Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nicholas Fortugno, Playmatics

Video games have become an integral part of our present-day society.  We play games on our iPhones, we gather together to play on our friends' X-Box 360.  We even participate in corporate-sponsored video game tournaments.  However, in terms of media, video games are often overlooked.  Very few schools even offer game design.  It is amazing, then, that Nicholas Fortugno has made such a name for himself in the industry with Playmatics.

Nicholas Fortugno was an avid gamer since childhood.  He started out as a dungeon master in several role playing games, and eventually even hosted public role playing sessions.  He started out as an intern in Gamelab, an early game company, where he worked on level design and testing for about a year.  After a few more years in game design, he funded Rebel Monkey with Margaret Wallace in 2007.  That, unfortunately, didn't survive the Recession, so Nicholas worked in consulting until eventually he and Margaret founded Playmatics.

Playmatics is a game company that has worked with several organizations to develop innovative interactive experiences.  They developed an interactive online comic to tie in with AMC's Breaking Bad, and worked with The Millenium Institute to develop a game called Shadow Government, where you can build and possible destroy your own country.  As of late, there are about 15 employees at Playmatics, including digital artists, programmers, designers, and producers. 

Nicholas also had a lot of insight in the gaming industry.  He highly suggests taking game design courses in school for more hands-on experience.  According to him, aspiring game designers should "hop along unstably" for a while so that they can get more work.  Any artists who want to get into the industry should learn to use Photoshop, and anyone who studied digital art should study sculpting instead.

Nick also has an interesting view on technology.  In his view, a successful technology is something that is ubiquitous, something that you don't even think about.  In that regard, the pen and paper is the most successful technology.  He doesn't see much of a future in augmented reality or QR codes because they are "too flashy" and completely miss the point.

Up until now, I never really thought about finding work in the video game industry.  I don't even play video games that much, and I never bothered to take any real courses pertaining to it.  However, after this meeting with Nicholas Fortugno, I now have a but more of an understanding for the field.  I'm not saying that I now want to jump into it head first, but I do have a lot of respect for it now.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Shallows

It's pretty easy to take something like Google or the Internet for granted. Every day you use it to communicate with friends, get caught up on the latest news stories, and obtain valuable information on subjects important to you. However, we have never really sat down and thought about how the internet is changing not just our society and culture, but our very brains.

It is for this exact reason why Nicholas Carr wrote his book, “The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing To Our Brains”. In this book, Carr explores the effects of the internet on our brains and how it changed the very way we think. After reading this book, I can't help but feel a bit of an existential breakthrough, as I am now a bit more aware of how my own brain works and how it is affecting me as a person.

The book starts out simple enough, as Carr talks about his history, and how computers weren't even much of a mainstream thing until late in his college years. Before then, people read books, wrote notes, and occasionally called each other on a landline telephone.

As the book goes on, it explores some of the technologies that facilitated a change in our behavior and our thought processes. It starts with the earliest Sumerian kuneiform tokens, goes through the invention of Gutenberg's printing press, and eventually touches down on some of the things weare a bit more familiar with, like Google.

One huge part of this book is the discussion of neuroplasticity, the idea that certain behaviors bring about a physical change to our brain. As we all started using the internet, we began to get used to multitasking, doing multiple things at once on the computer, as well as skimming through a sea of text for key words and sentences that seem relevant to our interests. This caused a change in our Hippocampus region of the brain, the region associated with short-term memory. As we kept using things like typewriters and computers and smartphones, the hippocampus began to grow and strengthen, just like the muscles of a bodybuilder strengthen with each lifted weight.
This is changing, and there's nothing you can do about it.

In terms of basic opinion, Nicholas Carr is worried that the internet is shortening our attention spans, making it harder for us to focus enough to write a book (admittedly, he may have a point here; this book was a bit of a tough read!). We no longer need to read and memorize copious amounts of text when it has become so easy for us to copy a word we don't know, paste it into a search bar, and find the definition. In this, Carr is a bit pessimistic, as he sees this as a degeneration of our brains.

