Ninth Brown Bag – November 14, 2014


Nicky Lewis, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Telecommunications, Media School

Social Comparison in Reality Television

Reality television programming has experienced tremendous growth in the last decade. By combining relatively low production costs and a quick turnaround for broadcast, these types of programs have increased in popularity worldwide. However, what makes these programs engaging to media audiences is still uncertain. Although several researchers have explored the relevant features of reality programs and viewers’ perceptions of those programs, little is known about the psychological processes at work amongst the viewers themselves. Informed by social comparison theory, this presentation will demonstrate how directional social comparisons with cast members influence emotional responses to reality television programming, including enjoyment.


Nicky Lewis (M.A., Indiana University) is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University.  Her research interest involves media psychology, especially as it applies to consumption behavior.

Telecom Improv Team Hosts Sanctioned Silliness

By: Niki Fritz

Before I begin this article, I have to admit some bias. I used to hate improv; like really hate improv. I’m from Chicago, land of Second City, Tina Fey, and approximately one billion people trying to make it in the improv or comedy world. Throughout my five years in Chicago, I sat through countless improv shows of friends trying out the craft. And I can’t lie; they were painful. Eventually one day I made a rule for myself: no more improv shows.

Ironically about a year before I left Chicago, I found myself accidently taking an improv workshop where I learned the most important, foundational rule of improv was a fairly simple one: “yes, and,” which was basically the opposite of how I had been operating in Chicago. “Yes” meant saying yes to the silliness of a scene even if it is not what you expected. “And” meant, after saying yes, you had to add your own silliness to the mix. “Yes, and” as a rule means not looking for or expecting perfection but existing in the moment and then moving forward. It was deep and stuff.

Little did I know, that the “yes, and” philosophy would haunt – I mean reappear in– my life in Indiana in the form of IU Telecom’s very first, very original improv team, “The Faces of NPR.”

Rule #1 of improv is “Yes, and”

I asked  Edo Steinberg, founder of the Telecom improv team, fearless leader of the troupe and all-around funny man, why he decided to start an improv group with a bunch of stick-in-the-mud social scientists.

Edo admitted that he actually “stole” the idea from the grad students at the University of Pennsylvania. The year before coming to IU, Edo was in Philly, helping his sister adjust to city life and getting kind of bored. He was browsing the profiles of the Comm grad students at UPenn and saw many were taking improv classes. Edo followed their lead and for the next two months, he learned the tenants of improv at the Philly Improv Theater. Edo also humbly noted that the teachers at the Philly school, were actually trained at the iO Theater in Chicago.

“In a way, I was trained at iO,” Edo explained using some shaky-at-best logic.

At this point, Josh Sites, improv team member and first lieutenant of the great beards of improv, felt the need to interject: “Tina Fey was trained at iO so basically Edo and Tina Fey are friends. So really Edo is on a first name basis with Alec Baldwin. Edo is a pretty impressive guy. I try not to boast about it though.” Clearly there is some raw talent on the team when it comes to name dropping and flexible logic.

Edo enjoyed the lessons he learned in Philly so much that he decided to bring the improv philosophy to IU. Also he just missed having an excuse to be silly.

Within two minutes of starting the improv practice, I could see what Edo meant. I had been peer pressured into joining the team in practice to get the full experience; I found myself clucking like a chicken as I walked around in a circle during the warm up activity. It felt silly but it also felt weird to be silly especially with my colleagues.

Josh explained that this feeling is why he joined improv. “I wanted some creative dissonance,” Josh said. When I gave him a look of “Really dude? Did you just say use scholarly jargon?” he restated. “I just wanted the opposite of what I do all day and all week … I get stress relief out of improv. I may just be simply because I’m out of that rut, out of those tracks. Or because it’s silly and goofy and carefree.”

The practice was definitely silly, but as we got further into practice, it also became somewhat challenging. I stepped up to participate and my mind went blank. Without a PowerPoint or lecture outline to follow, my mind was empty, unsure of how to proceed without guidelines.

After this happened a few times, all-wise, fearless leader Edo, told me about another important tenant of improv. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Just try it,” Edo encouraged me. After that, words fell out of my mouth and although they mostly were not funny, I, at least, was participating.

Improv is not about perfection

Nicky Lewis, another veteran member of the troupe, also gave me some much needed perspective on improv, telling me, “It’s the crazy ones that are the fun ones.” The more outlandish a scene, the more fun the team seemed to have. Practice seemed to be a safe place to joke about everything from fat babies and dead bodies to Edo’s secret life as an underground fighter and farts.

It was clear to me that this improv team is not about perfection, it is not about making it onto SNL and it is not about any seriously scholarly pursuits; it is about being silly and recognizing there is more to life than academics.

By the end of practice, I found myself succumbing to the “yes, and” philosophy I had fought so hard years ago. I realized that although I was not only feeling funnier, I also was less worried about being funny. I was more in the moment; I was feeling looser, like the muscles in my body had all just relaxed a bit.

