Consumption of Virtual Worlds of Amusement, W Disney, M Sorkin, T Boellstorff

Tags: virtual worlds, theme parks, experience, Coney Island, entertainment, social media, emotion, amusement parks, Walt Disney, Nolan Bushnell, Steven Kent, cultural institutions, digital leisure industry, business opportunities, Fred Thompson, gaming worlds, television consumption, human nature, social responsibility, fantasy worlds, Reputation Institute, Walter Benjamin, corporate social responsibility, meaningful social relationships, human capabilities, fantasy park, audience participation, social engineering, niche audiences, online and offline, public consumption, productive activity, Mark Andrejevic, Marketing companies, traffic analysis, unexpected encounters, game highlights, amusement park, John F. Kasson, entertainment industry, gaming environments, media experiences, immediacy, opposing team, everyday activities
Content: Please Cite: Arora, P. (2014). The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0. Routledge, Science & Technology Series, UK. - 6- FANTASY PARKS Consumption of virtual worlds of Amusement I don't want the public to see the real world they live in while they're in the park...I want them to feel they are in another world Walt Disney The City Beautiful movement...[its] fascination with sumptuousness, visible order, and parks ­ with the monumental `public' aspect of the city ­anticipates the physical formula of the theme park, the abstraction of good public behavior from the total life of the city Michael Sorkin, Variations on a theme park Because virtual worlds appear so novel and in such a constant state of change and expansion, understanding their history can be difficult. However, virtual worlds did not `spring like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, full blown from the mind of William Gibson...[They have encoded within them] a complex history of technological innovations, conceptual developments and metaphorical linkages Tom Boellstorff, Coming of Age in Second Life Fantasy is a very human response to real life. We seek for alternatives and contrast to the typical environments we inhabit. We immerse in the implausible and never cease in attempting to make the impossible, possible. Fantasy transforms the mundane, everyday ritual of living space into a playful terrain that allows for new forms of social interactivity and emotive fulfillment. One of the most powerful spatial manifestations of this raw need is that of Disneyland, an ingenious effort at organizing fantasy into a marketed reality. This empire of escapism has spread globally and now serves as an icon of a utopic leisure landscape. Within the United States itself, there are now more than 400 `Disneyesque' amusement parks and if we are to look at Europe, we would find 300 such parks scattered across its terrain. This is a huge money-making enterprise, having generated an estimated 4.3 billion euros (5.3 billion dollars) in total revenue in Europe alone and contributed approximately 8.6 billion euros (10.6 billion dollars) to the European economy in 2008 (IAAPA, 2013). Even the emerging markets have got on the bandwagon, in spite of their economic slowdown and continuing issues with infrastructure. At least eight theme parks have opened or are scheduled to open in West Africa alone since 2000 (Global Post, 2011). Malaysia, China, India and others are well down the line in embracing this new fantasy environment as their youth population grows and demands novel terrains to experience leisure.
This placemaking, it is popularly believed, began when Walt Disney made a trip to the Chicago Railroading Fair in 1938. Dressed in engineering overalls and sitting behind this historical locomotive feat is said to have served as inspiration to create an environment where childhood fantasies could come alive and thrive (Sorkin, 1992). Early publicity pamphlets captured the essence of his vision: Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world. Disneyland will be something of a fair, an exhibition, a play-ground, a community center, a museum of living facts, and a showplace of beauty and magic. It will be filled with the accomplishments, the joys, the hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make those wonders part of our lives. (p. 206) Of course all utopias are grounded in real world challenges of how to finance and market such domains, particularly when such propositions are astoundingly ambitious and appear unprecedented in nature. In this case, the birthing of this fantasy park came with Walt Disney offering his famous Mickey Mouse to the television channel ABC, fostering simultaneously the physical Disneyland and the TV series of Mickey Mouse. This laid the foundation of the unique relationship between the media industry and amusement parks that continue to pervade and thrive today. Take for instance the recent Finnish digital game sensation Angry Birds that became a runaway hit in the mobile app world with 1.7 billion downloads across all platforms (Gaudiosi, 2012). It's a simple plot where players use a slingshot to launch birds at pigs stationed on or within various structures, with the intent of destroying all the pigs on the playing field. Given its tremendous success and global themed variations such as the Cheery Blossom Japanese to the Go Green, Get Lucky St. Patrick's themed levels, it was not a surprise that it propelled investors to materialize this virtual fantasy into a theme park. In 2011, The Angry Birds amusement park opened with much fanfare in China's Hunan province, enabling visitors to