Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media

About Digital Youth

"Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures" is a three-year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explores how kids use digital media in their everyday lives. Read more

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Don't Mess with The Warriors: Self Expression, Informal Learning, Game Culture and Other Toy Stories (2 of 2)

Previously, on the Digital Youth Project website… [Read the first part of this story]

On February 15 2006, Dennis McCauley published a short entry on his website, “”, eloquently titled “Rockstar’s Legal Gangs Beats Down Online Art Installation”. McCauley linked the aforementioned article written by Knutsen (2006a) describing Dave Beck’s case (here erroneously referred to as “Dave Berg”), and added a few personal comments. In order to foster the readers’ contributions, McCauley did not explicitly stated his position on the matter. His strategy proved successful. It did not take long for the first comment to materialize.
At 4: 22 am, less than three hours after McCauley’s original entry, a user called featherspy wrote:

“I find it really interesting to see someone using video games as an artistic medium, rather than having the game itself being the medium. I am interested to see some more of this fellow’s work...”(featherspym 2006-02-15 04:22)

A second comment, signed by lampbane, appeared fifteen minutes later. It was equally concise, albeit completely different in content and tone:

“What a pretentious asshat. This screams publicity stunt to me”(lampbane, 2006-02-15 04:37 am)

These two messages framed the intense debate that took place for the next few days on “”. They were soon followed by 307 more comments which built upon – and expanded – these initial positions. According to Rheingold (1993), online discussion forums can evolve into vibrating communities, virtual spaces where users share valuable information, provide mutual support, and experience a sense of belonging. Others, however, observed that (relative) anonymity, the absence of a moderator, and fragmentation can often lead to nihilistic, rather than productive exchanges (Ees 1996; King 1996). In my analysis of this particular conversation, I encountered both productive and disruptive moments. While this case shows that forums could be a powerful tool for convivial, informal learning, it also proves that the “collective intelligence” (Pierre Levy, 1999) is often marginalized by the wrath of the crowds. However, there is hope.

Image 1: “Rockstar’s Legal Gangs Beats Down Online Art Installation", the debate on GamePolitics


In this article I am documenting a case study in which the users of an online “community” originally hosted on LiveJournal, “Game Politics” discussed the case of Dave Beck, an art student whose latest artwork, “The Highest Score”, was hastily removed from his website for alleged copyright infringement. My analysis focuses on the multiple threads posted on “GamePolitics” between February 15 2006 and February 18 2006 by 78 users, mostly in their early twenties, as indicated by their visible profile (See Appendix 1). Overall, 309 comments were posted below McCauley’s story. Rather than selecting a specific thread, I felt necessary analyze the entire body of discussion. After collecting that data (i.e. comments, user profiles, additional contextual information), I used grounded theory methods (Strauss, Corbin 1990; Glaser, Strauss 1967) to develop a coding scheme for the types of behavior exhibited in the threads. I chose grounded theory over other approaches because of its emergent nature. In fact, grounded theory does not test hypothesis, but examines specific situations in order to identify interesting phenomena. As Glaser and Strauss (1967) put it, grounded theory aims at discovering the theory implicit in the data. On a practical level, applying grounded theory to my research situation meant reviewing and revising my coding strategy after the first pass of the data. I also used qualitative content analysis to examine the body of comments. That allowed me to identify patterns in terms of related themes. I subsequently coded all the members’ post accordingly and went through the data several times to extract the examples used in this paper. Both the coding process and the analysis drew on past experiences with online forums and on an intimate knowledge of the issue discussed by the users.


The data showed several interesting phenomena and trends:

a) As mentioned before, the users expanded and built upon the original two comments, often repeating the same adjectives used by the earliest commentators. For instance, the word “asshat” – used by lampbane – recurs at least in three separate instances. Examples: A user called the1jeffy describes Beck in these terms: “He's acting like a pretentious asshat, but that's what young art students do” (2006-02-15 06:27 pm). Mharpol8 describes his initiative as “jackassery” (2006-02-15 04:57 am). Another user, akbarthegreat, implicitly refers to Beck by saying “It's my (naturally cynical/fairly young) point of view that people are always, by and large, asshats” (2006-02-15 12:58 pm).

b) As a corollary, the users spontaneously formed two factions: the “supporters” and the “denigrators” of Beck. Actually, aside from a couple of posters, nobody openly defended Beck or his artwork. Even among the “defenders”, the vast majority of users were adamant in stating their dislike for “The Highest Score”. What they “defended” was Beck’s right to express his ideas by using The Warriors as a vessel. Example: “I think his “art” is questionable. Personally, I think it’s dumb. I’ll fight to the death to defend his right to display it, but I think it’s dumb” (mnementh2230, 2006-02-15 03:29 pm).

c) Also, two contradicting tendencies emerged among all posts: a constructive movement and a destructive one. By “constructive” I mean that the posters tried to advance, enhance, and enrich the conversation by using rational argumentation, hyper-linking to other sources of information to support their thesis, and citing examples from their personal and professional experience. Many, however, displayed a destructive tendency, that is, used derision and invectives to condemn both Beck or other posters, suppressing other forms of communication.

