This chapter considers the study of video gamer culture, and has two primary aims, in that it considers, what a video gamer is and what video gamers do? Firstly, in considering what a video gamer is, this chapter considers the conceptualisation of video gamer culture through the lens of video gaming as a culture and video gamers as part of a community. Within the literature of video games, there have been a number of concepts used to describe video gamers and video gamer culture. As Crawford (2012, p.98) states:
The degree to which these terms are critically reflected upon differs greatly from paper to paper, author to author, but the main concepts that have been advocated as useful in understanding video game culture and communities include: subcultures, neo-tribes, fans, knowledge, community, players, Otaku, gamers, scenes and habitus.
Crawford (2012) considers a variety of conceptualisations that have been offered in understanding video gamer culture, in particular those of subcultures, neo-tribes, fans, knowledge communities, players, Otaku, gamers, scenes and habitus. However, and of particular relevance to this research, there has been limited research focusing on the culture of video game events and participation in various video game related practices that are located away from the video gaming screen. Therefore, this provides an opportunity to examine the ‘usefulness’ of various conceptualisations in understanding video gamer culture at specific events.
Secondly, this chapter considers video gamer productivity, or what gamers do? Newman (2008) suggests that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what we call ‘video gamer culture’. As previously mentioned, Newman (2008) is interested in the meaning of video games to players and the myriad ways in which they make use of them besides just playing them. This includes:
…the vibrant productive practices of the vast numbers of videogame fans and players and the extensive ‘shadow economy’ of player-produced walk-throughs, FAQs, art, narratives and event games, not to mention the cultures of cheating, copying and piracy, that have emerged (Newman, 2008, p.vii)
Newman (2008) suggests that the inherently social, productive and creative nature of these cultures that surround and support video gaming, are all but invisible within academic writing on video games and gaming. This suggests the need to consider the cultural and creative production (productive play) that can go into play activities (play communities).
Newman (2008) notes that while some of these activities and communities are ‘reasonably widespread’, others – such as the production of in-depth walkthroughs, fan fiction stories, or fame-inspired costumes – are considered ‘less widespread’. In relation to this research, this chapter therefore focuses on the participatory practices of video gamers within various (and different sized) video game communities.
Finally, this chapter considers the under-explored ‘negative’ side of video game communities, which often include exclusion, oppression, and conflict within communities; an area often over-looked within video game community studies. For instance, it has been suggested that certain ‘minority’ or marginalised groups may find it harder to ‘fit in’ with video game cultures, and this may still be particularly the case for women. Therefore, this chapter also considers the participation and exclusion of women in video games cultures.
3.1. Conceptualising Video Gamer Culture
This section draws on Crawford’s (2012) consideration of the variety of conceptualisations that have been offered in understanding video gamer culture, and in particular those of subcultures, neo-tribes, fans, knowledge communities, players, Otaku, gamers, scenes and habitus. Therefore, this section will examine the ‘usefulness’ of these concepts in understanding the cultures at video game related events, and in doing so specifically will focus on the concepts of subcultures, neo-tribes, fans, knowledge communities, scenes and habitus, as these I will suggest have the most value and relevance to the case under consideration here.
In the book, Video Gamers, amongst the variety of conceptualisations, Crawford (2012) considers Bourdieu’s (1977) work on ‘habitus’ to be a particularly profitable way of understanding video gamer culture. Habitus is a ‘…system of schemes generating classifiable practices and works… [and a] system of schemes of perceptions and appreciation (“taste”)’ (Bourdieu, 1984, p.171). Bourdieu (1977) argues that social life can be understood as consisting of numerous, and interrelated, social spaces, or ‘fields’, where each of these has its own habitus. Crawford (2012) suggests that habitus is similar to what other authors have described as the ‘culture’ of a particular group or society. However, key to Bourdieu’s (1977) understanding of habitus is that this is embodied. This, Jenkins (1992, p.46) argues, is manifested in three ways:
First, in a trivial sense, the habitus only exists inasmuch as it is ‘inside the heads’ of actors (and the head is, after all, part of the body). Second, the habitus only exists in, through and because of the practices of actors and their interaction with each other and with the rest of their environment: ways of talking, ways of moving, ways of making things, or whatever. In this respect, the habitus is emphatically not an abstract or idealist concept. It is not just manifest in behaviour, it is an integral part of it (and vice versa). Third, the ‘practical taxonomies’… are at the heart of the generative schemes of the habitus, are rooted in the body. Male/female, front/back, up/down, hot/cold, these are all primarily sensible – in terms of making sense and of being rooted in sensory experience – from the point of view of the embodied person.