immerse themselves literally by allowing them to catapult real-live birds at green pig balloons. Gamespot senior editor Giancarlo Varanini told FoxNews that, "as video game brands continue to grow in popularity, there will undoubtedly be more attempts at using their built-in audience to lure more people into parks that would otherwise not care" (Carlton, 2011). In fact, this shaping of physical fantasyscapes by digital mediascapes is hardly a new trend as in the last few decades, there has been a sophisticated orchestration of blockbuster movies, television series and video games making their way to the architecting of theme parks around the world. So you may find yourself grabbing a meal with your family at The Texas Chainsaw Cannibal Cook-off located in the `Happy Land' area of the park or you are screaming on the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster ride on Harry Potter's Islands of Adventure. Either way, escapism from your reality does not exempt you from escaping mass media sensations and in fact may be the prime reason of allurement into these amusement domains. It is tempting to view this totalizing landscape of blurring reality and fantasy, of commerce, desire, and affect as somewhat novel and a sign of this digital age. However, this chapter emphasizes the historicity of public spaces of fantasy and how they were reflective of the public values, sentiments and social transformations of the time. By looking at the precedents of such leisure spaces as well as
its contemporary manifestations, we can attend to the shifts in the cultural tone of society towards the notion of fantasy. Here, `fantasy parks' serve as a compelling metaphor for the understanding of digital amusement ecologies such as video games and virtual worlds to investigate the complex interplay of citizens, corporations and the state in the makings of such immersive virtual fantasyscapes. Through such an examination, we pay attention to the extent of public participation, both online and offline in the design and execution of these amusement topologies. The sanitized and predictive quality of these spaces threaten a homogenizing of fantasy parks and yet, there are always localizing dynamics that stem from indigenous interpretation, play and representation of generic icons of fantasy and Western-oriented mass media narratives. THE COMING OF AGE OF MASS CULTURE Theme parks are carnivals frozen in space and time. Since the medieval times, there have been numerous fairs, vaudeville theatre, band pavilions, festivals and other temporal spectacles of fantasy to engage the public. Carnivals have served as a safety valve for society as has been illustrated earlier on in this book through Bakhtin's carnevalesque, a feast of subversion through humor and satire and an opportunity for the masses to transform the sacred with the profane. This contributed to the sustenance of the ruling classes and imperial powers of the time as it channeled the energies of the masses in such creative and sacrilegious directions. The seventeenth century witnessed the rise of `pleasure parks' throughout France and Europe shortly afterward (Clave, 2007). These were one of the first permanent sites for outdoor entertainment, designed as gardens that allowed for dancing, outdoor theatre, staged spectacles and basic amusement rides. The pace of these amusement parks was slow and marked by leisurely strolls. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, the public needs had changed to a more risquй, fast-paced and thrill-oriented feeling. This was in the midst of a major social transformation where mass migrations of people from rural America and Europe were leaving for industrial jobs in the city. This explosive urban phenomenon brought together a massive concentration of immigrants with their own traditions and values but with one thing in common- the desire to assimilate. This time served as a profound cultural change in the social fabric, marked by an increasing demand to consume leisure spaces and immerse in alternative social activities of the time, as work conditions became more stabilized. The era of mass culture had finally arrived (Leach, 1993). Few understood this better than Frederic Thompson, the showman of Coney Island. What may have appeared to be frivolous needs of the public, Fred Thompson took seriously and embarked with his partner Elmer S. Dundy to start an amusement park in Brooklyn New York which would revolutionize public fantasy terrains forever. He recognized the deep-seated need to immerse in creative and phantasmagorical worlds, without the inconvenience of unpleasant surprises. In September 1908 in an interview with the Everybody's Magazine, Fred Thompson expressed his vision of the manufacturing of this new mass culture of fantasy: This spirit of gaiety, the carnival spirit, is not spontaneous, except on extraordinary occasions, and usually its cause can be easily traced. Almost always it is manufactured. In big amusement enterprises that appeal to the masses the spirit of gaiety is manufactured just as scenery, lights, buildings, and the shows generally are manufactured. That's the business of the showman to create the spirit of gaiety, frolic,