It was then I realized what all my improv friends must have realized years ago in Chicago. Most people don’t do improv for the audience, they don’t do improv to be funny. People do improv to connect to something back inside themselves, that uninhibited part of self that is still silly and free. It is a part of ourselves that sometimes we lose when we are busy being important academics.

If being silly sounds like something you want to try, the Faces of NPR improv team will be having practices on Fridays. Feel free to contact Edo if you want more details.

Improv team members pose for their first official team photo. From left to right: Josh Sites, Nicky Lewis, Edo Steinberg

Improv team members pose for their first official team photo. From left to right: Josh Sites, Nicky Lewis, Edo Steinberg

The Science of Morality

by Teresa Lynch

Left to right: Nic Matthews, Andrew Weaver, and Nicky Lewis

Since roughly the beginning of 2012 Professor Andrew Weaver and PhD students Nicky Lewis and Nic Matthews have been meeting with a multidisciplinary group to discuss morality. This group had grown and evolved and is now has a formal name – Science of Morality Interest Group.

The group began not long after Professor John Kruschke of the Psychology department completed teaching a seminar on morality. Nicky says that “[Dr. Kruschke] started [the] moral perspectives research group, where people from all disciplines with an interest in morality could come together and basically bounce ideas off of each other. Since the group is made up of people from all different schools and departments, such as philosophy, drama, business, etc., we all get to share ideas from different points of view.”

The three Telecom participants see much value in such multifaceted thinking.  Andrew noted that “when you dive into the research that’s being done in other disciplines, you’re bound to uncover some worthwhile information. We’ve also found that conducting research using games is a way to address barriers that morality researchers from other disciplines have come up against. For example, philosophers or psychologists using traditional thought experiments to study moral decisions are capturing a type of decision making that is very specific and often much more deliberative/artificial than what one would experience in real life. Video games provide us with the opportunity to study decision making in much more natural contexts. Other members of the group have been very receptive to using games as a means to examine these behaviors.”

And the use games for studying moral choice has been one major contribution from the Telecom contingent. Regarding that contribution, Nic said “it’s great. Talking about games as a method sparks lots of conversation. People genuinely get excited at the thought of simulating moral decision making by embedding participants in virtual environments.”

For Andrew and Nic, their interest and previous work on media violence – sometimes specifically addressing violence in games – offered a natural bridge into research on moral choice. Andrew explained that “the real hook for me, though, was the choice involved with certain types of game violence. A first person shooter where the objective is just to mow down the opposition is one thing, but when a player gets to make real decisions about whether or not to harm another character … well, that sort of input into the aggressive act is something that’s just not a part of other types of media violence  I believe that the shift from observer to actor in this context is an important shift, but we know very little at this point about what the impact of this actually is. Because these kinds of decisions in games were often framed as moral choices, we then jumped into this line of research.”

Nicky’s interest in morality was piqued a bit differently. She explained that although her previous work had largely investigated participation in the competitive environments of fantasy sports, she had some exposure to moral choice but in a different way – “through traditional disposition theory and how that theory informed the behavior of sports fans.”  Her participation in one of Andrew’s projects on moral choice in games got her involved with morality in a more focused way. She says she has been strongly influenced by this line of research in ways she didn’t expect, even beginning to “[ask]different types of questions now, especially as it relates to how individuals form evaluations about others. Working with Andrew has been a great experience and getting our first research project published validated the importance of this research. The opportunities in this area are wide open and the advantages that using videogames have for answering questions related to moral decision-making are palpable.”

Image from Fallout 3, the game used in Andrew and Nicky’s study.

Andrew’s collaborative study with Nicky titled “Mirrored Morality: An Exploration of Moral Choice in Video Games” was recently published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. The study has also received recognition in Popular Science, a mixed blessing according to Andrew. Although he appreciates the recognition and realizes that for work in our field to make a difference it must be disseminated to the broader community, he also see the attention as “a double-edged sword.” He says that although many of the journalists he’s spoken with have the best intentions, they are charged with the difficult task of boiling a complex scientific study full of nuance into a brief and generally digestible piece. This often leads to misrepresentation in some way, a problem Andrew says “can be a bit discouraging.”

Still, the future of studying morality in our department and beyond is bright. Drawing from the Science of Morality Interest Group and other sources Nic notes that “the area is ripe for exploration. In our meetings I hear so many great and untapped ideas that I end up with numerous study ideas after each meeting. It seems like the challenge is picking where to start rather than generating ideas.” Similarly, Andrew sees positive future outcomes of the group as he says “there is a lot of brainstorming that goes on in these meetings, and already some of the ideas from other members of the group – things we never would have thought of had we stayed grounded in the comm literature – have been incorporated into the ongoing studies that we’ve been working on. We also have at least one concrete study idea using interdisciplinary collaboration that we’re hoping to get funding to conduct in the next year.”

