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My Wii and Me: How New Media Are Changing Communication

Studying the Nintendo Wii is not just fun and games for University of Cincinnati Assistant Professor Eric Jenkins.

Date: 12/2/2010
By: Ryan Varney
Phone: (513) 556-0142
Photos By: Ryan Varney
New Department of Communication assistant professor Eric Jenkins spends exhaustive hours studying video games. And he insists it’s serious business.
Assistant Professor of Communication Eric Jenkins
Assistant Professor of Communication Eric Jenkins

“I was brought in to study media and cultural studies—how our communication media relates to our culture and society. I’m interested in studying new media and digital media which include the internet, cell phones, Myspace, Twitter, blogs and even video games. What we’re undergoing in society right now is a revolution in communication. The ways we communicate, the norms of our communication, are changing because of digital media,” he says.

His latest research, “Wii Extended: Gender, Video Games, and the Narcissistic Desire,” discusses the gender divisions in video gaming through an examination of the popularity of the Nintendo Wii for nontraditional gamers, particularly women.

Understanding why non-traditional gamers are attracted to the Wii system could help foster innovations and correlations between digital media and future technologies.

“Part of [the draw] is the different game-play mechanics,” says Jenkins. “Traditional mechanics are much more abstract and distant from the body. The Wii is a much more physical and tactile approach to gaming—it brings the fun from off the screen into the living room.”

This is important, he says, because “gaming trains us in familiarity with digital media, increasing our comfort with engaging a computer. With so much of today’s work being done through computers, this is a crucial skill to engage and develop.”

Jenkins also cautions that engaging in video games increases our desire for digital media. It entices us to consume. And the ways we consume can have serious implications.

“I try to teach my students that these issues are not politically neutral. What we’re talking about with media and culture is power. Certain interests benefit from our use of media.”

He adds, “One of the issues we’re dealing with is an attention overload, not an information overload. Our dilemma has become what to pay attention to. It’s an ironic situation where we have more information and more alternative viewpoints than ever before but somehow our society seems to be stagnating into competing mainstream viewpoints. This has certain implications for the status of our democracy as well as our economy and consumerism.”

Jenkins doesn’t just talk to his students about these implications, though, he uses new media to show them.

“One thing I try to do in my classes is make use of some of the media. This semester I have different groups doing blogs as well as a Facebook group linking up to the group blogs. In the future I’m really looking to expand beyond blogging and Facebook—taking more advantage of social media to get our voices out there in the world, and maybe even create a little buzz about UC and our students.”

While getting his PhD at the University of Georgia, Jenkins recognized the importance of researching the ways new media and society interact.

“I’ve undergone the transition to digital media—it helps me to give a perspective on what is changing, the history of this shift. Students today are digital natives, they don’t understand what has changed.”

John Lynch, a fellow communication assistant professor who urged Jenkins to come to the University of Cincinnati, agrees. “Eric is a smart researcher who brings a critical eye to our everyday practices of media use and consumption. He is a great addition to the department and a great resource for students wanting to learn more about new and emerging media.”

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