Habitus is defined as ‘an acquired system of generative schemes’ (Bourdieu, 1990, p.55) that we learn through early socialisation processes. Therefore, we learn habitus by coping cultural and physical behaviours; ‘it is acquired unconsciously and present in the way we are disposed within our own bodies’ (Kirkpatrick 2011, p.129). Bourdieu’s (1977) focus on embodied practices widens the perspective on the range of processes through which technology is taken up and used by individuals. This is therefore useful in understanding video gamer culture, because it locates video games within a wider social context.
Although, Bourdieu’s (1977) theory of habitus has been critiqued for being too deterministic (Jenkins, 1992), it is not a set and inflexible culture, which remains static throughout people’s live. For instance, Crawford (2012) argues that the theory of habitus may be useful way of considering video gamer culture, because of its emphasis on embodiment. As Crawford and Rutter’s (2006, pp.155-156) writes:
…part of being a successful player of a deathmatch in Quake is not just a matter of being an accurate shot, but having a feeling for the games’ development and different strategies that inform when to shoot and how to get into the right position to do this. The experienced player uses the know-how of their previous games to develop a sense of their own strengths and weaknesses and can improvise their play in order to manage risk and influence the game’s outcome depending on what is at stake.
Crawford (2012) suggests that playing any game is not just about knowing the rules and acting upon them, but rather video gaming is located within a wider social context. However, most of this is not consciously recognised, but rather expressed and experienced through our embodied encounter with the video game. In relation to this research, the theory of habitus may therefore prove a useful way to consider the embodied experience of video gamers attending video game events (as examined further in chapter 6).
Despite the usefulness of Bourdieu’s (1977) theory of habitus, it is important to examine other conceptualisations in understanding the culture at video game events. However, there have been numerous debates around the relevance of various concepts that have been used to understand video gamer culture. For instance, Frans Mäyrä (2008) suggests that ‘subcultures’ provides a useful way of understanding video game culture, as this reflects how video gamers often organise themselves into groups and behave in ways that are based on particular games, or a particular genre, or the broader phenomenon of gaming. This also includes those with particular interests, values, norms, and sometimes even languages. This suggests that the emergence of video gamer culture is a cultural force that influences individuals in complex ways through cultural trends.
However, there has been limited research focusing on the rising popularity of video game events and the participation in various video game related practices within video gamer culture. Therefore, the culture at video game related events provides a useful way of considering the theoretical tools that have previously been applied to categorise gamers. For example, can subcultural theory be applied the same way to video gamers that attend video game events? Or to what extent can video gamers that attend video game events be conceptualised differently within video gamer culture and video game studies? This suggests the need to consider how video gamers create social environments and how they choose to interpret them? In particular, the social and cultural practices of play with video games.
It is to these terms, their meanings and usefulness in understanding video game culture and communities that I now turn.
3.1.2. Subcultures, Neo-Tribes and Scenes
This section will examine the applicability and limitations of subcultural theory, neo-tribes, and the concept of ‘scenes’, in relation to video game communities at gamer events.
Many authors, such as Yee (2006), Crawford and Rutter (2006), and Mäyrä (2008) have referred video games as a ‘subculture’. The term subculture often refers to any loosely identifiable group that appears to share some kind of common culture, which is in some way different from what would be deemed ‘mainstream’ culture (Cohen, 1972). However, subcultural theory, when it was first proposed, suggested more than just shared practices and common spaces. The origins of subcultural theory can be found in two sociological ‘schools’. The first is the ‘Chicago School’, which from the 1920s onwards, studied interactional and deviant patterns, among others. In particular, the work of Howard Becker (1963) on marijuana users and Albert Cohen’s Delinquent Boys (1955) provides an understanding of how these ‘deviant’ groups hold and express different norms and values from those of a wider society. This suggests that ‘subcultures’ from that have their own value system, in which members can find in-group status and rewards.
From the 1970s, the idea of subculture was developed further most notably at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. For scholars at ‘The Birmingham School’ subcultures were intimately connected to issues of power and struggle. This can be seen in how subcultures often seek to mark themselves out from the dominant culture while simultaneously also accommodate certain aspects of it.