Example of a constructive post 1 – after stating that he studies law in college, cjovalle (cjovalle, 2006-02-15 01:54 pm) explains copyright law to the other users:

“You can make that assertion, but there are certainly counter arguments. In the US, fair use is defined in 17 USC 107. There are four factors to consider. The overall use needs to pass the four factors- not each one separately, but taken together in considering of the specific act. The four factors are the amount used, the purpose of the use, the nature of the original materials, and the effect on the marketplace. Historically art, criticism, and commentary have a much stronger chance of being fair than other uses. While I don't agree with Berg's points, I have some serious doubt that his work is infringing. I believe Rock Star's use of DMCA provisions to block his work in this manner is somewhat hypocritical, given their own battles with censorship. Of course, ultimately only a judge can determine whether or not any given us is fair in a legal case of that particular situation” (cjovalle, 2006-02-15 07:33 pm)

Example of a constructive post 2: in one of the longest threads in the debate, mharpold8 explains the meaning of fair use by inserting an entire paragraph from Wikipedia. The passage is particularly relevant to the conversation, as it quotes another case involving an artist using a popular toy for artistic purposes:

“Now, regarding the actual issue at hand here: I may or may not have mentioned "fair use" to you, like I have about a dozen other people in this thread, so if I have, i apologize. If I haven't...well, I'll just quote the whole damn pertinent part from wiki.

The first factor questions whether the use under consideration helps fulfill the intention of copyright law to stimulate creativity for the enrichment of the general public, or whether it aims to only "supersede the objects" of the original for reasons of, say, personal profit. In order to justify the use as fair, one must demonstrate how it either advances knowledge or the progress of the arts through the addition of something new. A key consideration is the extent to which the use is interpreted as transformative, opposed to as merely derivative. When Tom Forsythe appropriated Barbie dolls for his photography project "Food Chain Barbie", Mattel lost its claims of copyright and trademark infringement against him because his work effectively parodies Barbie and the values she represents (cf. the 2003 9th Circuit case Mattel Inc. v. Walking Mountain Productions). However, when Jeff Koons tried to justify his appropriation of Art Rogers' photograph "Puppies" in his sculpture "String of Puppies" with the same 'parody' defense, he lost because his work was not presented as a parody of Rogers' photograph in particular, but of society at large, which was deemed insufficiently justificatory (see Art Rogers v. Jeff Koons, 960 F.2d 301). Thus, even if a secondary work proves transformative, it must be appropriately so.” (mharpold8, 2006-02-15 11:45 am)

Example of a constructive post 3: user the1jeffy provides an external link in order to validate the previous user’s comment:

"Here is [hyperlink] a great example of a game as an artistic medium, but not the game itself It's a "machinima" short film done in the World of Warcraft setting. Apologies if you have already seen it" (the1jeffy, 2006-02-15 01:54 pm – contains hyperlink)

Example of a constructive post 4: user silver_derstin provides an external link in order to further his thesis and to give a context for another user’s comment:

“The target of your plea is the french philosopher Rousseau (, who claimed that man was good, and was corrupted by society” (silver_derstin, 2006-02-15 01:13 pm)

Example of a destructive post 1 – verbal abuse of another poster: “Oh yeah, in case you didn't get the message, FUCK YOU for that Vietnam comment” (jerico6, 2006-02-18 02:23 am)

Example of a destructive post 2 – the frequent, disapproving one-liner slur: “Wow, that guy is a pretentious asshole.” (“echoesandwaves”, 2006-02-15 09:19 pm)

It could be suggested that both tendencies are directly linked to the users’ desire to achieve a better status in an online conversation/community. As Lampel and Bhalla (2007) have suggested, informational exchanges are strongly driven by status and status seeking and that status sentiments are more likely to sustain virtual communities, where status is defined as “an actor’s relative standing in a group when this standing is based on prestige, honor, or deference (Berger, Cohen & Zeldich, 1972; Thye, 2000)” quoted in Lampel and Bhalla (2007). The authors suggest that actors may seek status for psychological and emotional reasons, such as pursuing an “ego rewards”, “a valuable emotional good that individuals accumulate as a result of acquired status” (Emerson, 1962, quoted in Lampel and Bhalla 2007) and is closely linked to “reputation seeking” as expressed, for instance, by the number of friends one can display on his/her personal profile on LiveJournal. A ludic tendency can be easily seen both the exchanges and in the tactics adopted by the users. Interestingly, Xin and Feenberg (2006) have compared online discussions to games and sports.