carnival; and the capacity to do this is the measure of his mastery of the craft. Nearly all the big national expositions fail financially because, while in essence they are really nothing but shows, almost never is one run by a showman. When people go to a park or an exposition and admire the buildings, the exhibits, and the lights without having laughed about half the time until their sides ached, you can be absolutely sure that the enterprise will fail. This insightful perspective on the marriage of entertainment with commerce in the makings of amusement parks finds resonance in the multibillion dollar industry of gaming today. In `The Ultimate History of Video Games' (2010), Steven Kent describes the mechanics of some of the major organizations instrumental in fostering such platforms of fantasy. However, he points out that as late as the 1970s, only a few companies truly leveraged on video gaming as a major industry. In 1972, Nolan Bushnell an electronics engineer from Northern California and his partner Ted Dabney incorporated Atari with an initial investment of 250 dollars each. Within ten years, Atari grew into a two billion a year entertainment industry, making it the fastest growing company in US history. This wasn't dumb luck. Much like Fred Thompson and Elmer Dundy, they were quick to recognize that immersive experiences in fantasy had currency and could be tremendously lucrative. Part of their success can be attributed to the ingenious way in which they transformed games such as ping pong, designed for television consumption into a more multi-player and interactive electronic medium. Today, the competition is fierce as new mobile apps serve as new avenues of profit, stimulating a host of designers, computer engineers, marketing gurus and business managers to craft the right balance of spontaneity and surprise, of engagement, immersion and challenge within gaming worlds. These pioneers in the amusement business, whether it is the fantasy park of Coney Island or the gaming empire of Atari, were not just sensitive to new business opportunities, but more importantly, were tuned into the significant cultural shift taking place around them. John F. Kasson in his book `Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century' (1978:4) points out that in the realm of commercial amusements, Coney Island was exceptional at the time as it uniquely catered to "the new cultural order, helping to knit a heterogeneous audience into a cohesive whole." Kasson argues that unlike the nineteenth century that was governed by Victorian values of moral integrity, self-control, earnestness, and industriousness, a new cultural tone was emerging that was beginning to accept and even encourage individualism, selfindulgence and hedonistic pleasure. Where once it was believed that leisure should have a constructive value, the time had come to look at leisure as a way of pleasure for pleasure sake. Also, past engagements with fantasy viewed audiences as passive consumers but with Coney Island, the new pleasure seekers were no longer mere spectators but were intrinsically involved within the larger theatre of fantasy. Such shifting notions on audience participation is also seen in the epochal shift from narratives of Web 1.0 of entertainment dissemination to the consuming public to the now much lauded Web 2.0 of user participation and construction of their fantasy content. We've come a long way from the beloved Pacman of the 1980s where users followed carefully designed pathways of gaming to that of Second Life for instance, where users can construct entire virtual worlds of their own choosing and take on diverse avatar forms of self. Furthermore, the stigma that stemmed from massification connoting low-brow participation was also undergoing a metamorphosis as new alliances between "members of the cultural elite and commercial tastemakers made the hegemony of the genteel culture possible" (Kasson, 1978:16).
Here, amusement parks served as laboratories of this new mass culture, fostering new acceptability in public desires, demands and behaviors. In other words, these venues served as new cultural institutions that challenged past Victorian values of social order and conduct, inspiring Kasson to anoint these theme parks as `harbingers of modernity.' At this stage in the book, we are well aware of the exhaustive and enthusiastic discourses around the amateur audiences of popular culture, the prosumers that participate in the architecting of their fantasy worlds. The crowd, once a derided entity is now celebrated for their wisdom in this Web 2.0 age. In fact, the lifeblood of virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft for instance, is sourced from user activities, intimate participations and their affective approach to these platforms. While indeed class distinctions continue to affect choice of gaming and the different sites of inhabitation and engagement, the digital leisure industry continues to stay clear of any elite label as their commercial success depends on the massification of their fantasy products. This rise in the status of the masses comes with larger social repercussions. Coney Island and other such novel amusement parks of the time triggered challenges in social norms of the time particularly regarding gender relations. These times were marked with strong gender divisions of labor and leisure, of women being wives and homemakers while men were meant to be the bread-earners. Women were generally confined to the privacy of their homes while men engaged in more public domains. However, part of what made Coney Island so successful was in its breaking away from not just the routine of daily life but also social roles and customs. This amusement park allowed subversions from typical role plays of gender that was harnessed particularly by the women. They were able to shelf their daily chores and domicile and instead become more laid-back and indulgent in their pleasures and