Dick Hedbige (1979) suggests that subcultures emerge through the process of ‘bricolage’, where groups draw on existing consumer goods to develop a distinctive style that marks them from the general public and acts as both a means and identifier of social subversion and resistance. However, subcultures are as much (if not more so) created from outside, rather than within. For instance, Cohen’s (1972) study on Mods and Rockers highlights that the mass media constructed groups of young people as ‘folk devils’ creating a ‘moral panic’: from exaggeration and distortion, prediction and symbolisation. The media used ‘symbolic shorthand's’ such as hairstyles, items of clothing and modes of transports as icons of troublemakers (Cohen, 1972). This suggests that a subculture does not ‘counter’ the norms and values of dominant culture, but instead transforms them through a negotiated reinterpretation.
In relation to video games, Mäyrä (2008) considers video gamers as a subculture that identifies themselves through common shared practices, values and interests:
Subcultures are groups of people who have some practices, values and interests in common and who form through their interaction a distinct group within a larger culture. Members of game subcultures rarely carry distinctive outward signs as punks or skinheads so, but one only has to participate in a meeting of hard-core strategy gamers, visit a role playing convention or take part in a Quake LAN party (a gathering of gamers with their networked-together PCs), when the features of the associated game cultures start becoming apparent (Mäyrä, 2008, p.25)
Mäyrä (2008) suggests that people often share the same language and also interest in artefacts (like original packaged games and gaming devices); where they play the same games and adapt terminologies that suit those purposes. This suggests that when video gamers play together, they frequently occupy a shared space, where they engage in shared rituals of play (Mäyrä, 2008). Therefore, this gives the impression that these constitute a tightly bounded and coherent culture.
However, Crawford (2012) criticises subcultural theory for the failure to consider the movement between subcultures and that this overlook levels of personal choice (agency). Subcultural theory often provides a sense that individuals are immoveable within that subculture; such as punks, goths, teddy boys and so forth. And in particular, this fixed notion of subculture has often been considered to be problematic within contemporary society. For instance, Bauman (1997) suggests that we live in constantly shifting and fluid society, where set identities become useless. This suggests that our identities likewise become fluid, flexible, and based increasingly on consumer choices, which can be easily swapped or adopted to meet our changing needs and circumstances (Baldwin et al., 2004). Therefore, the concept of ‘neo tribes’ from Maffesoli (1996) may provide a more profitable way to theorise of the study of video gamers.
Maffesoli’s (1996) concept of ‘neo tribes’ refers to the formation of these tribes being fluid, loosely organised and by no means fixed, yet still places an emphasis on community and belonging. This concept seems to propose a better argument for an increasingly diverse nature of video gamer culture of permeable and informal communities where individuals move in and out of regularly:
…such as playing a round of Call of Duty with friends online in-between doing homework or discussing tactics for Football Manager during a coffee break at work, before moving on to other duties, identities and, possibly, neo-tribes (Crawford, 2012, p.101).
This suggests that neo-tribes are fluid within a changing nature and membership, which require only a small amount of conformity from their members (Maffesoli, 1996).
In relation to this research, the concept of ‘neo-tribes’ may therefore prove useful, where parallels can be drawn here to the contemporary nature of fandom. Henry Jenkins (2006) highlights that while some fans remain committed to a single show or star, many others use individual series as points of entry into (and then move around within) broader fan community. Fans may also drift from one series commitment to another through an extended period of involvement within ‘fandom’. As Jenkins (1992, p.40) writes:
Susan M. Garrett explains; “A majority of fans don’t simply burn out of one fandom and disappear… In fact, I’ve found that after the initial break into fandom through a single series, fans tend to follow other people into various fandoms, rather than stumble upon programs themselves”
This suggests that fans often incorporate more and more programs into their interests in order to facilitate greater communication with friends who share common interests or possess compatible tastes. This can also be applied to video games. For instance, video gamers are not necessarily content with playing video game alone, but may also participate in various video game related activities, possibly with neo-tribes – where they may participate in more than one video game community and various forms of video game practice.
