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October 23, 2014 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-10-23

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The Michigan Daily - michiganda
From Page 1B
And, as Carter explained,
the Archive was founded with
recreational use in mind.
"We knew that was going to
be the case when we started
out," he said. "By opening it up
to anybody who just wants to
come in and play games, any-
one who wants to will come in
and play games."
But by offering video games
and a space to play them for
both University affiliates and
the Ann Arbor community -
anyone with a photo I.D. can
use the Archive's collection -
the CVGA is also filling a gap
in the video game industry cre-
ated by the loss of brick-and-
mortar video rental stores like
Blockbuster in recent years.
In 2014, if you're not sure
about whether you want to buy
a game, the options for testing
out the product beforehand
are severely limited. You can
play the ten minute demo at
your local Gamestop, you can
download the 30 minute demo
directly to your console, or you
can pay $16 a month for a rental
service like Gamefly, which
offers none of the streaming
convenience of Netflix and
only allows you to play one
game at a time before incurring
extra costs. There's a bit more
flexibility on PCs, where you
can easily download an illegal
copy of just about any game you
could think of, but legal demo
options are perhaps even more
limited than they are for con-
And, of course, the cost of
video game software and hard-
ware can be prohibitive. A
computer capable of smoothly
running popular games like
"League of Legends" will cost
you upwards of $300 at the
least, while consoles like the
PS4 run between $400 and
$500, with new games cost-
ing about $60 and online play
requiring the purchase of year-
ly $50-$60 subscriptions. For
cash-strapped gamers, those
costs often translate into hard
choices about which games to
buy and understandable disap-
pointment when a game doesn't
live up to expectations.
By providing access to the
latest games and the hardware
to play them on, libraries like
the CVGA are expanding access
to and promoting engagement
with games that, because of
factors like cost, might not oth-
erwise be available to interest-
ed gamers.
Beyond lightening cost bur-
dens, however, the Archive's
expansive collection also helps
to make video games more
accessible to individuals and
communities who don't neces-
sarily fit the definition of 'tra-
ditional' gamers.
Part of that work is achieved

through the choice of games
to include in the collection, as
Carter explained.
"(Building the collection)
obviously includes getting a lot
of popular games in there, but
it also involves non-popular
games. Identifying games that
are going to be interesting, or
games that are developed by or
intended for certain non-tra-
ditional audiences, games for
kids, sorts of things that may
not instantly be appreciated by
our regular clientele."
But another, perhaps more
significant part of the process
might be achieved by sim-
ply having a physical space in
which people can meet and
interact with video games on
their own terms. Archive Man-
ager Valerie Waldron described
one example of how the CVGA
has been used to address issues
of sexism and gender-based
exclusion in gaming communi-
"We had a grad student in
here a couple years back, and
she created a student organiza-
tion - it only lasted for about a
semester because it was a proj-
ect - but it just involved hav-
ing women in here and doing
social events and trying to
make them feel comfortable,"
Waldron said. "Just seeing
what it would look like to have
just women in here and to see
what kind of social interactions
would take place."
A Space for Scholarship
While video game history
begins with the development
of the first consoles in the early


Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 3B


The University's CVGA has helped make games an area for academic study.

1970s and academic collections
like the Video Game Archive at
Ritsumeikan University have
been in operation since the late
1990s in Japan, it's only in the
past ten or fifteen years that
video games have begun to be
considered a serious subject for
academic inquiry in the United
The development of pro-
grams dedicated to the study
of video games at American
universities is an even more
recent phenomenon - the Uni-
versity's CVGA and comparable
collections like the University
of Texas's Videogame Archive,
have only been in existence for
about six years. And, while
some universities offer courses
in the more technical aspects
of video game design, devel-
opment of archives like the
CVGA has rarely been accom-
panied by the creation of any-
thing approaching a 'Video
Game Studies' department that
examines games from an aes-
thetic or cultural standpoint.
But that isn't to say that
nobody is giving video games
serious attention at the Univer-
A number of professors from
a wide variety of disciplines
- including Comparative Lit-
erature, Statistics, Engineer-
ing and History - currently
teach classes that offer critical
perspectives on video games
and video game culture. And,
since its inception, the CVGA
has worked to make it easier to
incorporate video games into
"I think (having the
Archive) greases the wheels, as
it were, for expanding what can
be done," Carter said. "Having
a collection like ours avail-
able here at the University I
think allows faculty who want
to play them in the classroom
or in research to do that more
easily, more readily. They don't
have to build their own collec-
tions to handle stuff and the
library can be responsible for
the care and feeding of those
Having a wide collection
of older games and especially
older hardware also opens
up avenues for research that
might not otherwise be avail-
able to faculty or graduate
students interested in study-
ing games and game history.
Matt Thompson, a professor in
the School of Music, Theatre &
Dance who teaches a course on
video game music, particularly
appreciates the selection of
original TVs and audio equip-
ment available alongside the
CVGA's game collection.
"They have TVs from the
era of my childhood, so you can
play 'Super Mario' and hear
it on that TV. I mean, that's
important," he said. "To hear
it in my fancy home surround
sound system is great, but
that's not how 'Super Mario'
sounded. And one of the things
about game audio is, you know,
if you're developing a game for
iPhone, you will probably listen
to it on very expensive equip-
ment, but at the end of the day
you're going to listen to it on