Regarding the fruitfulness of collaborations within Telecom, Andrew also sees great things happening. He says he has “enjoyed working with both Nicky and Nic on these projects. Great graduate students – and both of them are – bring ideas and motivation that can really energize a body of research. These studies wouldn’t be half of what they are if it wasn’t for their input and effort.”

Mike’s Metal Life, Blog Report Card, Blog Book of Sayings, 10 Minutes on Monday

Mike’s Metal Life, by Ken Rosenberg

Before we grow up and discover our own aesthetic sensibilities, we are acculturated by our parents. For young Mike Lang, this meant training as an audiophile: high-quality equipment and, thanks to all the ‘80s rock, spandex—lots of spandex. Neon guitars and ostentatious hip thrusting was not for Mike, but the love of thrashing and long haired rock gods would endure. Around sixth grade, Mike began to develop his own taste in music. While his dad would “flirt with metal,” Mike was destined to settle down and marry the genre. “For about a year straight, I binged on Metallica,” Mike said. Then, “it got to the point where I was finding bands myself,” he said. Of course, taking those first steps is always a bit awkward. There was some punk, even some rap—but, with metal, Mike was stalled for some time. Despite knowing Ride the Lightning like the back of his hand, he was hesitant to go further.

“Metal is deep,” Mike explained. “It’s a question of how far down you are willing to go. You can’t just dive in and expect to hit the bottom—you have to work your way through.” Once, when grounded from the computer, which effectively limited after-school interaction, Mike decided that he wanted to learn how to play the guitar, just like his girlfriend at the time. Angst, fandom, and a girl: all the components necessary to transform a high school kid into a garage band rock star. Soon, he made another music-minded friend, Mike Sholty, and they formed a band.

Back then, life was easy. The band needed a name. They practiced in a basement on Mayor Drive and became, fittingly enough, The Basement Mayors. Then, the two Mikes needed a drummer. Mike found a cheap set at a garage sale and threw another friend onto the drum throne. They needed to record their jam sessions, so they dredged up an old ‘70s tape deck with a basic record function. What music would they play? Sholty’s love of Weezer pushed them toward plenty of covers but, eventually, they began to write their own music. “I wish I still had those tapes; we were really awful, but it was a good way to learn. We were just bunch of kids cutting our teeth on musical instruments, seeing what it was like to be in a band.”

One of the pitfalls of childhood friendships is the likelihood of growing apart. As his friends’ tastes went down the path of indie rock, Mike felt metal calling back to him. “I kept wanting to go heavier,” he said. Still, at this point, Mike hadn’t really moved past Metallica into harder metal, what Mike dubbed “The Land of Harsh Vocals and Screaming.” He made a new friend, Kyle, who gave him a metalcore mix tape and taught Mike metal-writing sensibilities: how to write catchy riffs, how to get a feel for the scales and rhythms, and how to piece things together. “The band was good for teaching me how to write,” Mike said, “but also how to really listen to metal, to go beyond the aggression—that wall of sound—and figure out core structures, themes, and moods that we wanted to get across in our own music.” The result: When Legends Die, a traditional metalcore band that was all about the guitars. “Everything was super riffy,” Mike said. “We were two guitar players writing music. We wrote for ourselves and filled in the blanks with the other parts of the band.” They let their band mates play almost anything they wanted. “We had a vocalist, Derek, but—even today—I still have no idea what his lyrics were about.” Only with metal could that happen so easily.

Metalcore is a specific subgenre that, according to Mike, features “some pretty important sonic signatures.” Beyond that, though, there are plenty of Christian overtones; common in the Midwest, it is essentially “death metal for Jesus.” The “-core” suffix identifies the hardcore influence—or, at least, it did. Now, it’s almost derogatory among metalheads. “Most of the Hot Topic folk you see with the swoopy haircuts and tight jeans, they’re metalcore. The community at large tends to shun them.” In terms of fashion, Mike compromised, wearing baggy jeans and studded wristbands—but no swoopy hair. Actually, Mike found a way to eschew the norms of both the system and its rebels. Two to three days a week, he would go to school wearing a suit. “It was my version of ‘f*** the system’,” Mike said. Ironically, as a nonconformist, he started a trend of his own and ended up with a couple of followers. “Suit days,” as Mike referred to them, were independent of other scheduled events. If there was a gig that day, he would go in a suit.

As a key member of When Legends Die, Mike played a bunch of shows around Kokomo, Indiana, the town where he went to high school. On one occasion, they played at the armory—something that was anticipated as a particularly “metal” performance. “Being around all of those guns would have been so metal,” Mike said, “but we ended up in the gym, just a room with bad acoustics where kids play basketball.” Contrary to convention, they also played at a lot of churches. At the high-school level, metal was about angst, identity, themes of brotherhood and, of course, girls and love—nothing darker than that. “Midwestern metal culture is so non-threatening, it’s ridiculous.”

