Thursday, September 1, 2011

History of Extra Credits, Part 1: The Viral Spread of an Online Lecture Series

About three and a half years ago, Daniel Floyd was a graduate student pursuing a masters degree in animation at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He was taking a required course on contemporary art history in which the students were assigned to do a research thesis on any topic of their choice. Daniel's topic was storytelling in video games, and the final paper was about 15 pages long. Now all he had to do was create a 10-minute oral presentation about it for the class. Rather than making a boring powerpoint, he made this video presentation instead.

A couple months later, he was tasked with a similar project, this time for a media theory course, so Daniel created another presentation with the same style. Unlike the previous video, this one had exploded in popularity after some major gaming publications featured it on their websites, praising its analysis of games as a new art form that is still in its infancy. Daniel was so blown away by how popular his two presentations had become that it motivated him to keep making these videos outside of course projects.

He sooned teamed up with professional game designer James Portnow to make more of these "video lectures". They slowly raised a strong fanbase on YouTube, despite the fact that the show didn't even have a name yet and that new episodes were being released about 3-6 months apart from each other.

But in July of 2010, the Escapist Magazine decided to hire Daniel and James to release new episodes of their series every week on their website. In order to meet these time constraints, Allison Theus joined the team to provide the artwork for the videos.

And just like that, Extra Credits was born! Every week since then, Daniel, James, and Allison point out and analyze complicated problems that games face as a growing medium while proposing possible solutions. They make a very strong case for why video games should be considered a serious art form and are more than ready to show everyone how games can greatly improve society.

While I don't have any real data to support this claim, I think it's pretty safe to say that once the show was hosted on the Escapist's website, its popularity skyrocketed. By releasing episodes every week, it not only kept the series fresh in the minds of their fans, but they were able to quickly build up an arsenal of truly inspiring and thought-provoking episodes. This undoubtedly led to more users passing on these episodes to their friends, family, and acquaintances.

Nearly every story I've heard from an Extra Credits fan about how they found the series starts with someone they know linking them to their videos. For example, I myself found them when my club's advisor from last semester, Wesley Kerr, played an episode during one of our meetings.

Most of the show's fans don't even think of it as a lecture series. They just think it's a cool show that teaches them a lot about games. I personally believe that Extra Credits is going to leave a profound impact on the long-term history of video games. As game enthusiasts become more educated in their medium, the public's perception of video games will start to shift away from seeing video games as mere toys and hopefully towards a respectable art form, much in the same way that film is respected as art.

So where can you watch this series? Well, when this post was originally written, this was the best link that I could give you. Fortunately, (now a week after this post was published) the show has finished moving in to its new home and all of their old episodes will be back up shortly.

Click here to read Part 2.

From left to right: James Portnow, Daniel Floyd, Allison Theus

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