the infancy of Internet television

or, pride and prejudice
Geoff Lapaire as 'Kyle' at the end of S1E12 of 'Pure Pwnage' (2004-2008)

Director Geoff Lapaire, playing the character ‘Kyle‘ in the Pure Pwnage Internet television series, finally revealing his face to the audience at the end of Episode 12 “Game Over” [46:08min | .avi | 342.5MB], closing the series’ first season.

 
‘Kyle’ (Geoff Lapaire), director of the “Pure Pwnage” series, has written a short but insightful essay on the nexus between gaming- and online-culture, independent film making, the television industry, and public funding. He starts by relating the development of the download numbers, which mean the minimum of viewers of each show. Lapaire and Jarett Cale (playing the lead character ‘Jeremy’ in the show) were excited, when they saw that episode 1 was downloaded 800 times back in May 2004. Episode 10, released on 16 March 2006, “was downloaded 597,893 times in the first 24 hours” from the official server only. That’s an increase of spectatorship amounting to roughly 75,000% over a span of just ten episodes within 21 months for a television show produced on no budget at all. Yes, I heard your jaws dropping.
    Nevertheless advertisers are “generally uninterested when it comes to Pure Pwnage, though they spend tens of thousands of dollars on print advertising in publications with 1/10th our audience and even more on television commercial spots during shows that have a fraction of our viewership.” On the base of that are the same things as behind the anecdote of the three songs [last paragraph]—ignorance towards gaming culture, plus economical and other societal institutions lagging way behind empirical reality. I very much doubt that the online fanhood of Pure Pwnage would swallow the episodes being interrupted by commercial breaks, but think for a minute in terms of e.g. product placement … [With an average readership of 1300 people per day I now may well have set a flea in somebody’s ear—but never mind as long as you throw the royalties this way ;-]. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating marketing, big business, and the industry in general. Rather I would like to try to reconcile matters, as it is perfectly misguided to imagine two intransigent camps, like the malicious industry standing vis-à-vis to the good, creative guys from the free milieus. The current organisation of economy and the informal settings are mutually complementary and interacting, not contradictory.
    They are contradictory in tangible episodes and ongoings, in specific contexts, yes, but not as a matter of principle. There of course are clashes and crises, and those have to be negotiated, and in fact get negotiated. Those are bits’n’pieces of what we dare to call societal transformation.
    Having started to talk about ‘Society’, and already having slapped ‘the industry’ around a bit with a large trout, the governmental side shan’t get away, too:

Even with millions of viewers, it doesn’t mean you have a career. As Internet broadcasters, we have found that we suffer from a lack of legitimacy. For example, even though we are among the most watched Canadian television shows, we are not eligible to apply to the funding sources that are the financial backbone of the Canadian television industry. [emphasis mine]

Well, I didn’t go in depth and check, but I am perfectly convinced that it is exactly the same with Germany’s national movie-funding, although the text on their startpage seems to lead into a different direction. Here again established structures lag behind, but in the end the ‘power of the masses’ will force change. “50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong.”
    Fraeon once commented on my entry on the two johns (Carmack and Romero): “In fact, today it’s near impossible to get to the position Carmack and Romero are by just doing excellent games. Mighty shame, really.” Honestly, I am all but convinced that this is true. For sure, times have changed a lot, but they always were changing—proof for history being an uncanny dynamic process. New business models will emerge and will create niches for the ‘creative and free’, making them fit into economy without forcing them to give up their very own cultural values, because the economy itself will be changed. Time will tell, always has told.
    Today Lapaire has to state that “merchandising is the only way we generate income.” Sounds quite greedy on first glance, but mind that the people have to make a living, and then again producing and selling merchandise of “Pure Pwnage” is a twisted and ironical joke in itself, going perfectly with the show’s general direction of satire, lifting the latter on yet another level.
    Speaking of levels of satire, episode 12 “Game Over”—the latest episode, and the closing of the first season—in fact broaches the issue of industrial ignorance [that’s a great term, ain’t it? … “industrial ignorance”]. Jeremy and Kyle are invited to an interview with some television producer executive big shot (David Plant), who is interested in commercializing the show, and at 12:40min are asked to tell more about their show:
 
Composite stills from S1E12 of 'Pure Pwnage' (2004-2008)

TV exec #1 [slightly pompous]: Tell me about your Internet TV series […]
Jeremy: Basically it’s about how much I pwn
TV exec #1 [bewildered]: … what do you own?
Jeremy [amused]: N00bs, mostly
TV exec #1 [even more bewildered]: ouh … what’s a, what’s a newb?
Jeremy [snorts with repressed laughter]: … you, I bet …

Now, what’s the gist of all that, what has it to do with sociocultural anthropology?
    I just checked my archives on the harddrive and found it to be true that I indeed was aware of “Pure Pwnage” from the very start on—I downloaded the first episode only a couple of days after it was released, I was among those 800 Lapaire mentioned. Again, don’t get me wrong, this is not to boast that “I knew it!” beforehand, that I am a prophet, that I knew how the phenomenon would develope [obviously I did not, because I forgot abot the whole thing and didn’t write a ↵blog entry on it until January 2006, because I was reminded of it], or that I am the greatest cyberanthropologist alive … [well, we can talk about that]. What I want to state is that the anthropological approach to the online aspects of gaming-culture made my running into Pure Pwnage inevitable, because it forces you to stay with the pulse of life of the cultural milieu you are studying.
    Anthropology has the means to discover ‘what’s going on’, down there on the non-statistically-abstracted level of real life where social and cultural interaction, production, and negotiation takes place. Furthermore it has the means to grasp all this, to interprete and analyze it, and finally to make it understandable—still I am talking about ‘down there’, where culture happens. And, maybe most importantly, anthropology has the means to place those micro-phenomenons in a wider context, and to make clear their relevance for ‘society at large’. And now don’t get on my nerves by insisting that an Internet television show about gaming culture which has millions of viewers worldwide and drags crowds into the cinemas of Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto has no relevancy, you n00bs!
 
Geoff Lapaire as 'Kyle' at the end of S1E12 of 'Pure Pwnage' (2004-2008)

See also boom—headshot!, true pwnage, fps_doug vs. f4tality, teh best day ever, first season pwned, and kyle pwned.
 

Absolutely irrelevant trivia: The bar waitress in Episode 12 is played by Miss World Canada 2006 contestant for downtown Toronto, Elena Soboleva—neither she nor “Pure Pwnage” are listed at the IMDb, “Earth’s Biggest Movie Database”.

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