Because of all the clubs and activities he had signed up for to build up his resume for college applications, Mike’s senior year of high school frequently necessitated sixteen-hour days on campus. That took him away from metal. After that, though, Mike had an opportunity to delve even deeper into metal. Once again, the girlfriend factor would fuel Mike’s growth as a musician. His then-girlfriend, now wife Mel, pushed him toward a metal-loving underclassman, Bryce. “We clicked really quickly and became really close friends,” Mike said. “We were all about discovering new bands. When I came back home for Christmas, I dumped about 70 gigabytes of music on him.”

Together, they formed Deschain (the last name of the protagonist in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series). For Mike, previous efforts at music creation were more about riffing in a garage and hoping everyone would remember their parts. As a member of Deschain, though, he began to learn composition on Guitar Pro and even began working on drum parts, as well. The switch in bands also came with a shift in aspirations. “I really wanted to play melodic death metal,” Mike said. Their first album was to be about a pirate lord and his explorations. “It was our way to deal with death and all those other metaphysical issues that 18-year old dudes think about.”

Life, such as it was, pushed Mike away from writing music; it was another year away from metal. But, then, Bryce joined Mike in Bloomington. “That was where it all really took off for me” Mike said. “I thought I had hit a plateau but, really, I was just walking into the gate.” Bryce found them another guitarist. Under Mike’s guidance, they formed The Metal Underground, an IU-based club for metal fans. The goal was to get recommendations, hang out, and go to concerts together—everything you would expect to have in a good music scene. That’s where they met Jeff; he introduced Mike to black metal, a subgenre with long track times and low production values that “goes for atmosphere, more than anything.” Black metal goes back to Norway; its roots are colored by church burnings and explicit anti-Christian attitudes. For Bryce and Mike, who are both Christian, “it was wall number two. Musically, it was rough to listen to and, ideologically, it wasn’t ‘safe’ anymore. This is the threat people talk about when they speak about the ‘dangers of metal.’”  Regardless of the history, Mike was hooked by the sound.

While “still a very melody-minded person,” his desire to write black metal gripped him in much the same way as his previous enthrallment. For a class project, Mike recorded a demo for a black metal song, that was his first foray into recording, something he now does regularly for his band. “I don’t claim to be great at it,” Mike said, “but it’s something I really like to do and it’s fun.” Once metal was injected into his curriculum, Mike began to apply it everywhere he could. For a video game culture course, he wrote a paper on the similarities between the cultures of early hackers and metal fans. Then he signed up for credits in independent study—and focused on metal. Eventually, through office-hour visits with other scholars, Mike met fellow metal enthusiast Mark Deuze. “We really hit it off,” Mike said.

Also around this time, Deschain released their first album Upon the Open Throne. Then, over the following summer, Mike mixed and mastered their second album, which evidences more black metal influences.

“The borders and boundaries of metal are so interesting to me,” Mike said. “What is and is not considered metal is such an interesting process of negotiation. People get really into drawing all these lines but, in the end, it’s all sort of arbitrary.” His first paper for Mark looked at different exemplar metal communities, analyzing how people forge identities and what makes a music scene. This was a precursor to working on space- and place-related research. Mike’s latest work is a longitudinal study of Viking metal; he attempts to analyze how, via the Internet, global influences affect the construction of spaces that were previously defined more by geography. Many media scholars find joy in bridging the gap between hobbies and research. As a scholar of space and place, studying metal communities is simply Mike’s lens of choice. “There are a million lenses one could choose, but metal is what brought me here. It’s natural for me to adopt this perspective.”

Mike will be moving to New York to attend NYU for his doctoral studies and he is excited about the metal scene there. “There are shows every night in New York; there’s a great metal scene in the city,” Mike said. “New York death metal is renowned and there’s a burgeoning black metal scene, too. It’s going to be a whole new world to explore.”

It’s a great opportunity, but it does come with some sacrifices. Recently, he helped pick his replacement for Deschain. “One of the things that’s really cool about metal is that there’s a fluidity in the membership of bands,” Mike said. “Just because you don’t have one of the founding members anymore, doesn’t mean the band is dead—at all. As long as you’ve still got people who accurately represent the sound, you’re okay.” Mike will still help with audio production, which is easily done remotely. He will also pursue some solo projects, something which is not uncommon in metal; lots of black metal bands are one-man affairs. “This will give me a chance to explore some ideas I’ve had” Mike said, “to do some things I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”

After six years in Bloomington, it is certainly time Mike gets that chance. Everyone in the department knows of his scholarship. Anyone who goes into Tracks, one of the local music stores (on Kirkwood), will see Mike’s influence in the metal albums he selected while working there. The Bishop, a venue downtown, still has a Deschain poster. Dozens of students had their time in Bloomington enhanced, however briefly, by The Metal Underground. “It takes a lot of work to get into metal,” Mike said. “You have to work to find the bands. You have to work to get over those mental blocks. You have to work to become a part of the community—and you have to work to become skilled at playing.” Thanks for all that work, Mike. Bloomington wouldn’t be the same without it.