Like a game with alternating moves, dialogic inquiry generated intrinsic motives for participation […] The players aim at a goal external to the play such as winning, but at each round of play, their moves are provoked by and provoke responses for intrinsic reasons such as the excitement of taking the ball away from an adversary. The game consists in the back and forth of move and counter-move with winning as the horizon under which the interactions take place. In reality, dialog resembles relaxed volleying rather than a serious match. One wants one’s volleys returned, and the aim is not winning, but improving one’s game. Similarly, each message in educational dialog fulfills a double goal: to communicate a content and to evoke further response. The true pleasure of playing at online discussion consists in making moves that keep other playing (Feenberg 1989; Feenberg & Xing 2002, quoted in Xin and Feenberg 2006))

The game-like nature of conversation – especially online conversation – is reinforced by the use of such utterances as “You win!” (the1jeffy, 2006-02-15 01:57 pm) or “You are SO friended. ;)” (kingnat, 2006-02-15 09:17 pm). In the latter case the practice of “friending”, that is, adding a user to one’s friends list in online social networks, becomes a rhetorical strategy. Although Xin and Freenberg’s analogy is clearly correct, when dealing with non-specifically educational dialogs – like in our case – the “game” can indeed become a bit rough (see next paragraph).

d) As a side-note unpleasant language is very common in many online forums and this case is not an exception. However, flaming and trolling, i.e. act of posting deliberately hostile and inflammatory messages on the Internet in order to provoke a vehement response from other users, were actively discouraged throughout the discussion. Those who indulged in such intentionally disrupting behaviors were invited to stop. For example, semperar reprimanded a user called deviancy and explicitly invited him to leave the forum: “Your behavior contributes absolutely nothing of worth to this situation or forum. Please leave” (semperar, 2006-02-15 09:45 pm). In another occasion, semperar wrote: "Ditto on shadowkatamari's comment up there. Was your reaction here really called for?” (semperar, 2006-02-15 09:42 pm). Another user reprimanded a previous poster – who bluntly offended a commentator – for not paying enough attention to the content of the message: “She meant that the guy was using the video game for his own art, not that the game itself was art. Also, the game he used was The Warriors, and not GTA. I think you need to read more carefully” (shadowkatamari, 2006-02-15 08:36 pm). Users who were chastised for their misuse of the forum etiquette often responded angrily and questioned the forum’s implied etiquette. Examples: “Gosh, sorry for voicing an opinion. I'll remember to run it by you next time before I post. By the way, at what point do I have your permission to make a decision based on facts available? Do I need to read an entire biography before commenting? Or can I respond to the facts within the article? I just want to check, since you obviously think you have such a superior grasp of forum etiquette” (springpilot, 2006-02-15 08:12); “There's a difference between opinion, and trying to start a flame war. Randomly insulting people and not even trying to debate the issue does make you troll. Call it 'art.'” (bustermanzero, 2006-02-15 04:25 pm). Two conclusions can be drawn from these exchanges: first, even in the absence of a visible moderator, the users were able to informally regulate the discussion through practices of meta-commenting (note 1). Second: the rules of online conversations – the forum etiquette – are constantly discussed, negotiated, and articulated, thus enabling new users to quickly become fully integrated in the conversation. And those who knowingly violate the rules are openly disciplined, again, to re-establish the validity of the un-written rules. As Xin and Feenberg (2006) note:

Online discussion is paradoxical. It consists in a flow of relatively disorganized improvisational exchanges that somehow achieve highly goal-directed, rational course agendas. Despite the apparent incoherence of online talk, participants have established norms that regain the coherence and personal character of conversational interaction (Herring, 1996, 1999) (Xin, Feenberg 2006, 2)

e) As mentioned before, the users’ reaction against Beck was vehemently antagonistic, if not exceptionally aggressive. Among other things, Beck’s project was described as “shock treatment”, “garbage”, “dumb”, “piece of crap”, pathetic exploitation”. The artist himself was labeled as “an asshole”, “a jackass”, “immature”, “a hack”, “an art GEEK”, and “a damnable artsy ignoramus”. Considering the collaborative nature of the videogame medium – a form of art that deliberately cedes some authorial control and encourages the full participation of the consumer – the commentators’ reactions appear surprisingly harsh. Here is a selection of examples:

