry while nurturing relationships with foreign partners and investing in digital portals to develop a global distribution network. As a result, Warsaw has become a place to watch in a still emerging Eastern European gaming market.

Magic Disguised as Technology: Microsoft’s Kinect, Gender, and Domestic Space

Media Fields Journal, no. 7 (2013).


Following Nintendo’s success with the Wii between 2006 and 2010, Microsoft positioned the Kinect camera peripheral and the Xbox 360 as a domestic object that fits into normal family life in an attempt to capture the same non-traditional market, including middle-aged and female players. Yet because of Kinect’s unique spatial requirements, the integration of the device into the family room results in an intriguing reordering and disrupting of existing spatial dynamics and interior design. Microsoft marketed Kinect atits launch through a promotional campaign consisting of televisual and print advertisements that I suggest construct an ideal, affluent play space, deemphasizing the technology while highlighting player bodies. In this way, the Kinect advertising discourse hails the middle-class family unit, including the sizeable market of mothers and female game players, trading in the masculinized, military-themed and individuated hero narratives typical of video game advertising for a feminized, inclusive marketing approach that focuses on familial connection and contact.7 However, when Kinect is actually brought into the home and users are asked to rearrange furniture to clear a play area, this fantasy gives way to spatial and gendered tensions.

Casual Threats: The Feminization of Casual Video Games

Ada: Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, no. 2 (2013).


In this article I analyze the spectrum of gendered discourses surrounding so-called casual video games over the last half-decade, or roughly between 2006 and 2011 across popular culture, the video game industry, and in core gaming culture. I argue that journalists, developers, executives, and marketers have contributed to the cultural feminization of casual video games, resulting in the recreation of a traditional, gendered cultural hierarchy in the medium of video games. Troublingly, this broader cultural feminization supports the discursive sentiments of some core gamers found on several popular video game blogs, sentiments that continually delegitimize and marginalize the feminized genre of casual games, despite the co-presence of voices that counter this assault. Together, sectors of commercial culture and core gaming culture work to position casual games as first feminine and then, tacitly if not vocally, as inferior and lacking when compared to masculinized hardcore video games. As a culture established upon a vulnerable masculinity with anxieties of infantilization and illegitimacy, hardcore gaming culture perceives these feminized casual games as a threat.

IMAX Finds New Life in Hollywood and Abroad

Media Industries Project Research. Feb. 19, 2013.


Once largely associated with nature documentary films, in the last ten years IMAX has ascended to a position within the film industry as a premium ticket purchase for feature film audiences. Alongside its budding partnership with Hollywood, the IMAX Corporation has also been aggressively expanding its global presence. Today, the IMAX Corporation has never been more confident of its financial position. Thanks to a series of partnerships with studios and theater owners, IMAX now drives ticket sales, affects the number of screens a movie appears on, and contributes to the development of new projector technologies, making the once-niche, large-format company an

Digital Distribution Creates Opportunities for Indie Gamemakers

Media Industries Project Research. July 09, 2012. 


The proliferation of digital distribution options might play the largest and most vital role in the recent success of indie games. From the mobile market to online gaming hubs, digital distribution has reinvigorated the market by increasing the ways developers can get their titles in front of potential players. Of course, digital platforms are not a cure-all. Indies must negotiate with a new breed of gatekeepers and worry about recognition in an increasingly crowded marketplace. How these issues are resolved will help shape the gaming industry in the years to come.