Blog Report Card, by Blog Writer Emerita Nicky Lewis

This week I was given the assignment to submit a ‘blog report card.’  Revisiting the posts of the past semester has been a real treat. Looking back at what we’ve done as a blog team over the past two years has been a true joy. All of the stories we’ve done, all of the people who have shared parts of their lives; it serves as a great reminder of how interesting and diverse our department really is. In turn, it has made the jobs we have as blog writers that much easier.

With Mike and Ken at the helm, the tone has changed and so has the writing style, but the content is what always shines. I couldn’t bring myself to ‘grade’ the blog and its crafters since I left my writing post. The blog is its own entity now, and isn’t married to a particular writer or style. It belongs to the department and the faculty, staff, and students that continue to make it great.

With Mike moving on, another writer will come in. The structure and story themes may change, but hopefully, it will continue to be an informal and intimate look into our wonderful graduate community. Great work this year Harmeet, Mike, and Ken… here’s to you and long live the blog!

Grad Blog Book of Sayings

Every now and then during our discussions we have crystallizing moments when a principle that has been guiding the sensibilities of the Telecom grad blog gets articulated.  One such moment occurred on April 16 and the spirit of that day got us thinking about a grad blog book of sayings, an unadorned compilation of articulations of grad blog sensibilities.  We will capture them when they are articulated or re-articulated in free flowing discussions, as opposed to reconstructing them from memory.  We will not attribute the sayings to particular individuals, as they arise from conversations over time.  But we will make an exception this one time because it is Mike Lang’s last blog post and his articulation on April 16 sparked the idea of starting a grad blog book of sayings.

10 Minutes on Monday,  by Mike Lang

My radio squawked as I shoved the last canoe into the current for the evening float trip. “Mike Lang, you have a phone call on line one, Mike Lang, you have a phone call on line one.” Knee deep in the Tippecanoe River, I plodded back to the truck, soaked shoes swooshing and squishing beneath me. “Thanks, give me a few minutes to get to a phone.”  The evening air was thick with heat and humidity, and a layer of sweat and grit clung to my body like a second skin, my summer skin, my camp skin.

For four years I’ve spent my summers hanging out with kids at YMCA Camp Tecumseh, teaching them to build fires, play guitar, identify plants, and make friendship bracelets. However, as any camp director will tell you, activities come second to personal growth.  If fun is your only objective, take your kid to an amusement park.  As such, embedded in every activity is a subliminal purpose that ranges from facilitating friendships, to developing patience, to overcoming fears. We call them second level skills, and at the end of the week when the armada of minivans and SUVs descends on camp, most of the campers have developed them without ever knowing it.

I climbed into the beat up Ford Ranger and rumbled up the hill to the lodge. The phone’s line one light blinked steadily as Professor Harmeet Sawhney waited on the other end to offer me a job. I could count the amount of interactions I’d had with Harmeet on one hand prior to that call, all of them enjoyable, but most of them taking place in the cocktail party environment where you smile and laugh and keep conversations long enough to seem polite, but brief enough to avoid saying anything substantial. I picked up the receiver and pressed the flashing button. “Hello.” As expected Harmeet explained in his polite and thoughtful way that Katie Birge was leaving and the blog needed a new writer. I’d be working alongside blog veteran Nicky Lewis, we would meet every Monday to come up with story ideas, and we would write stories that captured a certain sensibility. There was also a 10 hour a week RA assignment in it for me. As Harmeet filled me in on the details, my mind wandered to my students from T101 the previous semester; the inside jokes, the creative projects, the office hour chit chats. I entered academia with an eye towards teaching. Did I want to give all that up to write for the blog? I tuned back in as Harmeet asked, “So Mike, do you think you want to write for the blog.” It’s now or never.  “I’ll do it.”

Over the course of two semesters I’ve somehow managed to write 40 stories. I polled the incoming class on which weapon would best suit their needs in case of the zombie apocalypse, and defended beer in an epic beverage showdown. I’ve talked skateboarding, basketball, and cougar encounters with Paul Wright, and learned the ins and outs of the Rugby World Cup. I’ve made videos, taken pictures, and spent hours conducting interviews. In many cases, the blog brought me to unexpected places. My interview with Rob Potter on geocaching eventually led to a final paper for one of my seminars. The blog gave me an excuse to finally visit the farmer’s market, and the blog introduced me to a man I wish I could have known. In other cases, the blog gave me an opportunity to learn. I learned about audio engineering (twice!), mountain climbing, saving money, and independent game design. In many ways, the blog has kept me plugged into the department during the weeks of thesis writing when I had no one but my computer for company.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have never missed a deadline, but it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve lost stories to hard drive failure, and interviewees have flaked out on me. Nearly every Sunday this year has been devoted to the blog much to the chagrin of my wife, and in many cases, the desire to teach rises up on occasion to scorn me. The stories on the T101 and the T205 AIs were the most difficult. Envy gnawed at me as I listened to their stories of AI camaraderie, student creativity, and hilarity and hardship that accompany every class. Every time I walked past the T101 AI meetings in Mark Deuze’s office, a little part of me would rise up to rebel. Why did I choose this over teaching? Why did I take this job, only to slave over stories week after week that most of the department would only spend 10 minutes with on Monday morning? Is any of this even worth it?