desires. Also, contrary to the social protocol of keeping a decent distance between men and women, here they could get on rides together, romantically embracing each other as they spun around in the Ferris wheel. This new fantasy environment enabled loosely tied networks among strangers and an odd permissibility of acquaintanceship and intimacy that was not as easily possible in other social situations. Not coincidently, when we shift our attention to virtual worlds, role-playing continues to be advocated as the unique fundamentals upon which these domains are based on. In the classic essay by Sherry Turkle on playing in the MUDS (Multi-User Dungeons) through online roleplay, she proclaimed early on that these virtual worlds of fantasy break social rules through the embrace of multiple selves of our own making: In the MUDS, the projections of self are engaged in a resolutely postmodern context. Authorship is not only displaced from a solitary voice, it is exploded. The self is not only decentered but multiplied without limit. There is an unparalleled opportunity to play with one's identity and to `try out' new ones. MUDS are a new environment for the construction and reconstruction of self (p. 158). Today, enthusiasm of such limitless possibilities are curbed by even the most optimistic of scholars as corporate interests have become powerful and dominant actors in the makings of these fantasy worlds, both physical and virtual. While encouraging the perception of participation in this experiential economy and umpteen choices in fantasy, contemporary leisure environments are getting more structured, more formulaic and more walled in. We find ourselves navigating such platforms with the benign guidance of personally-tailored advertisements and brands embedded in our new playgrounds. These infrastructures are being constructed more and
more out of the stereotypes of mass media where girls can again be Pocahontas and boys can be the Tarzans, even in this contemporary age. THEME PARKS, BRAND EMPIRES, AND DIGITAL CULTURES The disneyfication of fantasy space While Coney Island was radical for its time in recognizing the immersive potential of fantasy parks, Disneyland was a pioneer in the global scaling of these leisure landscapes. It is not surprising that scholars early on were quick to use the term `disneyfication' to capture the globalizing of fantasy and mass cultural homogenization that pervades this media ecology (Cameron & Stein, 2002). These parks are justifiably seen as empires as they are built on the foundation of decades of pervasive Hollywood narratives, allowing these spaces to be read and related to by one and all across the globe. With massive merchandizing of all things Disney, this majestic machine has entrenched in the minds of tourists the script of fantasy that starts and ends with this franchise. And a powerful script it is. Synergies between its television shows, motion pictures, theme parks, and products enables a seamless and consistent experience of entertainment where one can relive an experience again and again by consuming different spatial manifestations of the Disney corporation. Strategic partnerships have been and continue to be made among media giants to enhance this global media flow of fantasy experiences. TimeWarner, Viacom, Blockbuster and MCA are examples of companies who had combined their resources and holdings to boost their promotional activities on this common theme park platform (Clave, 2007). Historical partnerships between Disney and MGM and Universal succeeded in merging their film and animation specialty to create the modern day spectacle in multiple geographical and digital formats. Or take for instance MTV that came together with Nickelodeon to capitalize on their live musical products and young celebrities to contribute to the makings of Paramount Parks. Hence, when viewing gaming platforms, we cannot view them as independent terrains but as spatial extensions of this already well-entrenched corporate media ecology. They serve as novel and vital contexts for opportunities in commercial clustering. Fundamental to the workings of this global operation of fantasy is the licensing economy that pervades across all mediums, both online and offline. Take for instance the license for the film Lion King, one of the most lucrative media events of our time. Licensed images and merchandize are the heart of its phenomenal success (Mitrasinovic, 2006). While the film's box office was estimated to be around 267 million dollars for its initial run, the main revenues came from its licensing of merchandized themes accounting to as much as one billion dollars. Its images, music, characters and scripts have been licensed by SNES, NES, Game Boy, PC, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Amiga, Master System and Game Gear for the digital game which traces the life journey of Simba, a carefree cub to a young lion who eventually battles with his uncle Scar for the forest title of king. In viewing this complex media flow, the notion of boundaries between theme parks and the media giants make little sense in this all-encompassing terrain. Drawing attention to this corporatization of spaces of fantasy consumption, Mitrasinovic makes a case that this is more than just a loss of public space; in fact, we are in the midst of a significant cultural transformation that is affecting our architectural surrounding, cultural expressions and social relations. He addresses this phenomenon as `totalizing landscapes,' arguing that there is a distinct military logic that dictates these realms by providing a sophisticated and efficient
