More M&M's

Annemarie Jonson finds more multimediocrity at the second of the Creative Nation
multimedia forums: Sydney, 15 and 16 June, 1995

The second of the multimedia forums (presented by the Department of Communication and the Arts and the Department of Industry, Science and Technology as part of the Creative Nation cultural policy package) was a fairly predictable government/business talkfest: heavy on the market rhetoric and light on critique and analysis. Despite the misnomer – there was something about ‘creativity’ in the title for this forum – there was, once again, little genuine attention to the involvement of artists in the development of emerging interactive media forms.

Undoubtedly the forum would have provided some very useful pointers to aspiring commercial producers. Viktor Zalakos’ talk – he’s the marketing manager for Firmware – made it apparent just how very difficult it is to crack the CD-ROM marketplace. Producers are now, for example, paying for shelf space: retailers will not even take product for free. Most CD-ROM sales occur through bundling with other software and hardware; a recent survey showed that a very large majority of people with a CD-ROM drive had no intention of purchasing a CD-ROM unless it came bundled with other goods. Zalakos’ maxim: know your market, plan, don’t try to do it all yourself, and be aware of the risks.

Another useful session was a hypothetical role play. It concerned an inexperienced player’s attempt to engage commercial interest in – and retain control of – her idea for a CD-ROM on a pioneering Australian aviatrix. In the hands of the money-men (for they were mostly men), the idea mutated into an action game based on the rescue of the American pilot Scott O’Grady shot down over Bosnia, providing a cautionary tale for all those unfamiliar with the ways of the market and the all-powerful imperative to global market viability.

Stewart MacLennan, MD of the Garner MacLennan group, spoke about putting together multimedia consortia. It was at least heartening to hear this major player emphasise the depth of creative talent in this country – designers, filmmakers, writers – and the need for the multimedia industry to draw on these people if it wished to produce high quality titles. This endorsement of the role of artists raises the question, however, of how well the industry is prepared to remunerate these people, and to what extent (if at all) their conceptual, aesthetic and critical skills will be allowed to drive or influence production.

The impression one gets in all this hype is one of rampant technological determinism. The hysterical fascination with all things multimedia recalls the mid 19th century preoccupation with prototypical pre-cinematic toys such as the phenakistoscope and the praxinoscope, and the gobsmacked hysteria that greeted the first cinematic projections 100 years ago. What’s notably missing from the cultural policy agenda is even the slimmest commitment on the part of government to fostering critical practice and a theoretical engagement with the formidable conceptual, philosophical, aesthetic, educational and cultural implications of nonlinearity and digital technology.

The final multimedia forum in this series was held in Adelaide in July. It cost $150 to attend (excluding many individual artists, and those who don’t live in Adelaide and cannot afford one-day interstate jaunts). It’s focus was export. Needless to say none of the above concerns was on the agenda.

RealTime issue #8 Aug-Sept 1995 pg. 7

© Annemarie Jonson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 1995