However, Hodkinson (2002, p.29) argues that we should not be too quick to reject the concept of ‘subcultures’. He argues that rather than attempting to understand the changing nature of communities with yet another new term, he suggests we instead employ a ‘workable and up-to-date concept of subculture’. In particular, he suggests that we can understand the contemporary nature of subcultures through the ideas of identity, commitment, consistent distinctiveness and autonomy. And he suggests that goths provide one example of the continued relevance of the concept of ‘subcultures’. As Hodkinson (2002, p.29) writes:
…in spite of overlaps and complexities, the initial temptation to describe goths using a term such as neo-tribe or lifestyle was gradually tempered by the realization that such a move would have over-inflated the diversity of instability of their grouping. Crucially, fluidity and substance are not matters of binary oppositions, but of degree.
Hodkinson (2002) suggested that there are elements of movement, overlap and change within the goth subculture, but that this does not obfuscate the remarkable levels of commitment, identity, distinctiveness, and autonomy, which were also evident. Firstly, consistent distinctiveness refers to the set of shared tastes and values, which ‘is distinctive from those of other groups and reasonably consistent, from one participant to the next, one place to the next and one year to the next’ (Hodkinson 2002, p.30). This suggests that the goth scene was characterised by a relativity clear set of ideals and tastes. Secondly, Hodkinson (2002) refers identity to the strong sense of ‘us’ and them’. This refers to the perception that individuals are involved in a distinct cultural grouping and share feelings of identity with one another. Thirdly, Hodkinson (2002) highlights that although levels of commitment varied from one individual to another, subcultures are liable to influence extensively the everyday lives of participants in practices, where this concentrated involvement will last years, rather than months:
Depending upon the nature of the group in question, subcultures are liable to account for a considerable proportion of free time, friendship patterns, shopping routes, collections of commodities, going-out habits and even internet use (Hodkinson, 2002, p.31).
Hodkinson (2002) highlights that those who were reluctant to explicitly locate themselves as members, the subculture often dominated their lifestyle in practice. Those who ‘flirted’ around the goth scene’s boundaries tended to receive fewer social rewards, in comparison to those who were consistent with the operation of social pressures relating to tastes and norms. Finally, Hodkinson (2002) refers to the autonomy of productive or organisational activities that are undertaken by and for enthusiasts, suggesting a connection to the society and politico-economic system. As Hodkinson (2002, p.32) writes:
Furthermore, in some cases, profit-making operations will run alongside extensive semi-commercial and voluntary activates, indicating particularly high levels of grass-roots insider participation in cultural production. Therefore, while the exchange of money for goods and services and the use of media technologies had always been integral to participation in the goth scene, we shall see that in Britain in the late 1990s, the record labels, bands, DJs, promoters and producers of fanzines and websites involves were often subcultural participants providing exclusive services for their fellow enthusiasts and, frequently, making little or no money from doing so.
While non-subcultural products and producers were heavily implicated, specialist subcultural events, consumables, and media were playing an unusually significant role in the generation of the grouping. This then suggests that subcultures can be seen as distinguishable from more fluid elective collectiveness by their level of substance.
Although the concept of subculture may not apply to all video gamers, Hodkinson’s (2002) ‘workable and up-to-date conception of subculture’, maybe applicable to video gamers that attend to video game events – where those who attend share may similar tastes and values, such as a shared language. Though video gamers may not necessarily share a distinctive taste in fashion or music, similar to goths, but those who attend video game events, do share a way of identify themselves to like-minded individuals, and this will be considered further, later in the thesis.
Another relevant concept that Hodkinson (2002) draws on, is the notion of a ‘scene’. The term ‘scene’ is typically used by music fans to describe loose-knit categories based around particular music genres. Harris (2000), who focuses upon the plethora of semiautonomous local and translocal scenes surrounding the umbrella genre of extreme metal, defends the word ‘scene’ by emphasizing that it is infinitely malleable and universal:
The implications is that scenes include everything, from tight-knit local music communities to isolated musicians and occasional fans, since all contribute to and feed off a large space(s) of musical practice (Harris 2000, p.25).
