Saturday, July 4, 2009

Yo Ho, a Pirate's Life for Me

I have been playing these games on Facebook. Specifically, Pirates: Rule the Caribbean, and Mafia Wars. They are made and run by a company called Zynga

The games follow a very definitive format, whereby you gain experience by performing tasks to advance to higher levels. The tasks are practical, social, and perpetual. An example of a practical task would be to rob a merchant ship (in Pirates). You do the job, you get the experience points. You can do the same job multiple times and gain new levels of mastery, eventually reaching the final level of mastery. After that, you don't necessarily have to ever do that job again. There are, after all, higher levels with greater rewards. But you could do the job again. You see, some jobs have a chance of "dropping" special prizes when you do them. So you can go back to a job to collect a whole set of these special prizes. That is how the game perpetuates itself on all levels.

Finally, there is the social level. Simply put, you play the game with friends, and make new friends by playing the games. you invite them to become members of your crew, and crew members give each other gifts and help each other out on tasks.

You get a certain amount of "energy" that can be depleted each day. When your energy is depleted, you have to wait for more. Also, whenever you master a task or go up a level, through the experience points you gain, your energy is automatically replenished. The game can be as simple or as complex as you make it, with your own activity levels.

I was playing, this morning, when it occurred to me what a great model for one's own growth, in life, these games might represent.

Let's play a game called "Renaissance", where your overall goal is to become a well-rounded, skilled artist.

On level one, which we will call "dullard", you have activities like "Listen to a track off a CD by an artist you've never listened to" and "Spend ten minutes photographing a single subject". You perform these tasks ten times in a week, and you get to "level up". On the next level, the "effete", you have to write a review about a CD or spend an hour with a coffee table book by a single photographer and journal or try to recreate on of their shots. Eventually, the tasks turn into things like "compose a song" and "submit a portfolio or your own work to a contest or gallery".

And you can, and must, invite your friends to participate. They can gift you with feedback or networking contacts. And making new friends is all part of the game. By Level 10, for example, one member of your crew should be a published or recognized artist in their field.

Slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop taught us. We have been spoiled by reality television and the culture of immediate success and crash-and-burn that it promotes. Fame has become its own task, practically independent of skill and determination. The folks at Zynga have the right idea, whether or not they intended it to be a life lesson. Setting ourselves up with a list of tasks, on tiers of difficulty, and playing a little everyday, as much as our energy will allow, is the best way for us to accomplish anything.

Now let's play, and become addicted to, a game called "Life".

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Conspiracy Theory

Nick Ut carried his camera with him everywhere he went, everyday. It was his job.

Some of the most important moments in recent history have been made important by the fact that they were recorded on film and, these days, digitally.

The downside, of course, is that some of the most inane moments in the lives of so-called important people have been made unnecessarily historic by the same means.

But if you can look past Paris Hilton (and, let's face it, I am really only mentioning her here for SEO points), the vast amount of important stuff out there should bring any photographer or videographer to the same conclusion.

Never go anywhere without your camera. Ever!

Where would we be now without Abraham Zapruder, who brought his 8mm camera to Dealey Plaza, one November morning? More accurately, where would we be without the assistant who convinced him to run home and get the camera before going to watch the motorcade of the President? Truth be told, we'd be in a simpler world, albeit a less informed one.

Where would we have been without Ut Cong Huynh, aka Nick Ut, who snapped the shot of the girl, her clothing burned from her body by napalm, running from the attack? It is fair to say we might have spent more time in Vietnam, but for that shot.

Even when the shot is from an assignment, like the Denver photographers who shared the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Hayman Fire a few years ago, most of the winners of that prize would admit that half of their recognition belongs to two simple facts. Beyond their skill as photographers and their ability to find the right framing, deal with the lighting and other logistical issues, they were a) there, and b) in possession of their camera while they were there.

To take a modern day example, where would we be if it weren't for the press photographers working throughout Iraq and Afghanistan during these conflicts, covering a multitude of stories and points of view for a free press?