Sitting here, writing my last post, I find myself asking the same questions, but the answers are coming more clearly. At the staff meeting before the start of every week at Camp Tecumseh, our executive director reads evaluations written by parents of campers who had just been to camp. Like pros, the parents read right through their kids’ excited descriptions of their weeks, writing in glowing terms about their child’s personal growth. As a staff, we get pumped up when the kid who selfishly hoards food stores so ridiculously large they could restock the Kroger snack aisle decides to share the wealth with the cabin on his own accord.  We get even more excited when a parent writes to tell us that that same kid is now sharing his Xbox controller with his little brother and they are bonding like never before. As a writer, I’ve worked my tail off on these stories and get excited when they turn out well. However, in many ways, the stories themselves aren’t as important. It’s that second level that really matters. In numerous cases I’ve sat in Harmeet’s office talking about the blog’s sensibility, the department’s ‘signature’; and the factors which make Telecom special and unique, and this is the second level conclusion I’ve come to:

The blog breaks down the stuffy professionalism of the academe and infuses the department with personality. We are blessed to have a faculty loaded with leaders in the field, and graduate students who will no doubt take their place, and while the world celebrates them for their achievements, the blog celebrates them for their humanity. The blog doesn’t treat the department as a group of individuals, but as a group of friends. I haven’t worked all year for 10 minutes of skimming on Monday mornings. I’ve worked for the conversations the blog facilitates, the laughs it generates, the opportunities to meet people it presents, and the quirkiness it inspires. Our department is special because we aren’t afraid to be human.  We may be giants, but we aren’t too big for our britches. We may be smart, but we aren’t afraid to laugh with one another. We may be busy, but we aren’t too busy to help each other out.  In my mind, the blog is a fundamental piece of our department culture, and from that perspective, two semesters of AI work is a small price to pay all the fun I’ve had.

In the fall I’ll be starting my PhD program at NYU and somebody else will be taking over my blog responsibilities. As such, I’d like to thank Nicky Lewis for showing me the way, holding my hand as I learned the ropes, and establishing the precedent that made my life a million times easier; Ken Rosenberg for his brilliant ideas, wonderful conversation and constant desire for improvement, even when the wall seemed too high to climb. I’d like to thank everyone who lent me their time and their stories, hopefully I did them justice. Lastly, I’d like to thank Harmeet Sawhney, not only for taking me on as both a blogger and a research assistant, but for everything in between. I couldn’t ask for a better editor, mentor, and friend. Thank you.

Signing off,

Mike Lang

Andrew and Ted at DePauw, Beerfest 2011, Sports and Media Brown Bag

Andrew and Ted at DePauw

Professor Andrew Weaver had an opportunity to return to his alma mater DePauw University this week, just an hour or so up State Route 231.  DePauw University is a small liberal arts college located in the town of Greencastle, Indiana.  Along with doctoral student Nicky Lewis, he made a research presentation at the Ethical Inquiry through Video Game Play and Design Conference.  Andrew was also asked by a former professor, Jeff McCall, to give a guest lecture for his Media and Society course.  His lecture on the appeal of violence in media and the impact of racial casting in selective exposure was well received by the students in attendance.  The guest lecture took place in the very same building where Andrew used to put in time at the student radio and TV stations.

Andrew noted several changes on the DePauw campus since his last visit.  After acquiring a nature park approximately a quarter mile from campus, DePauw constructed several new facilities – one being the Bartlett Reflection Center, a place for meditation and relaxation, and the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics, where the conference took place.  The nature park also features an amphitheater, quarry research area, and campground.  According to Andrew, “It’s fun to see the changes the campus has gone through since I was a student, so it’s nice to be able to come back every few years.”

Fellow faculty member Ted Castronova was also invited to the conference as a key note speaker.  He presented his thoughts on natural laws, suggesting that they exist prior to society.  With regard to the implications that games have for ethical inquiry, he offered the idea that fantasies and dreams should be thought of as the “real” reality and that games serve as a reflection of that reality.  Citing a priest that recently visited his church, he said “We are not made for this earth.  We are made for the next.”  Ted posited that perhaps fantasy is not a forecast of paradise, but a memory.

Beerfest 2011

For a majority of beer drinkers, beer begins and ends with the big three, Budweiser, Miller, and Coors. Their commercials dominate television, their products monopolize most bar and restaurant taps, and together they control over 90% of the American beer market. However, a small but growing contingent is turning towards craft beer for new tastes and styles. At the 19th annual Beerfest, sponsored by Big Red Liquors, a wealth of beers were available for beer aficionados to try.

The three hour sessions on both Thursday and Friday night featured over 330 beers from all around the world with all proceeds going to local charities.  Armed with a tasting glass provided at the entrance, participants walk around to the various tables sponsored by breweries and beer distributors, sampling beers while picking up stickers, coasters, bottle openers, and occasional T-shirts along the way.