Hence, it is suggested that scenes are fluid and hence shift toward and away from one another, and that individuals continually negotiate pathways within and between them (Hodkinson, 2002). For instance, the goth scene illustrates that goths are part of a wider society and culture, most have jobs, interests and friends outside of the goth scene, but they remain part of this scene in their ordinary lives primarily through a sense of identity and their music and fashion choices. However, this scene becomes ‘extraordinary’ and takes on increased significance at certain times and in certain places, such as at goth clubs or, most visibly in the UK, at the bi-annual goth weekends in Whitby in North Yorkshire (Hodkinson, 2002). Therefore, this suggests that it is possible to understand video game culture in a similar way, and in particular, those who attend video game events. For instance, from Crawford and Gosling’s (2008) paper, ‘Freak Scene? Narrative, Audience & Scene’, they utilise the concept of ‘scene’ to consider video gamers as a media ‘audience’. Crawford and Gosling’s (2008) research includes a convenience sample consisting of interviews (face-to-face, telephone and email), diaries, and extensive observations of gamers at play in their own homes, several LAN events (both small and very large), and games arcades, with eighty-two gamers (all based in the UK, sixty-six males, sixteen females, ranging in age from eleven to fifty-six years old). Crawford and Gosling (2008) consider scene to be a useful as it highlights how ‘elective belongings’ are located within our identities and ordinary lives, but can take on extraordinary meaning in certain times and in specific locations. Hence, this concept places particular emphasis on the importance of ‘place’ – which can be applied to video game events. As Crawford (2012, p.108) writes:
Space and place, both in-game and out-of-game, help determine what is, and what is not, possible, and shape they very nature of play. For instance, playing a video game in a NAMCO arcade in a shopping mall is very different from playing in a bedroom or living room; each will shape the nature of gameplay in different ways. Location matters, and location is what helps making video gaming take on extraordinary significance for the video gamer.
The importance of space within video games has been highlighted by several authors, such as the work of Henry Jenkins (2004); however, less consideration has been given to the physical spaces games are played in. With the increasing popularity of video game events, the concept of ‘scene’ could be considered a useful tool for understanding and analysing games events.
As already highlighted, the concepts of both subculture’ and ‘scene’ are often closely linked to that of ‘fans’ and ‘fandom’, and similarly these are terms that have often been employed in attempting to understand gamers and gamer communities. Hence, it is a consideration of these terms that I now wish to turn.
3.1.3. Fans and Fan Activities
This section will explore the possibilities and limitations of classifying video gamers as fans, and the nature of fan activities that often overlap with video gamer culture.
The simple definition of a ‘fan’ typically evokes the idea of someone with an interest or enthusiasm in a certain sport, type of music, television series, or even video games. However, within the fan studies literature, agreeing upon a definition can prove to be problematic, where many writers avoid defining precisely what they mean by the term. As Hills (2002, p.v) states:
Fandom is not simply a ‘thing’ that can be picked over analytically. It is also always performative; by which I mean that it is an identity which is (dis)claimed, and which performs cultural work. Claiming the status of a ‘fan’ may, in certain contexts, provide a cultural space for types of knowledge and attachment. In specific institutional contexts, such as academic, ‘fan’ status may be devalued and taken as a sign of ‘inappropriate’ learning and uncritical engagement with the media.
Throughout its evolution, Fan Studies has tried to situate the fan in relation to popular culture and media; variously as representative, subversive, or cultural consumer. In the past, the fan has been positioned and repositioned as both antagonistic and conformist (MacCallum-Stewart, 2014). Early writings suggest fans as passive, pathologies outsiders; collectively determining them either as a ‘hysterical crowd’ or an ‘obsessed loner’ (Jensen, 1992, p.11). In this early literature there has been little discussion on ‘fandom as a normal, everyday cultural or social phenomenon. Instead the fan is characterised as (at least potentially) an obsessed loner, suffering from a disease of isolation, or a frenzied crowd member, suffering from a disease of contagion’ (Jensen, 1992, p.13). For example, ‘Trekkies’ (a term for fans of Star Trek) became a popular stereotype, depicted as being brainless consumers, devoted to worthless knowledge, placing inappropriate importance on devalued cultural material, and unable to separate fantasy from reality (Jenkins, 1992). Therefore, to claim the identity of a ‘fan’ remains, in some sense, to claim an ‘improper’ identity; ‘…a cultural identified based on one’s commitment to something as seemingly unimportant and ‘trivial’ as a firm or TV series’ (Hills, 2002, p.v). This suggests that fans often struggle to define their own culture and construct their own community within the context of what many observers have described as trivial and worthless.