Oh, my bad.

When I say "Civil Rights March", how many images go through your mind before you reach the ones of the firehoses being turned on the marchers?

What if, for argument's sake, a group of 1,000 protesters in Burma walked to the lake house prison of Aung San Suu Kyi and demanded her release, and that she be allowed to assume her rightfully won position of leadership? Imagine they are all carrying signs, and singing songs of peace, with no violent intention - just expressing their opinion.

Shots would be fired. The crowd would scatter. Several would die right there, although they knew that would happen, and were prepard for it when they agreed to march. Many of them would make it back home, although the hunt for them would continue for months and they might be taken, eventually. The ruling Junta would make sure nothing was said in the national press about the incident, and only a smattering of stories would reach our ears.

Now give me the same group of 1,000 brave people, and put digital cameras in every pair of hands. Now the ones who get away become exponentially more dangerous to the Junta. Although internet access is limited, it is not impossible to find, and we would have evidence that could not be forgotten or hushed away.

If you would control your world, observe it and record it. Like Abraham Zapruder, you never know when nostalgia will become evidence. The only thing that can defeat a conspiracy controlled by a handful of people is a conspiracy controlled by two handfuls of people. Digital photography has the power to make that conspiracy yours.

Yes. I know you live in Myrtle Beach and nothing newsworthy ever happens in Myrtle Beach, or Des Moines, or Dallas.

Oh, my bad.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

While You Wait...

I worked for fifteen years with the same improvisational theater company. Let's plug them, shall we?

Impulse Theater in Denver, Colorado. Lower level of the Wynkoop Brewing Company.

My very first link....proud...proud...proud.

On the television series, "Whose Line is it Anyway?", they would call an audience member down, give them a microphone, and have them produce vocal sound effects for the scene taking place. I did that, professionally, for almost 2,500 performances. Enough self-promotion and shameless linking - this is all just background.

In the foreground is the fact that I performed with over 100 of the most talented people I know I will ever meet. At any given time, there were 15 to 20 working cast members. Every three or four years, after the cast had gotten wickedly experienced and felt the itch, a great number of them (always better than half) would leave the show within about the same two month period.

We called it The Exodus.

After every Exodus, we would bring in a new group of actors, train them in the show format and general improvisation, and turn them loose on the unsuspecting public. The audiences always changed with the actors. Relying on word-of-mouth advertising for almost our entire history, the words would simply start flowing from a new set of mouths whenever the new wave of actors would begin performing. The Exodus always happened before the slower summer season and, by the next fall, the crowd was right back where it used to be, mathematically. But a good percentage of the regulars had moved on, to be replaced by new regulars. It happened just that way four or five times during my tenure. We'll get to why I stayed as long as I did in another post.

Do you remember Andrew Dice Clay? A standup comedian of no mean skill, with a few impersonations in his bag - but he will always be remembered for The Diceman, a raunchy poet with misogynistic leanings who scorched the clubs and began playing full arenas during the height of his run. For years, the Diceman would play to packed houses.

At first, the attacks on his character by every politically correct celebrity and group on the list were a welcome boost to his gate and popularity. Eventually, either because The Diceman got old or Andrew got older, the criticism stopped sounding like applause and began sounding like, well, criticism.

So Andrew Dice Clay, not to be confused with Diceman, made a move to get away from the image that had earned him so much notoriety. But he never really got away from Diceman. In fact, he is attempting a comeback with the material and the character.

I am having a sale, today. Read one message, get the second message free.

The first message, from Impulse Theater, is that if you work on your craft and are expressing yourself to the best of your abilities, your audience will always be out there, waiting for you. This doesn't mean you don't tweet and get the Facebook and MySpace pages, because that is one of the ways it is done, these days. This message is for those who, like me, wondered if there would ever be an audience for their Art. There is, and enough marketing and creative barnstorming can get them for you.

The second message comes from Diceman, and it is a warning: Make sure you are who you want to be, as an artist, when your audience finds you. Once they do, right or wrong, they will define you by what brought them to the show.