PhD students and Beerfest veterans Travis Ross and Ryland Sherman attended on Friday night. Sherman, who enjoys craft beer, but is often deterred by its high price, enjoys the festival because he gets to try all the beers he would never try on his own. With so many offerings though, a little bit of strategy is required. Sherman decided to focus on the most exotic beers he could find. Ross expressed similar sentiments, as he normally heads to the back corner first, where the more unique offerings can be found.  However, acknowledges Ross, after an hour strategy starts to fall apart.  A ruined palette from all the flavors and the inevitable effect of 20 or so little samples turns the focus from drinking and critiquing to drinking and socializing.

Ross acknowledges a dual tension between sampling and socializing. Accompanied by his wife and brother this year, Beerfest was a great opportunity to show his little brother, an IUPUI student, a good time in Bloomington. Sherman, who went with a group of friends enjoys running into people from around Bloomington and chatting over beers.

According to Ross and Sherman, this year’s Beerfest was a bit more low key than previous years. Perhaps due to the increase in ticket price, crowds were lighter and less rowdy, meaning less waiting and more sampling.

A few highlights from this years beerfest:

Mike’s favorites
Cutters  Empire Imperial Stout – Whoa. Hands down one of the best stouts I’ve ever had.  This is Bloomington’s new big boy beer from the 2010 upstarts. Look out Upland. This blows your entire lineup out of the water.
Four Horsemen  Irish Red – Goes down like a traditional Irish red, but the creamy butter aftertaste adds a unique twist.
Southern Tier Unearthly – Breaks the traditional double IPA mold. Hop profile takes a backseat to the lush floral and citrus notes. Very complex. Nice biscuit malty on the back end. Best (and most unusual) double IPA of the day
New Holland Chartooka Rye – Tastes just like Carolina smoked pork. Seriously.
Sam Adams Maple Pecan Porter –A brief reminder from Sam Adams on why they are the biggest microbrew in the country. Sweet and syrupy. Pecan Pie in a bottle. Absolutely Delicious.

Travis’s Favorites
Cutters Floyd’s Folly
Sun King  Cream Ale
Goose Island – Pepe Nero
Wychwood – Hobgoblin

Ryland’s favorites
Veldensteiner Weiβbier
Sun King – Double IPA

Brown Bag 

This week’s brown bag presentation featured a split-session with two graduate students with research interests in sports and media.  Nicky Lewis is a first year Ph.D. student in the Department of Telecommunications and Evan Frederick is a third year Ph.D. student in Sports Marketing at the Department of Kinesiology.  You can listen to the full audio of their presentation here: Sport and Media Brown Bag

Trait and Motivational Differences in Fantasy Football Participation

Nicky Lewis

This thesis explores the trait and motivational differences that exist among fantasy football participants.  Analysis of the relationships between theoretically relevant trait and motivational variables allowed for predictions of time invested in the activity.  Accordingly, a meaningful model of participation was developed.  Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Demographics and Usage Trends of the Typical MMA Blog User: A Case Study

Evan Frederick

For this case study, an Internet-based survey was posted on a popular Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) blog in order to ascertain the demographics and usage trends of its users.  Data analysis revealed that users were predominately White males, between the ages of 23-39, with some college education and an annual income of $40,000-$59,999. An exploratory factor analysis (EFA) revealed six dimensions of gratification including evaluation, community, information-gathering, knowledge demonstration, argumentation, and diversion.  Findings indicated that users utilized this particular blog for both interactive and information-gathering purposes.


Nicky Lewis: Andrew and Ted at DePauw, Brown Bag

Mike Lang: Beerfest 2011

A Top Paper, Mark and the Janissary Collective, the Third Dimension, and the Market for Eyeballs

This week’s edition brings an array of happenings from all ends of the department:   conference honors for Travis Ross,  Wednesday meetings of  the Janissary Collective in Mark Deuze’s office,  Chris Eller’s 3D project “An Ancient Pond,” and the brown bag featuring Ted Castronova’s quest for the elusive eyeballs of video game players.

Travis Ross has a Top 5 Paper at Meaningful Play 2010

Doctoral student Travis Ross has received recognition with a Top 5 paper at the upcoming 2010 Meaningful Play conference.

PhD student Travis Ross and co-author Jim Cummings received top paper recognition for the upcoming Meaningful Play 2010 Conference. Photo Credit: Travis Ross

The paper, entitled “Optimizing the Psychological Benefits of Choice: Information Transparency & Heuristic Use in Game Environments,” was co-authored by Travis and IU Telecom grad alum Jim Cummings. Jim, who completed his MA here, is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at Stanford University’s Department of Communication.

Travis and Jim will present the paper at the conference, which will be held October 21-23 at Michigan State University. With regard to the top paper honor, Travis says, “I’m really excited. I knew our paper had some potential, but I thought it would lead to an empirical study, not an award.” The paper, along with the other 4 top papers, will be compiled into a special issue of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations on meaningful play.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of writing this paper, according to Travis, is the opportunity to work with Jim, a former classmate. “Although writing the paper was time consuming, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “Jim is a great co-author, and it isn’t everyday that you get to produce academic work with someone you also consider a close friend.”