However, in The Adoring Audience, Jenson (1992) argues that fans should be seen as representative of changes in the media, rather than ostracized outsides. For instance, Jenkins (1992) saw fans as actively engaged with popular culture, and draws on the term ‘Textual Poachers’, to describe the ways that fans (re)appropriate the media texts for their own ends. Jenkins (1992) highlights that ‘poaching’ is a concept to describe the ways media fans take characters, scenarios or narratives from existing texts, such as television shows or film, and use them to produce their own meanings, creativity and pleasure; such as creating new cultural artefacts, such as art, poetry, stories, performances, and so on. Hence, the early work of Jenkins (1992) seeks to emphasize the potentially creative, and even subversive, nature of certain aspects of consumer culture – this suggests that fans are not passive consumers (Schickel, 1986).
In relation to video games, the growth of fans as producer is something that is discussed increasingly in Games Studies. For example, the chapter, ‘When Fans Become Players: The Lord of the Rings Online in a Transmedia World Perspective’ by Klastrup and Tosca (2011, p.46) suggests that ‘Lord of the Rings Online’ [LOTRO] provided an opportunity to ‘come home’ to that place their imaginations conjured when they first encounter this world; usually through books, but also through role-playing or, later, via Peter Jackson’s movies’. As Klastrup and Tosca (2011, p.57) continue:
…they repeatedly return to their favourite texts, collect information about them and the will even maybe produce paratexts (Commentary) or derived texts (like fan fiction) themselves, as Henry Jenkins has so eloquently demonstrated
This suggests that the relation of fans with the object of their fandom is not limited to the purely textual, and that performance and social interaction with other fans are key aspects of these experiences (Sandvoss, 2005). For instance, the motivations behind fan creativity are sometimes referred as a form of ‘gift-giving’, which is largely driven by the ‘promotion of self-interest’ among community members (May, 2002). Therefore, fans often engage with media texts in a more active and creative way, such as ‘poaching’, to create fan fiction and art (Jenkins, 1992).
There are of course, certain similarities with the kinds of fan creativity outlined by Jenkins (1992), and that of certain video gamers, such as modders, hackers, walkthrough writers and so forth. For instance, Crawford (2012, p.103) writes:
Just as Jenkins’s Star Trek and Dr Who fans take storylines and characters and use them to create art and poetry, Doom or Quake modders may take game codes and use them to create game add-ons or adaptations, or EverQuest gamers take narratives and settings to write new dictions around them.
Crawford (2012) suggests that there have been struggles between fans and official producers of television shows and films over the use of intellectual property, such as characters and storylines, and similarly it can be seen that video gamers have frequently encountered legal challenges to their production of game modifications and so forth. For example, in December 2015, the ‘Super Smash Brothers’ mod (game modification), known as ‘Project M’ (Project M Development Team, 2011) finished with their final release, v3.6. However, as Klepek (2015, p.1) writes, ‘the website for Project M has been stripped bare, download links and all… Project M was ‘controversial’ because it was never sanctioned by Nintendo’. The Project M Development Team (PMDT) ‘abandoned’ further development on Project M to work on other game-related ideas; though it ‘denies claims’ that this is due to legal tussles with Nintendo.
Most of the academic discussions of ‘modding’ (the act of making game mods) are structured around the level of adding game data. Aarseth (1997) and Raessen (2005), refers modding as ‘addition’ or ‘construction’ for new game elements – that also include fuzzy and incoherent practices such as taking advantage of bugs and glitches that have an effect on the game’s functions and mechanics in certain ways (Sihvonen 2011). Sihvonen’s (2011) study on ‘mods’ suggests that many player activities in The Sims tend to be fundamentally based on the practices of sharing gameplay tips, hints and experiences as well as distributing the actual mods. As Sihvonen (2011, p.106) writes:
Besides the general game discussions often revolving around materials such as tutorials, walkthroughs and cheating guidelines, there are thousands of websites where players reflect on their own gameplay experiences and produce it publicly by making it visible through the redirection of the game engine
For Sihvonen (2011), modding is one of many forms of fan productivity, which promotes fan creativity to be publically demonstrate a sense of community among community members:
Modding is an individualistic activity, in the sense that it is very much based on the personal preferences of players, but at the same time it is likely that only a fraction of The Sims mods are kept private and most of them are being distributed (freely on the internet, through various kinds of web pages… personal effect is greatly valued but the dissemination of the end products takes place within an (enclosed) community of like-minded individuals, often results in a kind of meritocratic social structure (Sihvonen 2011, pp.117-118).
