Research

Gaming as Passion
Johan Huizinga (1955) wrote what may be seen as the defining piece on gaming when he examined how the idea of play precedes culture itself. In his examination of the phenomenon of play, which he defined as “a free activity standing…outside ordinary life…not serious but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly.” It exists in its own time and space, according to fixed rules and order, which he referred to as the ‘magic circle’ He also outlined a sense of fairness and suggested that “spoil-sports” get ejected from the play space, sometimes to create their own community. He pointed out that play communities often become permanent after the game is over. (Huizinga, 1955). A half century after Huizinga’s writing, video games have become self contained magic circles, through which an enormous community has erupted surrounding the activities. With that comes plenty of spoil-sports.

Kathryn Thompson (2014) looked at how Reddit user Apostolate manipulated the popular social news site by posting countless comments on posts in well-trafficked sections of the site. By gaining ‘upvotes’ from users to bolster his karma (reddit’s numerical value for on-site popularity), he was able to reach nearly 1.5 million karma points through the quantity instead of quality. Other users of Reddit became aware that he was breaking playful but serious rules for how the site is normally used, and accused him of working too hard and cheating. Thompson looked at Reddit as a place of serious play, often taking up lots of leisure time, and is explicitly not work despite sometimes taking place in work environments and looking similar to work activities. When Apostolate cheated, he revealed the desire to keep work out of spaces designated for play.

Newman noted that “the act of playing games is only part of what is involved in being a gamer and being enmeshed in the culture of videogaming.” (Newman, 2008: 12) and that play doesn’t occur the same way over time. Indeed, video game play occurs in a globally connected online landscape, where experiences can be shared instantly, so “even where a game is played by an individual player in apparent isolation…this ‘solo’ play is always and already located within…the collective knowledge of players…who have contributed to this very public understanding and evaluation of the game through public performances [and] readings” (Newman, 2008: 13).

Newman (2008) thoroughly defined and explored the use and creation of walkthroughs and video game guides. He explained how they are polarizing within the industry, with many people criticizing both gamers and designers for improperly understanding gameplay and therefore requiring the use of a guide. His examination looked at how they are an important part of the community, both for the small subset of gamers who enjoy creating them and the larger audience who regularly utilize them. Game guides allow players to tailor their experience by focusing their energies on some aspects of play more than others.

The authors of unofficial guides are devoted to their work, and generally so passionate about the game that the refinement of their guide takes many years of revision. They often include ample contribution from the community, listed near the bottom along with properly cited IP and copyright information. They are usually products of collective intelligence, as these contributions are actively sought out.

Newman noted the strange simplicity of the text-only writing which outlines technical game mechanics that defies the passion involved in its creation, instead acting like a deconstruction of the game itself. This is especially important when games include side-quests that step out of the linear narrative, and offer up another sort of completion that involves seeing all the game has to offer. With it comes new variations of play-styles depending on how players progress through the game.

Gaming as Social
Newman (2008) explained how the modern consoles generally support up to four controllers and the ability to play over wireless Internet connections, supporting a strong community of discussion. This discussion ranges from criticism of certain levels to manufacturer and hardware comparisons. Built into many games are secrets and various data structures and statistics shared as valuable commodities within the gaming community. Even more valuable are fan translations of exclusive imported from other territories.

Newman (2008) examined how forums, blogs, wikis, and comments lists make up a diverse network of dialogue and discussion in the games space. He noted a sense of kinship as most sites offer plenty of links to related sites. This helps gamers to share in a collective intelligence, and produce artifacts or systems that further aid the communities. Fan theories about game lore help to flesh out the canon beyond that of the original product.

Gamers often engage in challenges that stand apart from those inherently presented in the game. These challenges take the form of artificially imposed limitations which encourage experimentation with the game mechanics, such as completing the game as quickly as possible or self imposed limits on certain capabilities within the game. They necessitate intimate knowledge of the game that isn’t readily available upon a single play-through. He thoroughly examined superplay as the performance of these challenges, where the community comes together to document the minutiae of the game, including glitches and even breaking the typical linear sequence of the game, which aid in the completion of the challenge. The documentation of these attempts is of major importance, as they are usually captured on video and shared online for the public to enjoy and learn from. Thompson (2014) looked at Reddit user Apostolate as analogous to power gamers, who use their time and resources as efficiently as possible.

Newman (2014) also examined the art of machinima, which drastically transforms the game world by removing the goals of the game, like shooting opponents, and transforming it into a creative environment for performances outside of normal play. By utilizing video game environments and characters as cast and location for cinematic production, it becomes a canvas for new art pieces that repositions the potentials of the game that is fundamentally different from normal play or traditional film-making.

Wai Yen Tang (2014) examined the behavior of cheaters in the online PC gaming community Steam, and how they interact with other gamers. He finds that they largely play competitive games, are generally friends with other cheaters, and often lose a large amount of friends when they are banned from the service for cheating by the Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) system, which detects third party modifications to the game’s files on Steam. Tang noted that negative and antisocial behaviors online may correlate with similar behaviors offline.

Community of Interest and Iterative Design
Booth (2009) looked at the practice of fans utilizing wiki technology to re-craft narratives out of pre-existing texts, using the popular television shows Lost and Heroes. This practice showcases how collaborative technology can cause creative work to continue to transform and live long past its completion. Booth described the “process by which communal interactive action constructs and develops a coherent narrative database” as “narractivity” (Booth, 2009, p. 373). Fans construct a working knowledge of the narrative depicted in the media object, and are able to deconstruct and transform it from the knowledge base that they have created.

Burn (2006) examined how games differ from other fan fiction because their production generally discards the game systems that are vital to the games themselves and further highlights the divide between interaction and narrative. Newman (2008) took a close look at FanFiction.Net and how its community collaborates to further the understanding and significance of video game texts by transforming game mechanics into narrative. He examined how fanfiction writers evaluate and review each others work based on creative merit as well as its compatibility with the established canon. Interestingly, he noted how fanart has a stronger reverence for the original artists than that of textual fan fiction, and evaluation more often utilizes direct comparisons to the original works.

Through the nature of serialization, contributors build up a working knowledge base about the material as it is revealed to them in official releases, and piece together mini-narratives about characters or events. These are linked to other articles on the wiki through their connections within the narrative. Fans frequently debate what defines canon as new texts are produced, especially when the series departs from its original development team.

Cara Ellison (2013) looked at how negative feedback towards a game can result in developers changing and updating the work, a process wholly unique to the art form. (Ellison, 2013) Newman (2008) detailed the case of Metal Gear Solid by Konami. In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, they introduced a character named Raiden, who faced large criticism over his androgynous nature that stood opposite to the hero they expected from previous games. The following entry in the series parodied this by creating a character who looked suspiciously similar, who was the gay lover of another character. The subsequent entry in the series, Metal Gear Solid 4, once again addressed the issue, showcasing a Ninja-inspired Raiden who had grown into a destructive badass (2008). Here, Metal Gear director Hideo Kojima’s playful dialogue with the community directly impacted the development of the game.

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