Repurposing Media's Architectures: The Transformative Power of the Gimmick Open Access

Lukens, Alex (2013)

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Gimmicks are both lauded and reviled as elaborations or exploitations placed upon texts in order to spurn engagement with those texts. In this thesis, I offer a more nuanced reading of the gimmick as it applies to specific media forms. Rather than applying gimmicks to texts, I instead engage with gimmicks as inextricable parts of texts that offer a new conceptualization of texts as experiences rather than objects.I argue that these gimmick-texts specifically engage people by way of offering an experience contract to them. This dare on the part of the text encourages and comes to require consent by the patron or player to accept that something different will happen during engagement with these texts.

This "something different" comes in the form of what I call a new "possibility architecture". The possibility architecture of a text is simply the total amount of possible things that can happen during engagement with that text. By providing new possibility architectures, gimmick-texts introduce something that violates typical architectures of convention, personal involvement, or physical construction.I look to various media forms, but focus specifically on film and video games by looking precisely at what architectures can be and are changed within gimmick-texts from these forms.

The first chapter looks to master showman William Castle's film The Tingler (1959) as a keystone of the gimmick mode. The Tingler challenges a plethora of film-going conventions as well as physical architecture by, among other things, employing buzzers underneath theater seats to shock people in concordance with the onscreen portion of the film. The second chapter looks to the video game Monster Rancher (1997) as a text that cannot be played without other media. Monster Rancher generates content in the game by requiring the player to open the game console and supply it with other CDs, which the game interprets within its own algorithm.

Finally, I argue that these texts produce generative environments in that those people that engage with these texts are part of producing these texts as experiences. These new possibility architectures necessitate additional, novel input from those people engaging with them.

Table of Contents

Introduction: This Way to the Egress 1

Chapter One--

Tingling Space: Construction and Travel in The Tingler 18

Applied Shock 21

Age of Innocence 23

A Lifetime of Showmanship 26

The Electric Chair: A Dare 29

Our Generous Host 31

Something in the Air 34

Too Scary to Not Look Away 36

Playing With Your Tingler 39

Step Right Up! 44

Chapter Two--

Do Look Under Your Bed: Collection and Movement in Monster Rancher 47

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 49

Play in the Age of Intelligent Machines 51

How a Monster Stands Apart 54

"My, Earth really is full of things." 57

Sanctioned Emergence 60

Warning: Discs Necessary 62

Ranching Research 66

An Algorithm Deferred 72

Scavenger Hunt as Worship 74


"Ah!--Tourism!" 76

Bibliography 82

Filmography 84

Gameography 85

Appendix A--

An Interview with Terry Castle 87

Appendix B--

An Interview with Lisa F. Shock 96

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