Modding has been placed within the contexts of participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006), and the political-economic implications of dissolving of the boundaries between production and consumption. However, modding is regarded as post-industrial unwaged labour, or ‘playbour’, and the developer companies are seen to reap the benefits of the work done by the largely recreational modding community (Kücklick, 2005). This suggests that fan creativity may not necessarily be profit driven.
Similarly, Turkle’s (2005) study on Hacker Culture, suggests that hackers are often after the thrill of triumph, rather than material goods. As Turkle’s (2005, p.213) writes:
Many hackers are expert lock pickers and carry their ‘picks’ around with them on their key chains. Their pleasure is in ‘beating’ the lock. They break, they enter, and then they leave. They are not after material goods, but after the thrill of triumph
Tukle (2005) highlights that the term ‘hacker’ has been stretched and applied to so many different groups of people that it has become impossible to say precisely what a hacker is. In general, the term ‘hacker’ often refers to curiosity, and the desire to grasp how things work through the use of any tool, computer, or mechanism. Hackers illustrate a particular aspect of online culture that is more properly called a subculture, a culture that is both inherently tied to a large culture, but also resistant to it. Turkle (2005) argues that hackers can speak openly about hacking, tools and techniques and can boast proudly about systems they have entered. However, hackers will rarely trade passwords or specific bugs, ‘what they cannot, and for the most part will not, do is betray the information that gave them access’ (Turkle, 2005, p.188). For instance, Turkle (2005) portrays hackers engaging with computers to show mastery, enjoying science fiction, and practicing rites of passage to form communities. The self-representation of hackers-as-outsiders ‘knowing things better’ than the experts-on-the-inside resembles the attitude of members of a counterculture (Alberts and Oldenziel, 2014, p.2). Similar to aspects of fandom, this suggests a shift from the site of cultural resistance, to a representation of the self (Sandvoss, 2005). As Sandvoss (2005, p.48) writes:
Conceptualizing fans as performers, rather than recipients of mediated texts, thus offers an alternative explanation of the intense emotional pleasures and rewards of fandom. As the fabric of our lives is constituted through constant and staged performances (Goffman 1959/1990), the self becomes a performed, and hence symbolic, object. In this sense fandom is not an articulation of inner needs or drives, but is itself constitutive of the self. Being a fan in this sense reflects and constructs the self. The concept of self in the analysis of fandom as performances, as well as, incidentally, in Goffman’s work, thus coincides with symbolic interactionism and its emphasis on the creation and continuous re-creation of the self in everyday life
Sandvoss’s (2005) argument is useful, as it positions fans as performers who form an identity through the text. This implies a subtle manipulation by the fan, who becomes more self-aware and more engaged with reiterating core tenets of the text through their own practices (MacCallum-Stewart, 2014). In particular, MacCallum-Stewart (2014) suggests that gaming fans fit well into this construction since through play, they are already used to understanding the game as performed text, and have a keen appreciation of their self also existing as player/avatar. The gaming fan exists in a liminal space in which they are self-aware of this positioning and able to respond creativity to it (MacCallum-Stewart, 2011).
Furthermore, MacCallum-Stewart (2011) suggests that space within the game world itself, the development of sematic and aesthetic elements can encourage the players’ to respond to the game through fan-based activities, such as role-playing events, fan fiction, and podcasting:
It is also important to note that, even within a role-playing community, players may take ‘time out’ from their usual play styles in order to enjoy role-playing, ‘down-time’ tasks such as socialising or waiting for other players (MacCallum-Stewart, 2011, p.71)
Some players use this ‘downtime’ – points at which they are not engaged with the game directly – in order to expand on their experiences in more creative ways. This activity includes the construction of fan art, machinima, modding, forum postings and blogs – in short, all the extraneous output we expect to see from fans appropriating texts in a convergent manner (Jenkins, 2006). Fan production is undoubtedly, as Henry Jenkins argues, a way of reclaiming territory in which the reader has previously been marginalised. This fan-based production, then, supports the idea that space within MMORPGs is limited for role players; the need to reclaim and rewrite it outside the game shows that there must be a form of exclusion working within it (Jenkins, 1992). However, fan production is also a way of celebrating the text in its original form, proving this it is inspirational enough to deserve recreation elsewhere (Hills, 2002) (MacCallum-Stewart 2011, p.87-88).