So, is Nicholas Carr right? In many ways, yes. The internet is indeed changing our brains and how we think, there's no two ways about it. But is it detrimental to us? Maybe. At least at the moment. We are still struggling to get used to this new mode of thinking, so naturally I'm going to feel like I am getting “dumber”. However, this is just what people said about the printing press, and look how that turned out!

If given time, we as a species will be able to adapt to this new more of thought to become smarter and more clever than our ancestors, and in turn, there will be an even more advanced technology that will bring this debate on again. This is what it means to progress as a society. No matter what hurdles come about, we will eventually adapt and become stronger and smarter than ever before.

Monday, November 28, 2011


The fashion industry is one that I never really thought much of.  It's not something I have much knowledge of, and I never even considered the possibilities for media integration.  However, the people of Lookbooks have done exactly that, creating a dynamic and well-designed system for photographers, models, and artists alike.

We were first received by Arun Kalaiselvan, a former graduate of NYU Poly's IDM program.  His co-worker, Ryan, was the CEO, and was the one who spoke for most of the presentation.  Ryan, a Canadian native, originally studied Chemistry in college, and worked for companies like Johnson & Johnson.  He chose to start a company like Lookbooks because of his experience in the fashion industry.

This is a lookbook.  To someone in the fashion, beauty, and fine art field, this means everything!
Lookbooks is a company that provides integrated digital media and marketing solutions to some of the biggest names in fashion, beauty, photography, design and fine art.  Through this, clients can manage a portfolio for other employers to see.  It is not a media company by the strictest definition; rather, it is seen more as a content developer., one of the leading websites for the latest fashion trends, is also owned by Lookbooks, although it is still independent of the main site.

The majority of the services are hosted through the main site,  All services are maintained through the Cloud, therefore most of the updates are done automatically.  Their idea is that if you build it once, they will use it forever, because according to them, "you don't build a product and change behavior; you change behavior and build the product accordingly".

Although Lookbooks is centered mainly in fashion and fine art, it is not centered in that niche.  In fact, Ryan believes that if you niche yourself in one industry, you're dead, and that it's best not to get too deep into one thing.

The sheer amount of integration that Lookbooks uses is amazing.  They seemed to have formulated creative and fully-usable solutions to everything.  This trip really gave us a look at an industry that media definitely has room to flourish!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Laura Allen and Vision, Education, & Media

Technology and media can be implemented in several different fields, from medicine and health to entertainment. In this course, Media Organizations, we get to see how different companies implement it. Oddly enough, this trip was actually not planned, but nevertheless, it was a good insight on how other organizations use media.

On this trip, we took a visit to Laura Allen's company, Vision, Education, & Media, which offers technology education to young children in New York. Laura herself has a long history of education and technology, graduating from Harvard's School of Education and teaching children computers for years. She even taught Donald Trump's son.
RoboFun, one of many educational programs offered to children

Vision, Education, & Media offers several different classes for kids, teaching them how to use computers, how to make a video game, even how to build their own Lego robots. The organization is based on a child's “circle of strength”. In other words, they focus on what the child is interested in learning. For instance, if a child loves video games, then he or she will be taught how to make video games.

A good portion of their work also comes from teaching at schools. Many of their employees go out to city schools to oversee a technology club. About 85% of their revenue comes from these clubs, many of which are also based on several grants offered to the company.

One interesting thing I learned is that Laura and her organization do not put too much of a focus on marketing. They mainly go through what they like to call “Word of Mom”. In other words, a child's parent will tell another parent, and so on and so on, and through this process, the organization is “advertised”. They are looking for people working in social media, however, as long as they are real self-starters.

Vision, Education, & Media currently consists of 6 full-time employees, and 15 part-time. It functions as both a for-profit and not-for-profit organization, but at the time, they are focusing on for-profit to continue operating. Their office is a little small, taking up a floor of a small building off 23rd street, but they are hoping to continue their mission of teaching kids what they want to learn, which is definitely something to admire.

In this day and age, I understand the impact that technology can have on education. However, what Vision, Education, & Media does is really above and beyond what is expected. They are offering a valuable service to children in New York that is beginning a whole new generation of technology users, one that may very well begin a new technological revolution. I am anxious to see what kind of future Laura Allen and her organization brings.