framework to operationalize the reproduction of everyday activities within these fantasy parks, virtually and materially. For instance, detailed feasibility studies, attendance projections, and (online and offline) traffic analysis runs this machine, allowing for this model to be ubiquitous and transferrable to not just diverse international contexts but also old and new media platforms. Hence, this Disney-style public space is an outcome of big data analysis that allows one to not just control these environments but also to predict them and align them with corporate interests; "the point is not only to... interpret the world, but more importantly to acquire the capability to ultimately change it" (Mitrasinovic, 2006: 274). This social engineering is no small feat. It requires deep sensitivities to specific cultural forms and media experiences that can be scaled effectively and indigenized sufficiently to be adopted by a vast global populace. The systematics is possible only when ensembled to be flexible with differentiating experiences while yet remaining stable in character. The organizing thereby allows for numerous themes, niche orientation, customization of needs and manipulation of desires to achieve the total experience of immersion in this highly choreographed topography. This is an ideal example of what Lefebvre calls the shift from product to productive activity that follows normative expectations. One of the most powerful manipulative variables to achieve this productive activity is that of affect. Walt Disney, one of the key pioneers of the experience economy was well aware that it is not products that require personalization but the experience that it brings with it. This has been widely adopted in the digital age as sophisticated target marketing based on sentiment analytics is put to task with every click of the mouse (Ayres, 2007). Today, the customer demands to be lured, seduced and convinced to enter the portals of virtual worlds and multi-user game environments. To do this effectively, customers are viewed as niche audiences and gaming environments are balkanized to reflect wide-ranging tastes and aspirations of the users. Brands are very much webbed into this narrative and with them come their time-tested mechanisms to foster emotional engagement to these fantasy spatial formations. Jenkins (2006) has described this catering to emotion as a new era of `affective economics' in `Convergence Culture,' connoting a more positive interpretation of this in digital participation. Mark Andrejevic (2011) however lends a more critical stance to the leveraging of emotion by emphasizing on user manipulation as part of the larger capitalist system versus a democratic involvement of users in this new economy. While buzzwords such as `emotional capital' have been used time and again to celebrate the building of affect towards virtual leisure worlds, Andrejevic views this as a spectrum of emotion that can move in several and possibly not intended directions. So the question is whether tapping into affect to sustain users in digital and material fantasy parks is devious or on the contrary, is it a benign public service that the marketing industry does to serve their demanding clientele? Marketing companies obviously defend themselves by framing their activities as that of servitude towards the customer: The refrain of the marketing industry (at least for public consumption) is that advertising does not instill desires, emotions, anxieties, but merely taps into already existing, perhaps latent, ones. If someone is moved by a targeted campaign to make a purchase that wouldn't have been made in the absence of the ad, the marketers have merely helped a consumer to realize his or her desire. This is the apparent indeterminacy of consumer desire: on the one hand reliant upon the ministrations of marketers, and on the other, an un-coerced invocation of latent subjective autonomy. Even as advertisers work to gather
more information about consumers in order to manage their responses, they refer to their own increasingly slavish devotion to the whims of their targets...Once focused upon the `cold' demographic facts - background, behaviour, income, etc. and eventually supplementing these with research on values, attitudes and beliefs, interactive marketers are turning to the measurement of sentiment, opinion and emotion on an unprecedented scale: that of the Internet. (p.609-610) Whatever the justification given, it does not take away from the fact that we are now far from the ethos of counterculture envisioned of how Participatory Cultures would play out in virtual worlds - untainted and fresh opportunities to create meaningful and non-corporatized public play domains. While media giants continue to dominate in this digital age to carve out predictive fantasies, what has changed is the rise of new actors in this game. Information experts and data companies are stepping up in this sphere of influence. Companies such as Jodange is able to process mass opinions and visualize data at an unprecedented scale while Scout Labs is able to track online search buzz to detect social media sentiments and trends not just locally but at an international scale. These are some examples of new intermediaries in this usually tightly controlled and mediated fantasyscape. In fact, there are new applications that capture the feelings of the web via a `vibology meter' and proclaim the directions and nature of emotional waves sweeping through this space. Another variable that is manipulated to entrench users