MacCallum-Stewart (2014) suggests that fandom is not only becoming an active procedure, but that pod- and web-casting has enabled new forms of creative output. For instance, Hills’ (2006) notion of the ‘elite fan’, or ‘Big Name Fan’s’ (BNF) highlights that gaming fans are becoming celebrities within an environment that has not hitherto provided a platform for ‘real’ voices and personalities. This suggest that web- and pod-casters are becoming a visible element in gaming culture, where it has recently begun to create its own celebrities.
In relation to my research, using fan studies to explain the participation of various video game-related practices may be useful. For instance, there are parallels between the activities of media fan producers and also some video games, who make mods, hacks, and walkthroughs, and so on. It may also be useful in respects where it explores the reasons for attendance at various video game events among some video gamers. For instance, celebrities (elite fans or big name fans) and casters often receive invitations to participate in workshops, or complete in tournaments and competitions, or to commentate on professional eSports or live matches; this may then attract other fans to meet or see them.
However, Crawford (2012) considers the term ‘fan’ to be ill equipped to describe all video gamers and identifies two issues with this. Firstly, there is a tendency to see fans as necessarily as ‘active’, and the wider population as invariably passive; ‘but such over-generations rarely hold true for all fans or wider audiences, all of the time’ (Crawford, 2012, p.103). Secondly, assuming the all video gamers are fans must is also problematic; ‘while it might seem applicable to refer to an individual who produces and maintains a website dedicated to the Final Fantasy video games series (of which there are many), as a fan, can we say the same for every player of a video game, even the most uninterested and unimpressed?’ (Crawford, 2012, p.104). Crawford (2012) argues that although players usually take an active role in gaming, this is not necessarily the same as being an active participant in a gaming community. Furthermore, he argues it is a mistake to depict all players as unilaterally active because of the nature of games. And even Jenkins’ (2006) work on fandom has moved on somewhat, towards a wider consideration of the changing nature of media audiences and what he refers to as ‘knowledge communities’.
3.1.4. Knowledge Communities
In the development of Jenkins’ (2006) work, he proposes the term ‘knowledge community’ to describe contemporary media users, including video gamers. Jenkins (2006) argues, that rather than focusing on whether particular technology, such as video games or the internet are interactive; we should consider the interactions that occur among media consumers, between media consumers and media texts, and between consumers and media producers. In particular, Jenkins (2006) draws on Pierre Lévy’s (1997) work on ‘collective intelligence’, whose concept of collective intelligence is employed as a way of describing how and why online communities collectively act to pool resources and add individuals work to a greater whole? This suggests that self-organised groups are held together by shared patterns of production and mutual knowledge. Lévy (1997, p.257) suggests that intelligence and human knowledge have always played a central role in social life, and there are three aspects of newness within collective intelligence, from speed, mass and tools.
Speed: This refers to the rate of knowledge – in particular, to science and technology that has been rapidly evolving
Mass: This refers to the number of people who will be asked to learn and produce forms of knowledge.
Tools: This refers refer to the appearance of new tools (cyber spatial tools) capable of bringing forth, within the cloud of information around us.
Similarly, Jenkins (2006, pp.135-136) suggests that we should consider the rise of new participatory culture of media users in three trends:
New tools and technologies that enable consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content;
A range of subcultures promote Do-It-Yourself (DIY) media production, a discourse that shapes how consumers have deployed those technologies; and
Economic trends flavouring the horizontally integrated media conglomerates encourage the flow of images, ideas and narratives across multiple media channels and demand more active modes of spectatorship.
Jenkins (2006) argues that participatory engagement with contemporary consumer practices is part of an increasing ‘convergence culture’, which has become increasingly mainstream. Convergence is a term that has been used to describe the blurring of media boundaries, and usually in terms of media forms and technologies – such as mobile telephones that can play music, and televisions that can surf the internet. For Jenkins, convergence culture is also about a blurring between user and producer patterns and new forms of collaboration and participation:
No longer a couch potato, he determines what, when, and how he watches media. He is a media consumer, perhaps a media fan, but he is also a media producer, distributor, publicist, and critic. He’s the poster child of the new interactive audience’ (Jenkins 2006, p.135).
In relation to this research, knowledge communities may prove to be useful for considering the growing forms of participation. However, to date, it is primarily the online participatory nature of gamer communities that has been considered in the gaming literature, but this research suggest the need to also consider (in greater depth) offline participatory culture of gamers. Hence, I now turn to video considering in more detail the literature on video gamer productivity and gamer communities.