Saturday, March 10, 2007

Jumping Jack Flash

Piracy Kills Music, brought to us by the Norwegian branch of social marketing giant McCann Ericson, known for their public service campaigns against obesity and in favor of parental screening software, delivers a literally black-and-white view of intellectual property issues.

Although the spot was chosen as a featured pick on the FWA: Favorite Website Awards, where Flash developers compete for attention, I didn't find it very user-friendly. In particular, I found the sluggish, stalling loading time extremely irritating, and I found the movement of virtual objects devoid of the charm that I often associate with more dynamic Flash sites. Certainly, the gloomy monochromatic palette didn't help any. Citing a pseudo-Frankenstein-movie -- ironically as a borrowing from Mel Brooks -- may have been kind of cool for a few seconds, but the black and white scenes didn't serve any narrative purpose in the rest of the site.

The "interactive" quizzes or activities at the end of every chapter seemed particularly unimaginative. They were generally formulated as bland information graphics that could respond to input from the user's mouse. A few of these chapter reviews contain factually incorrect statements such as the claim that it is illegal to "download music from a file-sharing network" or "share music from a file-sharing network," because the keyword "copyrighted" is missing in the assertion. Furthermore, if Neil Young makes an anti-war anthem freely available on his MySpace page, or David Byrne invites users to create mash-ups on a Creative Commons site, neither the conduct of artists nor of the music fans is illegal.

I've been thinking about the ideas in Ian Bogost's upcoming book, Persuasive Games, in which he argues that "procedural rhetoric," dictated at the level of code, has the aim of persuading the player or expressing underlying ideologies. In terms of programming, I find a simple interactive program like "Dots" much more engaging than the short interactive sections in Piracy Kills. Even more fun to play with is the new Visuwords: online graphical dictionary, which may remind digital rhetoric old-timers of the Visual Thesaurus of old.

For those who want some real interactivity that conveys a lasting message about conventions of user behavior with digital copies, one that emphasizes the importance of showing respect for the work of other people, I would recommend ccMixter's latest remix contest as a way to understand how to build symbiotic models for media production without the recording industry's heavy handed emphasis on parasitic ones.

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