in these virtual worlds is the simulation of realism. If we are to look at theme parks, the build-up of fantasy is enhanced when the environment looks more `real.' The strategic simulation of reality allows one to immerse oneself in the fantasy aspect of the setting. This is leveraged by corporations to plug in their brands at points of believability as reality is infused with billboards and brand products. Similarly, digital games are dotted with a variety of brands across its terrain often through product placements. Studies reveal that gamers allow for brand presence if it serves to enhance the realism of the game, making it a more immersive experience (Galician, 2013). After all, marketing is storytelling with a purpose and as long as the brands are true to the narrative, they gain legitimacy with the gamer. What is most important to the audience is the authenticity of the experience but the line is often thin between realism for fantasy and a feeling of commercial takeover by companies. This balancing act is no small feat and the rewards are mighty high. About a decade ago, game companies started to really get a sense of the gains behind such an effort. For instance, in 2004, Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), the world's largest video game publisher of the time, made about 1.5 million dollars in revenue from five in-game placement deals with advertisers AutoZone, Dodge, Levi's, Mr. Clean, and Old Spice in the NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup and net revenues for the gaming companies reached as much as 1.8 billion dollars in 2010. Today, even simple social media games for mobiles are striving to enhance their revenue by employing similar tactics. Blake Commagere, a pioneer of early social games such as Vampires, has founded a start-up in California called MediaSpike that allows game developers to easily place products into the game environment much like how television and film shows have been plugging away in the last decades (GamesBeat, 2012). In fact, product placement has become so commonplace in the mediascape that Hudson and Hudson argue that we need to reframe it as `branded entertainment' because
a common theme of these more recent definitions is the term `integration.' Branded entertainment is defined as `the integration of advertising into entertainment content, whereby brands are embedded into storylines of a film, television program, or other entertainment medium. This involves co-creation and collaboration between [among] entertainment, media, and brands (2006: 492). While indeed `disneyfication' is seen as synonymous with corporatization of the fantasyscape, there is another equally important characteristic of this unique leisure domain that made it so beloved and endearing to the public. Sharon Zukin argues in her book `Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disney World' (1991) that while these terrains are a global spread, the message was one of American locality. While Walt Disney won fame as a founder of Hollywood's animation industry, his real genius was to transform an old form of collective entertainment ­ the amusement park ­ into a landscape of power. All his life Disney wanted to create his own amusement park. But to construct this playground, he wanted no mere thrill rides or country fair: he wanted to project the vernacular of the American small town as an image of social harmony (221-222) The exporting of this notion of American purity and of timeless innocence is packaged in a sanitized and thoroughly efficient design frame that is meant to be emulated to the very last detail. To do so, these topographies have to be stripped of any hint of urban ills and to instead market an ideal of a democratic public realm that simulates equality amongst all. This is `Disney realism,' as John Hench, its legendary park designer used to say (Hench & van Pelt, 2003) where "we carefully programme out all the negative, unwanted elements and programme in the positive elements." While this was seen as a major feat amongst architects for decades to come, others attribute the modern stultification of urban landscapes to the emulation of this Disneyesque quality. From the gaudy Las Vegas, the fantastical Times Square to the outlandish Dubai, it seems as though certain cities resemble theme parks. Fantasy worlds can be viewed as seeping out into reality and perhaps contaminating the social diversity of urban life. In an effort to create a place marketable to mainstream tourists and corporate tenants, a coalition of public and private elites imposed a Disney model of controlled, themed public space on an area of remarkable, if unsettling, diversity. In doing so, they sacrificed the provocative, raw energy produced by the friction of different social groups in close interaction for the stultifying hum of a smoothly functioning machine for commercial consumption. (Reichl, 2002: 40) We hear similar critique regarding virtual worlds, where the loss of diversity of expression and creativity is blamed on corporate interests. We read time and again about how video games are seeping into the real world, and emotionally stunting the youth with their limited exposure to real world enactments. We are alerted to strange incidents in virtual worlds like Second life where virtual marriages are cemented with virtual money and have implications on real offline legal and social systems. Predictive and simplistic spaces have their appeal it seems. Hence, the Disneyesque discourse can be transferred from the material to the digital domain where such concerns pervade.
