A Three-Part Theory Of Media

I often analyze media, how it works, and what it means – which any regular reader knows. This isn’t just my generally obsessive and analytical nature; media is something many of us create from the instructional (yours truly) to fiction (like my friend Serdar). Right now if you’re here you’re probably interested in media creation, and possibly even doing it – so you’re bang alongside reading yet Another Crazy Steve Theory*.

But there’s another reason to analyze media beyond making it – and that’s to understand how it affects you and others. As we’re always consuming media (even unconsciously) in this wired age, understanding how it affects us is vital to being functional. Anyone who’s ever watched someone get a crazy and dysfunctional idea from a story or a biased newscast knows the importance of understanding media.

Lately I’ve been wondering how media influences people and how they take messages from it. In addition I’ve wondered how people can “read so much” into a piece of media that doesn’t seem to mean what they say. In time, I began to see media has three different sides to it.

Here’s my theory – that media has three components.

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Geek Job Guru: Behold, The Secret Art!


Ever watch a movie, play a game, read a book where someone whips out a “Secret Art?” The unknown spell, the forbidden magic, the forgotten technology? At that point you pretty much know Things Will Get Real (or the writer is about to yank something out of their hindquarters, but let’s stay positive here).

Secret Arts are a constant of fiction. There’s this idea that there are hidden powers, things forgotten or wisely locked away, ancient secrets more powerful due to their primordial connections, and so on. The idea of a Secret Art speaks to us, of something powerful and coherent – yet mysterious. ┬áIt can’t be common or easy, and that too is part of it’s power.

And in your career, there are plenty of Secret Arts you can use.

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Gaming’s Tower of Babel

A few weeks ago I discovered Rogue Legacy, a brilliant indie game that instantly became a time sink for me over vacation. I even reviewed it at NerdCaliber. No, I haven’t finished it – yet – but it is a fascinating study in getting a game “right” in a way where people “get” it. Also I want to finish it but I started a new job . . . and Cubeworld.

Rogue Legacy is a fusion of several elements:

  • Roguelike randomness (deriving from the early random-dungeon game Rogue).
  • Sidescrolling castle exploration of the “Metroidvania” type (reminiscent of some Metroid games and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)
  • Brutal difficulty common to both of those games and popularized in the hardcore games Demons’ Souls and Dark Souls.
  • An aesthetic reminiscent of other hardcore games, Ghosts and Goblins and Ghouls and Ghosts.

Basically you go into a randomly generated castle, explore, die, and then a randomly generated set of ancestors are available for you to take on the journey again to get far enough to win – usually after a lot of descendants.

Now if you’re a gamer like me, you’re already responding to rods like “Roguelike” and “Metroidvania” and “Hardcore.” My choice of words – and Rogue Legacy’s ancestry – speak to powerful and popular concepts in gaming. In short, Rogue Legacy’s designers speak the language of people like me, and a language with years of history. They know what some of us want and how to do it and communicate it.

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