Joe Anderson

PhD candidate in Literary Studies, dissertating on discursive identity development across an evolving media landscape.

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Analyzing the emergent subgenre of Found Footage Horror/Sci-Fi

Found footage, especially of the horror and sci-fi varieties, has only become more prevalent as tech advancements have put cameras in everyone’s pockets. Assuming that the trend won’t be reversing anytime soon, what then are becoming the tropes, the customs, the standard structures of found footage narratives? What are some of the questions engendered by the form? For instance, how is the viewer cast in the narrative? In what way is that narrative built to intersect with material reality? Given the nature of the story, what other narrative hands must be at work to get it to us? What sets found footage apart from forms like mockumentary or fictional news broadcast? What elements unify all these types?

  • Some common tropes and standard structures are definitely the whole "we have a paranormal entity/monster/scary old person" who is "haunting us/stalking us/acting scary" so lets "record the house, us while we sleep". Which, I guess is a structure that makes sense for the basis of what these movies are. But I do like the subversions such as with the "documentary film gone wrong". In regards to how the viewer is cast in the narrative is perfectly see in the first solid chunk of 'Cloverfield' where we barely ever see the camera man. This gives us a good portion of the movie where we very much feel like bearded camera man guy. This of course is in contrast to any Paranormal Activity film where the camera people can't stop showing their face, distancing the audience. – ZacharyP42 9 years ago
  • This may be a little off-topic but one specific episode of the tv show Supernatural could help someone narrow down the stereotypical expectations of the found-footage genre. Supernatural often does episodes which parody different kinds of horror/mystery/etc. films, and often return to random episodes presented not from the main characters' perspective but from video recordings of people they are interacting with and the adventures those side characters experience. They are parodies, in a way, and by looking at parodies it can be easier to pin-point the expectations of a genre through what the show deems worthy of keeping intact. – Slaidey 9 years ago
  • I think that found footage often results in a more immersive experience for the view than a mockumentary or even a news broadcast - the found footage supposedly comes from a regular person, just like the viewer, and often uses first person camera work (made even more intimate by using camera phones or other such 'amateur' devices). This is a great topic! – Winterling 9 years ago
  • I agree with Winterling that the immersion perspective is important, i.e. the handheld camera, the entire basis of taking "amateur" footage that has likely not gone through editing. It creates a sort of realism and, when done right, there's an intimacy between the well-constructed characters and the viewer. That's why, in my opinion, it is distracting when a found footage movie inserts stinger music or looks too professionally handled, though the latter can still go over well. Also, the setup as to why the characters need to be wielding cameras usually needs to be believable. I personally liked movies like The Taking of Deborah Logan and The Sacrament. The Visit would be interesting to explore, though I have not seen it. – emilydeibler 9 years ago
  • I know these game types have gone down in popularity however I think with re-branding and re-marketing these games would open up the market once more. If for example Rock Band decided to release Country Star or Pop World they would integrate a new generation of fans. They likely would be able to redesign the same hardware and sell it for higher prices as "limited edition" pieces. The game just needs to revive itself. I used to be an avid player. Things could change again. – alexpaulsen 9 years ago

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Latest Comments

The Poughkeepsie Tapes’ failure–having been hyped but never having been released–isn’t so surprising as its success–having ever been talking about at all. In Brandon’s article, as well as in the comments posted above, it’s clear that the popular judgement of found footage horror as ‘trash’ holds weight; this is a widespread view that I don’t think has to do so much with the ‘found footage’ identifier as it does the fact that, with so much horror being released–with it being the top-grossing box office genre, pretty consistently, year after year–there’s just a lot of really bad horror being made all the time, regardless of the situation of whether the characters are looking right into the camera or not. This is further fueled by the fact that found footage horror is still emerging: Brandon identified the ‘receding tide of found footage flicks out now’, but, with the increasing pervasivity of personal video recording tech (such as your cellphone), the tide is only growing as more fillmmakers become capable of accessing such a reachable genre.

So, being associated with found footage horror to begin with (rightly or wrongly, given that the film is constituted of more than just found footage; it’s perhaps more of a mockumentary) is enough to tarnish the film for a lot of audiences already. But there seems to be something more, something about The Poughkeepsie Tapes itself that tends to polarize viewers. I enjoyed and appreciated the film when I saw it, but it holds echoes of torture porn, another emergent, particularly divisive genre, and that could easily be what’s turned off a lot of the viewers who are left, perhaps before many of them have even seen it. The fact is, Hostel included some far more visceral scenes than Poughkeepsie, but the format of the former, the familiarity of shooting our own movies in our own homes, reframes modern horror narratives in ways we haven’t seen since Texas Chainsaw or the innovations of VCRs and video stores.

So, I’m tempted to try to defend The Poughkeepsie Tapes–and I think it’s worthy of defense–but, like Brandon says, its lack of release for so long is indicative of a situation for the film that is very real and should be addressed. I just hope that it is a controversy might lend the film the kind of infamy that will, one day, also lead to a measure of deserved respect.