an iPhone. So you might need
to mix it in a certain way, and I
love the fact that the archive has
these different audio technolo-
gies possible."
The CVGA's collection can
also, as Waldron explained,
make certain types of research
much easier and more cost effi-
"The Transportation Insti-
tute on North Campus, they
wanted a way to simulate driv-
ing so that they could do a tex-
ting-while-driving experiment
- that's not something that you
want to do on the road, and they
had this really expensive driv-
ing simulator over there that is

always reserved for grad stu-
dent projects, more important
projects. So they wanted to find
something relatively cheap, and
it's free to come in here and use
our driving games so they did
that and it worked out really
A collection like the CVGA,
just like any library, provides
a space for academics and
researchers to approach famil-
iar materials with new perspec-
tives. That accessibility can
simply lead to an easier way to
do research, as in the case of the
Transportation Institute's work,
or provide avenues toward new
and exciting studies like Thomp-
son's, which often develop out of
such unexpected sources. But,
most importantly, they provide
the raw materials through which
we can enhance our understand-
ing of and productively compli-
cate our discussions about the
world around us.
Changing How We Think
About Video Games
As the efforts of collections
like the CVGA help to develop
video games into a serious topic
for academic study, they're
contributing to a change in dis-
courses outside of academia as
Two years ago, the Smithso-
nian developed one of the first
museum exhibits to examine
video games as an art form - a
new way to consider the medium
that, in Carter's view, follows
patterns in the way our views of
any popular art change.
"We see this process with
just about every medium that
was once considered a 'trash'
medium," he said. "Movies, tele-
vision; even the novel, when it
was first being developed, was
considered a low form of enter-
tainment. In Shakespeare's
times, plays were considered
something for the lower classes
and high-minded people didn't
pay much attention to them. So
today's trash culture is tomor-
row's culture that's going to be
At the same time, it's becom-
ing increasingly clear that video
games are developing into one
of the most dominant fields
of artistic expression, both in
terms of cultural importance
and sheer dollar amounts, as
Thompson explained.
"I think a lot of people don't
realize that games generate as
much income as TV and movies
combined each year, and so when
you start to think about it, then
it's like 'Well, if there's so much
money possible, why the crap
aren't we looking at it?'
As video games and the game
industry rise in cultural and
economic importance, they have
some serious problems that they
need to grapple with - issues
with representations of women
and minorities being just two
major examples. But there's no
way to contribute to those discus-
sions without playing the games
themselves and thinking about
them critically, and that may be
where a collection like the CVGA
can have the most impact.
"I'd say that about 75 percent

of the use of the Archive right
now is recreational," Carter said.
"But what that does is that peo-
ple know that we're there, just so
that, especially for the students, .
when they have a class project
or something like that and are
looking for something interest-
ing to do, they'll remember 'Oh,
the Video Game Archive! Maybe
there's some way I can work that
into this project I have."'
And maybe one of those proj-
ects, created by students work-
ing and playing with the entirety
of video game history at their
fingertips, will give us a way to
change those discussions for
the better.

DailyArts Writer
At Espresso Royale,
Madelyn Grant is telling
me how an old high school
friend asked her if she
planned to pursue music
after graduation. A wide
smiles brims from the LSA
senior, remembering how she
laughed dismissively before
saying, "No, I'm gonna do
science." Those turned out to
be famous last words, because
Grant is many things, but a
biologist is not one of them.
Music as a viable career
option is still a fairly recent
development, though - it
was just last year that Grant
changed her major from the
aforementioned Biology to
LSA's music major. Though
Grant may be reticent to
say music is definitely in the
cards (after all, she is only
21 years old), the talented
singer is poised for success.
There is her impressive
voice: in a single song she can
fluctuate between smoldering
powerhouse vocals to synth-
pop-y harmonizing, and there
is also an ODFSZA song called
"Sun Models" featuring Grant
and has garnered more than
two million views on YouTube.
Her collaboration with
ODESZA, a Seattle-based
electronica duo that's made
a name for themselves
with insanely catchy tracks
punctuated by bubble gum
beats and trance-y vocals,
represents a turning point in
Grant's novice career. Last
December, the singer saw a
Facebook post from the band
calling for female vocals. "I
was freaking out, so I stayed
up all night over Christmas
break," she said, "trying to
think of three samples to send
them. I couldn't sleep even
after I sent it, but the next day,
or the day after, they emailed
back saying 'We really like
this, would you wanna work
with us?'"
What makes Grant distinct
is how self-directed and styled
her budding career has been.
Grant was in her high-school
choir and sang for student a
cappella group, 58 Greene,
from freshman to junior year.
She's also a relatively new
songwriter,having begun just
two years ago, but music hasn't
been a serious pursuit until
recently - this is in contrast
to some students who "have
been taking voice lessons
since they were 5." Indeed,
Grant's decision to study
LSA's major over the School
of Music's equivalent was
driven partly by pragmatism