“I read that guy’s comments and my translation of it is “I’m a pretencious jackass of an artist who uses simple things, add big words, and boast on how I am the best artist ever depsite my lack of research into what I am presenting as art. Anyone who disagrees is a low class buffoon. Love me.” (revengeofthezio, 2006-02-15 04:51 am)

“The guy just seems to enjoy the notion of flaunting an immature sense of art and sensationalism. I definitely see the same tones of egotism and pretentious arrogance, as though he’s already decided he’s original and brilliant for his display. Sure, Rockstar could have gone a little easier on him, but he’s not going to get much sympathy with his attitude. I almost support Rockstar if they can knock this jackass down a peg or two.” (sprngpilot, sprngpilot, 2006-02-15 05:22 am)

‘So many pretty words... So little thought behind them. Experiment my ass. How was he supposed to get feedback?” (froggersrevenge, 2006-02-15 04:59 am)

“You can make anything seem bad when you take it out of context, now can’t you?” (goopgod, 2006-02-15 05:17 am)

“Wow, that guy is a pretentious asshole.” (echoesandwaves, 2006-02-15 09:19 pm)

“[Dave Beck] is acting like a pretentious asshat, but that’s what young art students do. He’ll grow out of it artistically, or he will fail in his field. No big deal either way.” (the1jeffy, 2006-02-15 06:27 pm)

“I’m an art student too and i know about this stuff too. But do i go flaunting this around? HELL NO. I mean not to disrespect some the gaming community but this guy is an art GEEK. Like that fat kid that plays D&D and has cheeto fingers that still lives in his mom’s basement I wouldn’t be surprised this art geek talks like this all day. Much like this creature that spends most of his day in the comic shop bragging about his lvl16 Paladin Dwarf, this art geek flaunts his vast “knowledge” of what art is and how much more he knows about it than you.” (revotruthinary, 2006-02-15 06:07 am)

“It’s my (naturally cynical/fairly young) point of view that people are always, by and large, asshats. If I had to take a guess (wasn’t there), I’d say that likely there were just as many “make a quick buck” artists around 50/100/1000 years ago, it’s just that by the time you’re looking back at that time, they’re all forgotten. They’re forgotten because they never contributed anything of value, or any “fine art” if you will. Ultimately, I think the truest compliment to an artist is to be remembered long after you’re dead. I kind of doubt Dave will get that honor.” (akbarthegreat, 2006-02-15 12:58 pm)

“The only thing I could defend about him is him having the right to his own opinion. He makes it seem that kicking a woman is the in the game. So he basically ignores the other 99.9% of the games out there. I don’t ever remember kicking a woman in Tetris. And sexism? Great example is World of Warcraft, where you’re basically the same whether you’re male or female (it’s purely cosmetic). This guy either didn’t do his homework at all or he chose to just jump on the media bandwagon and try and ride it to fame. That being said, I don’t think Rockstar did the right thing here; he has a right to express himself, no matter how dumb he makes himself look.” (dudelovenext, 2006-02-15 09:14 am)

“My greatest concern is that this piece is in NO WAY ART. Anything you can say to stretch the bounds of expression to cover this pile of crap to be art leads me to believe you’re batshit fucking loco. I see “modern art” like this all the time and I’m simply bedazzled by the number of people who eat it up. I once saw carpet breet hanging from a wall onto the floor with the end frayed. Where you ask? AT THE MOMA!!!! This shit isn’t art. It’s half–wtited numbskulls vying for an easy way to be successful despite the fact they flunked art–school. This kid is no exception. He went for the juggular to get attention and declared his work art because he knew that once Rockstar caught wind he would be shut down and the twist would be that he was being censored as an “arteest”. Lunatics. All of them.” (skemodan, 2006-02-16 01:28 am)

f) Additionally, the posters were sharply divided among those who believed that Beck had clearly infringed Rockstar Games’ copyright and deserved an exemplary punishment, and those who argued that the student’s work was protected under the terms set by “fair use” law. Among the latter is “mharpold8”, who wrote: “While I’m not exactly a subscriber of Berg’s thesis here, hopefully he gets some legal representation and tells Rockstar to go park it rectally. Art always wins” (2006-02-15 04:50 am). But the vast majority of users disagreed. Consider the following examples:

