First grad research conference features presentations, networking

Allie Hitchcock • April 25, 2017
Alex Svensson's session at the graduate conference focused on horror film trailers. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)
Alex Svensson’s session at the graduate conference focused on horror film trailers. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

Franklin Hall was lively with discussions on topics ranging from the video game Call of Duty to gender and media as graduate students met for a full day of research presentations April 7.  

The school’s first Graduate Student Conference, organized by Media School’s grad students, drew professors and graduate students from around campus for a keynote and several workshops featuring their own research.  

The morning started with keynote speaker Rob Potter, director of the school’s Institute for Communication Research, who spoke about the range of research at the school. He used musical instruments to symbolize students’ choices to go to graduate school. 

“There’s an awful lot of things you can study in grad school,” Potter said, showing a variety of stringed instruments.   

But everyone in the Media School chose to study media, a concept symbolized by guitars. 

Keynote speaker Rob Potter used musical instruments to demonstrate the differences and similarities between graduate programs. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)
Keynote speaker Rob Potter welcomed the audience and talked about similarities in research. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

“But there’s an awful lot of guitars out there,” he said, noting that all the attendees at the conference chose IU Bloomington to further their studies.   

Layer by layer, Potter demonstrated the level of variety within the students’ research and the presentations of the day. The challenge for attendees to consider, he said, would be for them to go to sessions in areas unfamiliar to them.  

One session focused on video game studies. Graduate student Jess Tompkins presented “Playing Beyond the Game: Video Game Fandom and Transformative Practices,” in which she dissected the phenomenon of game fandom, including fan art, fan fiction and cosplay.  

She looked at Call of Duty as a case study and discussed the topic of original female characters in gamer fan responses. 

“We can use fan fiction and fan art as ways of seeing how communities are interpreting texts,” she said. 

Graduate student Alexander Mirowski presented “Trades, Pains and All of the Deals: The Item Trading Communities of Team Fortress 2,” in which he examined the craze of cosmetic item systems in the team-based first person shooter game. 

The sales of these items within the gaming system has led to player concerns about trading, as there is no infrastructure to allow this kind of economy to function. Scammers in the game system have committed fraud, cashing in on the lucrative phenomenon that has allowed items like virtual hats to sell for as much as $2,000. 

Graduate students presented media research throughout the day at the conference. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)
Doctoral student Niki Fritz opened the conference, which was organized by the school’s Graduate Student Association. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

Graduate student Ken Rosenberg presented research on The Walking Dead, discussing “what happens in your head is outside the game.”   

Rosenberg said that the game has allowed users to practice social skills and develop empathy. 

“I believe to save the economy, you need a sense of community,” he said. 

Another session focused on trailer studies, examining film, television and video game trailers as pathways to other areas of study. Alex Svensson discussed “The Ads are Coming from Inside the House: Horror Trailers and Questions of Consumer Disturbance and Contestation within the Home.” He showed how horror trailers are placed and displayed, a topic that has led to controversy as audiences have argued they should be allowed to opt out of seeing ads with jump scares or disturbing images. 

This issue has been directed toward and led to responses from studios, production houses, marketing firms, legal bodies and content providers. It also has led to questions about what separates a so-called “proper” horror trailer from a more typical internet prank scare, Svensson said.  

Graduate student Jesse Balzer talked about “’It’s Just Too Bad You Don’t Know What It Is’: Social Responsibility and Marketing Race in the Hood Film,” using the film Boyz in the Hood in questioning the responsibility of its trailer. 

“Does this film celebrate or glamorize gang violence, or does it critique it?” he asked. 

Other films like Juice, Straight Outta Compton and Chi-raq have been accused of presenting gang violence in a positive or glamorous light, Balzer said. 

Javon Goard elaborated on his research involving video games' influences in our daily lives. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)
Javon Goard elaborated on his research involving videogames’ influences in our daily lives. (Emma Knutson | The Media School)

Informatics Ph.D. student Javon Goard presented “Gaming the Gamers: Gender and Racial Portrayals in Popular Video Games Trailers,” his honors thesis from University of Maryland, College Park in 2016. He talked about the connectedness of videogames in day-to-day life.  

“Videogames have become television shows, and vice versa,” he said. 

Goard applied theory to gaming to research demographical representation in popular videogames, concluding that women and minorities were often portrayed less overall (as aggressors, protagonists and antagonists, among other categories) and that white male characters were most predominantly portrayed in total. 

Other panels of the day included discussions on gender in the media, political communications, and sex and the media.   

Grad student and organizer Cole Stratton said he was especially pleased with the overall turnout of audience members at the conference. He said every room throughout the day had at least 10 or 12 audience members, with full lecture halls in Franklin. 

 “I was so excited about it,” he said. “People were here from all over campus.” 

 Stratton said The Media School plans to make the conference an annual event after the success of this year’s gathering.