(she would not have been able
to stay on track for a 2015
graduation), but mostly by
the program's wide-ranging
course load that isn't limited
to technical classical training.
From musicology to theory to
performance art technology
classes, Grant described the
major's versatility as being
able to "open a lot of doors
and then begin to narrow
them down." And compared
to the specialized emphasis
in School of Music, LSA's
personalized major melds with
her decidedly entrepreneurial
ethos (Grant is also in the
Program in Entrepreneurship).
That lack of classical
structure seeps into her
music - after all, if you never
learn the rules, it's easy to
break them. While raised on
Motown mainstays like Aretha
Franklin, Stevie Wonder
and Marvin Gaye, Grant also
cites a far-reaching array
of experimental electronica
artists. Listening to them and
going to festivals made the
genre a natural juncture for
the genre-bending singer.
"Sounds and rhythms and
voices you would never think
could go together, worked
so well," Grant said. "And
being new to writing, I loved
how I could use whatever I
was interested in rhythm- or
lyric-wise without being held
back by a technical format or
standard rhyme scheme. In
electronic music, I saw a lot
more freedom to experiment."
That freedom to experiment
outside genre lines, something
every artist holds as a conceit,
is usually discouraged. But
then there are cases like
Grant who prove technical
adherence would only subdue
her voice, which finds its
life in sprawling, graceful
melodies. Take for example,
her collaboration with FKJ
(short for French Kiwi Juice),
a Parisian producer with a
penchant for pairing funky
soul with smooth electronica.
In "Waiting," Grant's smoky,
asymmetric vocals (positively
Winehouse-esque, no other
word for it) snake themselves
around FKJ's ultra-smooth
strain. It's equal parts classic
and experimental.
The collaboration between
FKJ and Grant came about
through a now established
platform for young artists,
social media; Grant sent FKJ
a message on Facebook. In
recent years, the Internet has
become a well-documented
platform for young artists
of all mediums. It typifies
the, egalitarian current that
runs through our generation

- any artist can watch their
work amass viewer/follower/
retweet momentum, providing
their work is good enough.
We've all heard of a poet who
got discovered on Twitter or
the comedian who launched
a career from a YouTube
channel. Grant, herself is
a SoundCloud user, and in
January when she posted a
collaboration with School of
Music jazz student, Alekos
Syropoulos, a slinky jazz song
called "Purpose," it racked
up over 79,000 listens on the
website. Scrolling through
the hundreds of gushing
comments, it's obvious that
Grant's singing sparks the rare
visceral reactions from fans.
Madelyn Grant:
Poised for
The internet has also been a
necessary tool in bridging the
geographical gaps between
Grant and her high-profile
collaborators: FKJ resides in
Paris, and the ODESZA duo
in Seattle. In FJK' case, it was
all done via Facebook and
e-mail. He sent her a rough
instrumental track with the
guitar, synthesizer, and drums,
Grant wrote to it, and after
they agreed on a general idea,
the two passed the song back
and forth, FKJ working on the
mixing, while Grant wrote and
recorded in Ann Arbor, made
easy by a shared background.
"We both have a love for
Motown, so we were already on
the same page of style, so I felt
really comfortable expressing
myself with a soulful style."
While plenty of remote
opportunities are within
Grant's reach, the Ann Arbor
community is particularly
special to her: "There's
this whole awesome circle,
community, really, you have tdY
just get your foot in the door,
but it's like a family," Grant
said. "Obviously they're all
from the same city, but they all
go to each other's shows, play
in each other's bands."
Grant eventually sees
herself moving to a bigger
music city, but her hopes have
a healthy dose of practicality,
and Ann Arbor isn't a bad
place for a developing artist.
"There's a lot of gaps
between wanting to have a
music career and actually
doing it, so it's really cool to
be around local musicians
who are doing it."





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