What Happened?: 'The Poughkeepsie Tapes'

Your second section heading, ‘Why Is The Splat Significant?’ is a compelling question that could be answered from a lot of different angles. But I think that its significance as an indicator of the state of modern media tech and culture is what’s most interesting. The Splat is significant because it’s an admittance on the part of content developers and rights holders (here, Nickelodeon) that, in order to maintain not just the relevance of their titles, but the accessibility–the consumability–of those titles in a modern communications market where such accessibility is both demanded and expected, they’re going to have to cater to the new requirements of old fanbases. But, at the same time, to what degree is Nickelodeon regaining viewers versus retaining them? In the long run, this may just be a pilot program for the maintenance of viewers well beyond the original demographic parameters of the network.

Irrespective of what the audience might shake down to, it’s pretty reasonable The Splat is intended to be permanent. Given the predcedent of Nick@Nite, combined with the wealth of back-content Nick still has in the vaults, the broadcaster doesn’t just WANT this to last; the project got off to a strong start apparently, but I’d imagine the overall plan would be to value the overall product, to fiddle with the details of the concept until it becomes, perhaps, as pervasive as Nick itself.

Finally, and on a little bit different of a note, I’m glad you noticed the Broad City ref on the Splat social media feed. It’s indicative of The Splat as, itself, a fusion of what we used to watch with what (shows and devices) we’re watching now. And, in that recasting, perhaps we’re liberated to think of these narratives as being as old as we are now, as adults. Do we still need to think of Pete and Pete as PG (even if it was)? Does it still need to reside strictly in the teen-rated section of the mind, or can we allow it to interact in our brains with more mature stuff?

Nickelodeon’s The Splat: Bringing Back Classic Content for Millennials


Wow, but there’s a lot to think about here. I think that you’ve really uncovered some important points about a media form that doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention, in in historical assessments of communications technology. There were a LOT of things that I’d wanted to respond to, but here are the big points/questions:

I know you meant to call text adventures ‘time-wasters’ to engender discussion–and I guess that that just succeeded. Aside from all the other value you make evident in your article, videogames in general have long stood as a particularly nuanced example of the possibilities of interaction between audience and content. Even in the venue of text-based adventures, we are still constantly called on to read and think critically, to pay attention to detail, and to get creative in our solution-building, and all of it within an established structure whose rules [of the command line] we must come to understand, be able to function within, and perhaps even learn how to manipulate. That’s critical thinking, right there. And, in a more materially-, immediately-practically sense, it’s the opening of training in communications with non-human actors that, now, we do perform every time we say ‘Ok Google’.

You mention Hitchhiker’s Guide, which was my favorite text adventure; it was ‘brought back’ by the BBC a few years ago, but with the addition of graphics that provide an interpretation of the backgrounds described in the text and indicators of objects we can interact with (whose descriptions in the text we might have missed otherwise). How does this change affect our interaction with the game, especially given that, by its nature, no effects are actually necessary?

Also on H2G2: Aside from the eventual inclusion of graphics, the game originally had a cheat sheet walkthrough that could really help ease one’s frustration with navigation. This certainly sets it apart from modern visually-based games where glitchiness and other factors can impede one’s progress in ways that the structure of the presentation itself can’t necessarily help with. This also makes me skeptical of your claim that text adventures provided an ‘open world’, but, since you’re also addressing subjectivity, I’m not sure to what degree such a difference matters. They don’t need to be what we would today consider ‘open-world’ to have been expansive at the time, as we were still moving through that Hegelian universe of another’s imagination. That we might not have the opportunity to move in as many potential directions doesn’t lessen the plethora of possibilities we felt as we navigated these worlds, because we were still being presented with new and different options in a game world than we’d ever been able to enjoy before. The bits on-board the Heart of Gold were especially good for this.

The ‘slice-of-life’ modern examples you refer to indicate that the potential approaches that the game narrative might take in engaging its audience have expanded and inverted in the decades since text adventures first emerged. At that time, text [of length] was a far more predominant portion of our overall interactions with media, and, as stated earlier, the text adventures themselves took us out into realms of unknowability through their content. Now, though, the examples you use have aimed themselves more at our actual experiences as a base for engagement; this means that the strange, othered element in our interactions is, perhaps, more the text itself than anything. For a user that might have previously argued that the ‘textiness’ of text adventures was what put them off, might the novelty of the interaction today–with it’s lack of attention to specific, real, non-turn-based timing, specifically–be the big draw?

Finally, to the point of artfulness: Text adventures are of a format that, itself, in its entirety, could be subsumed into more modern virtual gaming worlds; we can enter a virtualized game world and watch an NPC sit at a computer and play a text-based game, and we can do so as part of a story, a narrative that, itself, can be considered art. The interactability of modern, virtualized game worlds, in the meantime, means that that act of engaging with text adventures in those settings could lead to the ‘materializability’ of the text in those narrative as something other than itself. The word isn’t the thing in our world, but it can be in the virutal one. Text adventures are of a kind, as well, that we can actually make them available to our own narrative, game-based creations. We can enter a virtualized game world and watch another real-life player sit at a virtualized computer and play a text-based game on a virtualized computer.

At the point that we’re passively watching someone else do it, whether that ‘person’ is real or not, it becomes meant for consumption of the moment by the consumer of the larger narrative. Again, story–presented however it’s presented–as art.

The Text Adventure: Relic of Gaming History, or Timeless Medium?