“Rockstar is within their rights... The warrior’s belong to rockstar and it’s within their right to say how screen shots and video of it can and can not be used... its something that all art students learn while they are in college... An artist must either create all the media that is part of their art piece or they must have permission to use the media that he uses... Even if the artist gives credit to the orginal creator, if the artist does not have permission from the creator then the creator has the full right to tell them to stop using it... The laws that will defend rockstar in this case are the same laws that protect all artists from getting their work stolen.” (monte924, 2006-02-15 05:30 am)

“I have several classes where the professors will not allow us to use any mateial that does not belong to us... we must either make the material ourselves, buy stock images, or used stock images that is owned by the school One of my teachers even lectured me for the use of music in project that i did not have permission to use. He said was alright since it was my first year, and they don’t enforce it much, but in later years we’ll get to a point where projects won’t even be excepted unless we have the permission to use everything My professors do this not only because its weak and in poor style to use material we don’t own, but also to avoid cases of infringment... even when we’re doing projects that may never been seen outside our own portfolio.” (monte924, 2006-02-15 01:25 pm)

“He’s treading on Rockstar’s rights, though. They have a right to go after him.” (howdoyouplead, 2006-02-15 06:56 am)

“The kid used COPYRIGHTED material of a videogame to make his statement without permission of the owner of said copyright. Rockstar is perfectly in their legal rights to request a Cease and Desist. I am sure if the Kid used Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck kicking Minnie Mouse, Disney would have been all over him.” (tollwutig, 2006-02-15 03:59 pm)

“I love art students. I really do. Especially when they do something like that. It makes me love them like you love that poor little puppy down the road that nobody cares about. But then again, video games desensitized me, so I should kick the said puppy. That being said, I believe Rockstar is in its right to sue the guy for whatever they want.” (silver_derstin, 2006-02-15 01:13 pm)

“Rockstar are the people who complained, they created the game, and that means it’s entirely justifiable for them to care about other people using it toward their own ends. Personally I don’t give a shit whether what he’s doing is art or not. But as a simple matter of whether he should use other peoples work without their permission he’s in the wrong on this one.” (e_w_spiral, 2006-02-15 10:23 am)

g) As I read these comments, I kept wondering why so many young users, including several art students, felt dismayed by Beck’s artwork and message, and were compelled to express their opinions in such a unkind way. Camaraderie was definitely not at work in this context. I was equally surprised by the fact that the majority of users not only supported Rockstar Games’ repressive response, but argued that in this case censorship was not sufficient as a counter measure. I was not the only one to be taken aback. A few commentators wrote:

“I find it kinda of hilarious that all of us in the gaming community are so quick to scream first amendment to protect the rights of expression of video game makers, but when someone creates something that we disagree with, we pounce all over them, and pat Take Two on the back for pursuing litigation. now, i’m not saying that i agree with his idea, that i like his work or even that it doesn’t infringe on copyright, but if freedom of expression is so important we need to protect the rights of everyone, even those we disagree with in order to protect our own.” (leeny_me, 2006-02-15 06:49 am)

“I think we’re in serious trouble when we start defending the rights a huge corporation over that of an individual. that was sort of the point i was trying to make that seemed to be missed. not to mention i think he would have a good case in fair use as copyrighted material is used in art all the time to criticize and analyze.” (leeny_me, 2006-02-16 07:30 am)

“Using appropriated media, from pop culture and so on, has always been a fertile topic in contemporary art. You get layers of content there that would not exist in your own brand–new creations, simply because it isn’t brand–new. Controversial art that challenges copyright laws are so common–place, I don’t understand how some people don’t realize there’s a ton of artists probably working on the topic as we speak... Artists take the set lines of society and find ways to blur them. It’s what makes them so incredibly important to society.” (eimdal00, 2006-02-16 06:00 pm)

h) It became clear, at one point, that a significant portion of the commentators perceived Beck as an outsider who unreasonably attacked the medium of the videogame. In many posts, Beck is compared or associated to Jack Thompson, an American lawyer, who has repeatedly expressed his views on the content of computer and video games – especially Rockstar Games’ titles - and their alleged effects on children in a negative fashion. Thompson was often mentioned on the pages of GamePolitics and in other game-related websites and has become a true nemesis of the game community. Thus, many users were outraged by the idea that someone could criticize videogames. The fact that Beck used a videogame to express his denunciation was considered the ultimate form of mockery. They felt Beck deserved a castigation, and some even mentioned the possibility of “gamer-driven social actions against him”:

“Hey guys, do remember the 'good 'ol days' when the topics of this forum where the only things discussed.. none of this Jack Thompson crap?.... *sigh* I miss those days” (aly-o-son, 2006-02-16 06:09 am)

“I sadly do agree. Its this guy’s right to tell the world we’re murderous automatons, and its our right and duty to tell him he’s an asshole. The difference in ‘first amendment’ issues between us and Jack Thompson is that we won’t litigate or censor stuff like this. We fight our own battles.” (semperar, 2006-02-15 07:13 am)

“I am bothered that it came down to Rockstar taking legal action, I admit. I would love to have seen gamer–driven social actions against him instead.” (semperar, 2006-02-15 08:09 am)

"What was this guy thinking that he could come up with this piece of crap and call it art? What right does he have to take an image from a video game, exploit it to a point where he can mislead the art communitity (or even the public) about the factual nature of this game? […] This far to pathetic Dave. You exploiting an image from a video game all in the name of art? Shame on you. You are not an artist. A true artist who searches for a soul and/or something meaningful and records it. David Lynch is an artist. Robert Altman is an artist. Picasso was an artist. Truman Capote was an artist. You, Dave Beck, are not an artist. You are just a hack in my opinion.” (jerico6, 2006-02-15 05:21 am)

“He stole the sequence from a cinematic in a game based on a very bad movie from the late 70’s. Player’s do not enjoy the privledge of kicking some chick over and over in order to get “the high score”. Seriously, I know art, and this isn’t it. It’s sociological, but that isn’t art. He’s not making a statement he’s trying to get the most attention with the least amount of effort. What a docuehbag. […] this asshole should stop focusing on trying to capture society in “art” and worry about m ore important things like how to actually create an artistic composition. Anatomy, color theory, light and shadow, all that stuff. Make societal commentary using a scene from a video game HARDLY constitutes art.” (skemodan, 2006-02-15 11:46 am)

“This person is trying to claim ownership of this art when he did not make 99% of it. We are using these copyrighted images under fair use...we do not claim they are ours and are not trying to profit from them. This art student is claiming it, as a whole, is his work of art and is trying to use it for notoriety and profit.” (nate_oo, 2006-02-15 05:55)

“What happened to the days… when Art Students made art out of their own minds and didn’t plagiarise? I thought art was about something from within yourself, not stealing imagery from other people? It’s not the content, I really couldn’t care less about that, but he could have created his own animated scene without using other peoples material, that’s what art IS.” (goodrobotus, 2006-02-15 08:44 am)

i) Interestingly, the discussion around Beck’s artwork quickly evolved into a broader conversation about the notion of art itself as understood by (a sample of) the game community. As the following examples will show, many gamers dismiss the idea that videogames could be a form of art or even that they could express complex ideas (besides killing and shooting, that is). On this regard, Henry Jenkins (2005) has written about the problematic notion of art for gamers (and game designers), a notion that they often perceive as a "burden":

"To be sure, some gamers and game designers still want to deny that video games can be art because of the low (or lofty, depending on your perspective) reputation art has in contemporary culture. How can something this engaging possibly be discussed alongside the usual forced march through the local art museum? Does anyone want their favorite recreation to be taken over by stuffy art historians, pompous society matrons, and mumbling docents? Gamers and game designers should think long and hard before taking the burdon of art, in only because it may decrease sales and frighten the children. This says more about what some historians have called the sacredization of art acress the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries than it does about the merits of this particular medium" (Jenkins, in Kelman 2005, 11-12)

Others posters argue that using images or sequences from games cannot possibly have any artistic implications: “Make societal commentary using a scene from a video game HARDLY constitutes art” (skemodan, 2006-02-15 11:51 am). Others wrote that art requires exceptional, uncommon skills: the “If I can do it in less than 30 minutes then it is not art” argument recurs in many posts (ex: “I wouldn’t classify looping images and screenshots from The Warriors plastered onto a web page as “art” to begin with. If it’s something I can accomplish in under 30 minutes, is most certainly is not “art” stated “dog_welder”, 2006-02-15 06:01 pm). Moreover, many commentators questioned the artist’s true intentions – “This art student is claiming it, as a whole, is his work of art and is trying to use it for notoriety and profit,” (nate_oo, 2006-02-15 05:55); “it`s nothing more then a way to make money off people’s back without working, (“silver_derstin”) – and many reiterated that “The Highest Score” simply infringes copyright, and therefore, cannot be considered “art” (see dog_welder’s contributions). For some posters, “art is content”. Others argued, tautologically, that “Art is art”. What follows is a selection of examples. Notice the sheer variety of positions:

“Art is whatever the creator/performer/enactor says is art. It’s just a question of whether or not it’s worthy of the time you give to it.” (kingnat, 2006-02-15 08:24 pm)

“Just because the creator says it’s art doesn’t make it art in the eyes of everyone else. Art, like opinions, is subjective. Everyone’s got their own definition of art and good taste and all that stuff, so while I say that it’s not art and you say it is, that doesn’t make either of us right.” (alacron, 2006-02-15 08:40 pm)

“Art is the content, actually. “Meaning beyond it’s overt subject matter.” Without content all you have is illustration, or animation, not art. Marcel Duchamp dubbed a urinal (that he didn’t even make) as art. Now that urinal is a famous art piece. Sounds silly, but the idea behind it was to make us think in a way we hadn’t considered... his intention was to be a controversial “anti–artist”. So there you go. It doesn’t matter who made the object, if you place it in a circumstance that gives it a whole new meaning, you’re something of an artist.” (heimdal00, 2006-02-15 09:08 am)

“Content. The one thing that’s been made clear by the statements of every artist, and every art prof I’ve ever heard has been that content is what makes something Art rather than just craft or illustration. If the animation was communicating it’s point as clearly as a commercial or ad, using big bold lettering and such, it may not be art at all. However, it’s not doing that, it’s leaving us to infer all it’s meaning on our own. That’s what makes it enter the realm of art.” (heimdal00, 2006-02-16 06:16 pm)

“The purpose of Art is to show what is, not what the populous believes. Art is what it defines itself as, simple as that, as I said, I do not, and have never said that this is not art, indeed, I classed it alongside other works of art such as Warhol in it’s context, though Warhol was fresh and this is worn.” (goodrobotus, 2006-02-15 09:26 am)

“Just because something lacks solid content doesn’t stop it being art. It just merely means that it’s inconsequential, or the artist has less to say than they might like to believe. To be honest though, all the artists I know would have to admit to themselves that a lot of their commercial work isn’t so much art as the craft.” (kingnat, 2006-02-17 12:12 am)

“Art is art. Its not for anyone to contest that fact. You dont like it. Ok, congrats, move on. But it doesnt make it _not_ art.” (deviancy, 2006-02-15 08:06 am)

“Art by its very nature of existing is “pretentious”. It’s the fact that people have the need to sling words against anyone who feels the need to explain their art. Any artist who explains their art will sound pretentious and those that don’t really aren’t probably making art, they’re probably making illustrations.” (deviancy, 2006-02-16 04:38 pm)

“Art is not necessarily something a creator “owns”, like a car, or a painting, or a sculpture.” (mharpold8, 2006-02-15 10:29 pm)

“If [“The Highest Score” is] deception, then pretty much all art is “deception”, especially any art that uses found objects, found sounds, or hell, why stop there? Maybe next time I exhibit a painting, I should post a big long affadavit of every influence that came into my head, a laundry list of materials used, and so on. Because otherwise it’s a “deception” (mharpold8, 2006-02-15 11:31 am)

“The thing about Art, in my own eyes is the fact that it has lost it’s ‘meaning’. Artists used to create art for the future, most of the ‘old school’ artists made very very little money or fame from their work whilst they were alive, but they continued painting for the love of it. It seems more common these days that ar is treated like ‘fast food’ something to make a quick buck for the creator and then throw in the bin. I know that is merely a symbol of the society we ourselves live in, so is valid in a way, but it still never sits comfortably with me.” (goodrobotus, 2006-02-15 09:26 am)

Checkpoint: What’s the score?

“The work of art, for those who use it, is an activity of unframing, of rupturing sense, of baroque proliferation or extreme impoverishment, which leads to a recreation and a reinvention of the subject itself” (Felix Guattari, 1995: 130)

“On the internet, if it doesn’t look like a dog wearing raver pants or a kawaii anime catgirl, it’s not art.” (sngingcircusdog, 2006-02-15 11:54 pm)

A more detailed and comprehensive analysis of all the issues that emerged during this conversation would transcend the scope of this article (note 2). Therefore, we will conclude our initial investigation by trying to answer a crucial question: What should we make of this debate?