While this may be so, there are those that defend these spheres, arguing that they have a place in our spectrum of experience and that one can have deeper engagements even in the most peripheral of fantasy worlds. After all, just because a context is synthetic and superficial, it does not necessitate that meaningful social relationships and communication cannot be accomplished within these landscapes. Richard Bartle (2010) insists that while these territories are designed with limited `emotional bandwidth,' they continue to extend and expand our affective capabilities through their novel and creative environments. Social rituals continue to be performed and social capital continues to mushroom within these synthetic worlds, underlining the flexibility of our human capabilities. In fact, these artificial worlds may even solidify our faith in the positive of human nature in such ephemeral and play-affirming escapisms, sometimes an essential contrast in the mundane of our quotidian lives. In `Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human,' Tom Boellstorff (2010) takes this line of thinking further by unapologetically emphasizing the embedded virtual in our real existence, by arguing this as part of human nature. Second life is profoundly human. It is not only that virtual worlds borrow assumptions from real life; virtual worlds show us how, under our very noses, our `real' lives have been virtual all along. It is in being virtual that we are human: since it is `human' nature to experience life through the prism of culture, human being has always been virtual being. Culture is our `killer app:'we are virtually human. (5) Interestingly, today the branding of clean virtue through Disney's highly organized fantasy space no longer suffices as citizens are becoming more socially-conscious consumers and are exercising their consumption through micro modes of activism. To maintain its `wholesome' and `clean' reputation, Disney has an elaborate corporate social responsibility plan to enforce its brand. In fact, they have strong policies regarding employee benefits, community building and contribute to supporting environmental issues, earning them awards in their CSR activities (Claveґ, 2007). For example, Walt Disney was identified as the top company in CSR by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and Reputation Institute and in 2008, for the fifth year in a row, Anheuser-Busch was ranked first for social responsibility in Fortune magazine's `America's Most Admired Companies' and `Global Most Admired Companies' lists. Likewise, we already witness how virtual worlds and gaming apps promise educational and community building benefits such as in Second Life and World of Warcraft, recognizing the importance of branding of these virtual domains as places that users would like to inhabit longer, and within them, enrich their social life. Amusements on the go: from flвneur to phoneur In the Metaphor as Methods chapter, we touch upon the notion of the digital wanderer, the digital flвneur that serves as a powerful metaphor for modernity, urbanity and consumption. Baudelaire characterized the flвneur as one who participates in the makings of the cityscape and yet, detaches from the environment around him. This constant tension between the spatial and the social movement has been leveraged as a theoretical frame through which we can understand new leisurely explorations through commercial avenues. Walter Benjamin builds on this uninvolved yet perceptive attitude of the flвneur as he immerses himself in the modern day spectacle around him and revels in the shopping arcades of the time. Benjamin explicates that
people around the flвneur become part of the theatre around him, lending flavor to his sensory experience with little meaningful contact. If we step back from this description for a moment, we can see how the flвneur fits the description of the modern day tourist who engages and yet disengages in the fantasy parks they have elected to be part of. Always on the margins, this tourist is constructing and collecting memories that will be encased in the ideal. Theme parks enable this architecting of experience as they provide the utopic realism as mentioned earlier. The question in this digital age is that of anonymity for the flвneur. Baudelaire and Benjamin emphasized this invisibility in the arcades and spectacles of consumption, of being lost in the maze of fantastical experience. Today however, the digital flвneur is being followed constantly and closely, is monitored and measured, and every act of temporal browsing becomes a permanent consumer history. While these purposeless meanderings continue online, they become a text within a larger narrative of consumption patterns that aid and abet the corporations and the state. While the first generation of observers of this digital flвneuring celebrated this freedom of movement on the web, Castells (1996: 410) was quick to point out that this rambling within the virtual realm has been largely forsaken for purposeful uses; "the great strange space has morphed into the space of flows, where capital seeks directed outcomes and the privileged pursue the rewards of the information society." Sherman Young, a learning and technology scholar has alerted us to a significant shift in the strolling acts of today where exploration and discovery have given way to efficiency and deep mediation by the branded terrain. When people do walk in the city, flanerie has been displaced by the precise itinerary of the three day tourist, the three minute dash from train platform to bus stop, the insistent battle between jaywalker and bicycle courier. Instead, the driveur, encouraged to incessant labour by the insistent demands of email and cellular phone; directed towards happiness by wealth acquisition and rewarded by the promise of early retirement, is the dominant actor in the twenty first century metropolis (2005) Today, the romantic ideal of flвneuring has been discarded by both digital architects like programmers and game developers as well as by urban planners when designing material fantasy arcades. Rigid zoning and constraints on time demand a preconceived plan of action by the contemporary flвneur as he labors away at accumulating all the experiences possible within these manufactured landscapes. Here, the flвneur superficially and temporarily absorbs the merchandize and park sites around him, getting a sampling of multiple