Saturday, April 28, 2007

Recent Reading: "Everything Bad is Good for You"

I just recently read this book which very clearly lays out the case that modern video games & television help improve observation, deductive/intuitive problem-solving & long-term planning skills. Where this book really excels is in the documentation & citation of various studies, notes & on-line fan resources. As someone who has long been convinced of the basic thesis, I was quite pleased that someone had taken to time to create a more scholarly work on this topic.

However, there was one ommission which bugged me. Aside from references to message boards, there was no discussion about fan-created works such as fanfiction, fanart, filks, fanvids, etc. Based on my experience as a long-time lurker of various fandoms, I think this is a glaring oversight.

In what ways to fan-created works stimulate the skills mentioned in the book? Well, let’s think about this for a moment. In order to create a piece of work based on a fandom, a random fan must do the following:
(1) study/know source material
(2) be able to select portions of source material to utilize in work
(3) share work to be critiqued & reviewed
(4) must learn & use various skills to create said materials.

Using Supernatural fan-works as an example, all of the skills cited for TV & video games are also referenced.

Observation – In order to write a fanfiction or create additional “episodes” (a la Plastic!Winchesters), the viewer must do more than catch plot & character information. Small details from re-ocurring props, throw-a-away lines & facts must be noticed & catagorized.
Deductive/Inductive Problem-Solving – Either the fan is using the predict, explore other character arcs OR the fan is developing problem-solving skills to use the various software necessary to create & distribute their works (such weblog creators, photo manipulation programs, word processing, etc).
Long-term Planning – For the creation of a complicated piece this could involve everything from improved time-management skills to outlinning a detailed plot to coordinating convention attendance with participants in 2-3 countries. Fans who regularly sign-up for fan contests or “fic-a-thons” set specific goals for themselves that require some level of self-disipline & investment to complete.
Experience with Constructive Criticism – Every single item is published or distributed with the expectation of feedback. Besides beta-readers, the audience themselves act as fact checkers, grammer police and commentators. This teaches both how to receive & give out useful feedback.

While my own experiences have been that mainly of a lurker, I have experienced improvements in several areas just from attempting to keep up with & view the different fan-created works that interest me. Just keeping up with the various archives requires some major time management skills (& disipline to know when you have time to randomly browse and when you need to read your updated stories then leave quickly). Also, reading the reviews, meta commentary, etc has improved my viewing of the actual shows because I watch with a more critical eye, catching small things and making connections.

Fan-created works have been receiving more credibility lately as technology improvements allow ever-more sophisticated means for fans to modify & expand “canon” materials. “Everything Bad is Good for You” did a through job within the fields it chose to focus on but I believe the book would have been even better if it had not ignored fan-created works.

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