On one level, it seems clear that Beck – like Todd Hayners and Zbigniew Libera before him – achieved his goals. “The Highest Score” was a self–described art installation intended to generate social comment. In just a few days, it generated more than 300 posts on “”, including these:

“I see a hundred–odd outraged messages by gamers on a blog, an inflammatory cease and desiat order by Rockstar, and some actual discussion about violence in games, all started by this thing. Seems like he made his own work to me.” (mharpold8)

“One purpose of art is to make people think. This piece of art (or, at least the notion of it, since I haven’t been able to see it) made me think, so I consider it a success.” (carl_foust)

More importantly, this case illustrates how users construct meanings in free flowing online conversations. If the metric of “success” of such form of communication is reaching a full consensus among the users, the “GamePolitics” debate might appear like a complete fiasco. Somehow disparagingly, the last entry, published on February 18 at 02:23 am reads: “Oh yeah, in case you didn't get the message, FUCK YOU for that Vietnam comment” (jerico6). If convergence “requires the sharing of common and different views, the negotiation of varying levels of understating, visiting and revisiting various horizons and the gradual fusion of them all (Gadamer, 1982 quoted in Xin and Feenberg, 2006), then the debate instigated by “Rockstar’s Legal Gangs Beats Down Online Art Installation” ended with utmost divergence.

However, the lack of consensus and the frequent use of abusive language should not keep us from recognizing the potential of online discussions per se. The role played by several posters – including kingnat, cjovalle, funnydale, and mharpold8 – was instrumental in broadening the scope of the conversation. By directly quoting passages from Wikipedia and other websites – or simply by citing other artists (even using irony: “RE: Would be?: "What we have here on this blog are an awful lot of gamers and not a lot of people who know who Piero Manzoni is. ;-)", mharpold8 2006-02-15 07:45 am) – they were able to give an additional layer of meaning to the case. Although a significant part of contributions were intellectually low in content – many users just posted one derogatory comment – others constructed complex argument, rationally criticizing other views, applying concepts, using appropriate examples and so on. A small portion of users acted as leaders in the conversations, guiding the conversation. These users contributed with posts that generated several responses and, possibly unconsciously, shaped a collaborative learning process through dialog.

Although this debate does not qualify as a form of “engaged collaborative discourse” in the terms set forth by Xin and Feenberg (that is, "a group dialogue in pursuit of shared understanding and convergence"), it confirms that user from different backgrounds and interests can actively interact with each other around substantial issues. Although the vast majority of users who took part in the discussion were Americans, posters from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany freely shared their knowledge, formed allegiances, learned from each other, and, hopefully, achieved a better understanding of the case.

As naïve and idealistic this might sound, today, a cease-and-desist letter does not prevent a collective process of sense-making.

Read the first part of this story.

Appendix one
The LiveJournal users nicknames who participated in the debate are: Featherspy, the1jeffy, goodrobotus, shadowkatamari, phantompvp, burntouttech, beardoggx, lampbane, mharpold8, heimdal00, nangke, semperar, monte924, kingnat, cjovalle, revengeofthezio, sprngpilot, froggersrevenge, stormewolfe, goopgod, jerico6, the_new_l, riffraff1138, e_w_spiral, acroamatis, alacron, prickvixen, das_banjo, dudelovenext, kurisu7885, braindead1, timed95, bluejoshi, revotruthinary, jdmdsp911, howdoyouplead, lecherousoldman, carl_foust, leeny_me, andrew_eisen, dog_welder, kharne83, mnementh2230, deviancy, bustermanzero, jeremykpierce, dachande18, the_attorney, kyhwana, sqlrob, mofo_x, akbarthegreat, imahori, anticron, skemodan, Pahsons, nate_oo, kail_murushi, EnmityWithin, silver_derstin, snakemeister, tollwutig, dagrak, vaminion, tsknf, nightwng2000, larpguide, suigin_kou, mrbrightcoco, barfo, jabrwock, irrevilent, echoesandwaves, exis, hilaryduffgta, expert_gamer, so_sorry810, funnydale. The most profilic poster was mharpold8 with 61 posts, followed by kingnat (25) and jerico6 (18). For 35 of these users, the date and location of birth is clearly indicated in their profiles. Although the vast majority of users indicated the United States as their current location, a significant number of posters are from Europe and Australia. The comment of an additional poster was removed from the site and replaced with a note that says “removed comment from suspended user”.

Image 1: “A few examples of "userpics" on LiveJournal

1. As Xin and Feenberg noted, “meta-comments include remarks directed as such things as the context, norms, or agenda of the forum; or at solving problems such as the lack of clariy, irrelevance, and information overload. Meta comments play an important role in maintaining the conditions of successful communication: (2006, 20)
2. An extended version of this article will be featured in Henry Lowood, Michael Nitsche, The Machinima Reader, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2008.


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