fantasies in a clock-work fashion. Thereby, the movement of browsing through leisure spaces online, of meandering and getting lost, of making connections through hyperlinks, of following paths and trails that lead to the unknown, and of making a routine of such practices may be coming to an end. Joseph Turow, one of the leading scholars on consumer surveillance online reiterates this point when examining audiences who are being tracked on the web. He states that they are no longer considered as people but as constructs that feed into abstract data categories made up by information specialists (2010). He talks about the window-shopping realities of today where searching is not surfing anymore, and where precision is the most important aspect that counts in today's flвneuring. The study of audience movement has become further complicated by new affordances of mobile phones and new apps that guide people in the physical terrain through virtual navigations. In fact, urban spaces are increasingly playing a role in navigation within virtual worlds, allowing the contemporary flвneur to be both digitally and physically bound. However, this seamless strolling through the wireless and physical world comes at a price. Robert Luke, the Director of
applied research and Innovation at George Brown College argues that today's postmodern version of the flвneur is the phoneur, who lives through his mobile phone and commercially engages with his surround: Our wily e-urbanite emerges from his lair and makes his way to the local coffee shop. On the way, he pre-orders his latte with his cell phone. The venti-sized beverage with a sprinkle of chocolate is waiting for him when he arrives. Payment is automatically processed from his m-commerce phone, scanned as he walks in the door. (2005, p. 189) Here, articulations come with bar codes within virtual corporate grids, making the phoneur's reality that of heightened conspicuous consumption. As Luke continues, "an identity is mobilized as the phoneur wanders, observed while (s)talking the city streets," all the while being "stalked by corporate hunters" who "place the social relations of phonerie amidst flows of commodity and desire" (p. 191). Today, most theme parks have apps that allow their customers to plan ahead on which routes to take and which sites to see in the seemingly endless array of immersive opportunities. This appears to push away spontaneity and idleness further from contemporary social practice. Likewise, mobile phone games carve out a hybrid-reality that is at once locationbased and urban and yet virtual. This is not to say that deeply structured environments cannot be playful. In fact, scholars such as Silva & Hjorth (2009) demonstrate that urban spaces have tremendous potential to be playful, and this hybridity of the virtual and physical can generate much amusement through mobile telephony. Again, Lefebvre (1974/1991: 38) lends a helping hand in the conceptualizing of these social spaces to support the idea of playful space. Here, social space is composed of perceptions of space (perceived spaces), representations of space (conceived spaces), and representational spaces (lived spaces). Hence, playful spaces are embedded between the daily routines and the urban realities of networks of leisure and work. Play after all is a combination of factors, these scholars argue, of boundaries of ordinary life, of total immersion, of freedom of movement and of paying heed to certain types of rules that govern these spaces. Hence, we do not need to compartmentalize fantasy from reality in an orthodox fashion and separate play from daily life as conventionally perceived. Instead of Robert Luke's damning vision of postmodernity where mobile users are but instruments of m-commerce and e-surveillance, there is another more optimistic vision offered by Silva and Hjorth that acknowledges the agency of the audience. Mobile games they argue, can disrupt and subvert the normalized terrain and the mundane routine, and infuse spontaneity to the usual scripts of urban performance. Specifically, there is a genre of games called the `Big Games' that strive to merge reality and fantasy, urban and the themed landscape. These games treat reality as mediation. Frank Lantz, Director of New York University's Game Center describes them as "large-scale, real-world games that occupy urban streets and other public spaces and combine the richness, complexity, and procedural depth of digital media with physical activity and face-to face social interaction" (Gamasutra, 2006). Here, the Big Game can transform the city into "the world's largest board game," involving users to play detective and investigate the streets for hidden virtual treasure. Take for instance the B.U.G (Big Urban Game) that is designed as a 5-day event across the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul where the city becomes mysterious and is made unfamiliar again through gaming. Routines are broken and users get to rediscover their urban environments and recreate them as fantasyscapes. Or perhaps, Shoot Me If You Can, a South Korean innovation that serves as a chasing game involving camera phones and messaging. The aim is to
`shoot' the opposing team through the lens of the camera instead of guns without being shot yourself. So you may find players physically running around the downtown of Seoul, being prepared for the unexpected encounters in the maze of city life. In other words, this game highlights that in an age of immediacy, processes of delay, (both intentional and unintentional) are inherent factors. The result was a game in which both immediacy and delay were part of the experience, with unexpected moments like "waiting for immediacy" becoming the poetics of delay. This frustration surrounding technological lag and desires of instantaneity has often played an important part in the gameplay of urban games, and many projects have incorporated this issue as part of the gameplay strategy. (Hjorth, 2011) These examples shift novelty and fantasy from the architectures and structures, from corporate manipulations and rules of engagement to the social context at hand. Hence, the mundane becomes the exotic if situated within a game play. Here, the `fantasy park' metaphor comes alive through technological affordances and the hybridity and mobility within the real-virtual landscape.

W Disney, M Sorkin, T Boellstorff

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