Mark Deuze and the Janissary Collective

If you happen to walk by Professor Mark Deuze’s office on Wednesdays around lunch time, you might notice a small group of students and faculty inside.  It is a constant flow with people popping in for minutes or hours at a time, crowded on the couch or sitting on the floor.  What they talk about varies from week to week, but it often revolves around works in progress, current research ideas, and life in general.  The meetings often include some variations of caffeine and sweets and the discussions range from popular culture to philosophy.

Mark explains that the group began last year, with just Laura Speers and Peter Blank coming to his office to chat.  Eventually it grew to the size it is today, with a core group of around 10 people, coming from several different departments on campus.  In addition to both graduate and undergraduate students from Telecom, the group includes students from Learning Sciences, Journalism, Informatics, and Communication and Culture. Professors Mary Gray (CMCL) and Hans Ibold (Journalism) also drop by regularly.

Recently, several  students from the Wednesday meetings collaborated to write a chapter for the upcoming Routledge Handbook of Participatory Cultures under the pseudonym The Janissary Collective (evoking the spirit of Ottoman warriors against theories, paradigms, and methods that dampen free thinking). This chapter focuses on developing a definition of participatory culture and situating the individual in it. The group is also collaborating on future writing projects, including an essay on authority and digital media in the British fashion magazine Under The Influence, and a chapter in a forthcoming NYU Press anthology on social media and dissent.

Last week’s meeting covered a wide range of topics, including: concepts of online identity, the idea that being delusional can lead to happiness (according to Woody Allen), and notions of what makes a culture unique.  Participants of last week’s meeting included: Siyabonga Africa, Mark Bell, Peter Blank, Watson Brown, Lindsay Ems, Mary Gray, Hans Ibold, Mike Lang, Nicky Lewis, Jenna McWilliams, Nina Metha, Brian Steward, Mary Gray and Daphna Yeshua-Katz.

See a clip of the discussion on the possibility that we all exist in our own Truman Shows and how the concept of delusion may hold an answer:

3D at IU Telecom

“An Ancient Pond,” a stereoscopic 3D short film project by MS student Chris Eller, wrapped up its filming over the weekend. The project’s shooting finished on Sunday with cast and crew recording final scenes in the IU Arboretum and in Telecom’s own Studio 5. “It’s a film about power, assassination, revenge, and innocence,” says Chris, who is filming “An Ancient Pond” as part of his final project, which will eventually include two other shorts in 3D. “This is the first project that Telecom has really been involved in. This has been in pre-production for three months.”

In addition to shooting his own work, Chris is also helping Professor Susan Kelly teach T452: 3D Storytelling. The course,

Chris Eller edits 3D video footage for "An Ancient Pond."

a pioneering one in the country, immerses 12 students in semester-long advanced 3D production work. The students were selected on the basis of an application process, and the high demand led to the addition of another course in the spring.  Chris is hoping to develop a course design for future 3D production classes through a special T540 project this semester.

Chris says that producing 3D film is really interesting because it presents unique challenges. “There’s the added complexity of the 3D camera rig. The two cameras have to work together,” he says. From a production standpoint, Chris says he’s gaining a new awareness for the techniques involved in capturing the magic of 3D. “You have to be much more conscious of how you frame. You have to reconceptualize everything, but then there’s a new sense of realism,” he says.

The finished product of “An Ancient Pond” will be viewed in the soon-to-be completed IU Cinema, which will be 3D-ready when its renovations are finished. Chris is also helping IU Cinema gather 3D content through both grad and undergrad projects. The IU Cinema’s grand opening gala will be in January.

Grad student Chris Eller makes adjustments to the stereoscopic 3D camera.

For the future, Chris has several other 3D projects planned. On the agenda for upcoming months are a thriller/comedy involving zombies and a documentary on the art of bookbinding.

In addition to talking with us this week, Chris was interviewed for a pair of 3D-themed stories in the Indiana Daily Student for the Weekender section. You can view one of the stories through the IDS website here:

Brown Bag

Professor Ted Castronova was featured in the T600 Brown Bag Presentation this past Friday:



Much has been written about the Attention Economy, yet there are not many conceptual tools for thinking about it in terms of Communications.  How does a game designer know how many monsters to put into a Facebook game?  Adding monsters costs money, yet more monsters – to a point – are needed to capture the eyeballs she needs to make a profit.  What is this market for eyeballs??  In this talk I start with a model of limited cognitive resources and end with a model of supply and demand for attention.  In other words, I walk the long, arduous, dangerous, difficult road from Annie to David.  I’ll need help on the way, so come with me!

Take a look at some of Ted’s presentation here:


Nicky Lewis: Mark and the Janissary Collective and the Market for Eyeballs

Katie Birge: Travis Ross has Top Paper and 3D at IU Telecom