an ethnographic study of esports fandom

“eSports consumers can concurrently play, watch and participate in institutional governance, such that these activities are dynamically intertwined within the broader social performances of eSports consumption. This phenomenon highlights an increasing need to revisit our understanding of how contemporary computer games are consumed, moving beyond the player interactions with the game interface alone.”

Seo, Y. and Jung, S., 2016. Beyond solitary play in computer games: The social practices of eSports. Journal of Consumer Culture, 16(3), pp.635-655.

Sports fandom and media cultures are inherently linked; an increased involvement of big business, mass media, and advancements in media technologies have contributed to many sports becoming global phenomena. From the early days of radio and newspaper columns, to satellite and cable television, and even now with the internet (Crawford, 2004, pp. 12, 130). Sports fandom is an example of a participatory media culture, in which members of an informal community surrounding their favourite sports, teams, or players are allowed to contribute to a shared identity through media technologies. They can do this through affiliations in online communities, creating media content as a form of expression, collaborating as teams to develop common knowledge, and controlling the circulation of media flows with actions like blogging, retweeting or sharing (Jenkins, 2006). These practices expand into the realm of esports, an industry of organised competitive gaming. This emergent field of formalised competition blends together the digital world with sports fandom culture even further than previously before. Consumers can celebrate high-skilled players and competitive gaming by authenticating their fandom practices in the real world, beyond the boundaries between the ‘online’ and ‘offline’ dichotomy of gaming and the physical space (Seo and Jung, 2016).  Just like traditional sports, a degree of understanding the competitive gameplay is required to fully participate in the consumption of esports media. There is unique language, symbols, and shared cultures surrounding consumption to be learnt. (Seo, 2016). The shared consumption practices of esports are spread through the use of digital technologies, such as social media, content-creation websites, blogs and the computer games themselves. This peer-to-peer teaching, an informal way of learning through digital cultures and spaces, exemplifies the informal mentorship experienced in participatory media cultures (Jenkins, 2006). 

In observing the way that esports are engaged with outside of the self-contained digital space, there exist many similarities to traditional sports. The footage above shows a group of esports fans gathering together for a viewing party of the League of Legends 2019 Championship Series’ semifinals game, between two of the most acclaimed teams from their respective regions. The group of friends sit around the couch together, order in fast-food, drink beers, and share each other’s thoughts as the match progresses. There are also moments where the friends cheer and yell, or cry out in amazement. Overall, their consumption practices show evidence of a shared understanding and enjoyment for competitive gaming outside of just the digital confines of League of Legends user interface. It is known that with this shared knowledge learnt through participatory media engagement, consumers will find pleasure in watching others play their beloved sports at an exceptionally skilled level (Seo and Jung, 2016). However, there are other factors that contribute to an individual’s investment in esports fandom. When asking professional League of Legends player from Melbourne, Jackson “Pabu” Pavone, why he supports his favourite esports teams, he responded;

“I like the players on these teams and the players are fun to watch either for their personality or for their interesting gameplay.”

– Pabu

This aspect of esports fandom encompasses player celebrity and the concept of ‘sports personalities’. Social networking plays a key role in esports fandom culture in more ways than one. While it does allow for the circulation and expression of sports fan content, it also acts as a tool of self-promotion and representation for athletes. Even in the case of traditional sports, Twitter and its ‘telegram-like’ platform has accommodated a shift in sports public relations and journalism by accelerating information flows and the spread of digital media productions (Hutchins, 2011).

As for the ways in which esports fans express their fandom, there are a few unique ways to show off their team colours in digital media spaces;

“I watch streams of players I like sometimes but mostly just wearing icon / tweets in support.”

– Pabu

Game and social media profiles allow users to show support by uploading their team’s logo and colours as their personal icon, and the Twitter platform’s use of hashtags facilitates a ‘live-tweeting’ culture that is commonly practiced by esports fans. During or leading up to the broadcast of a big game, users can share their thoughts and digital creations under hashtags, creating a specialised live-feed of activity (Hutchins, 2011). This is an example of a digital space for participatory media culture, whereas activities like viewing parties, stadium tickets, merchandise and other physical consumption practices authenticate these digital experiences in the real world (Seo and Jung, 2016). The internet also allows for high levels of fan participation compared to legacy media outlets like television and radio, such as in newsgroups, bulletins, fan sites, social networking and online gambling (Crawford, 2004, p. 141).

Although esports does have presence in the physical space, it also transcends the limitations of geographical proximity. Often sports teams and fandom identity are brought together by geographic location (Crawford, 2004, p. 53), but in the case of esports the existence of widespread online broadcasts through platforms like Twitch and YouTube breaks down this cultural trend in traditional sports fandom;

“The main [aspect of esports] that is interesting to me is due to a lack of geographical bounds teams are often not arbitrarily assigned to you based on where you live and thus they need to show what makes them worth it.”

– Pabu

Although it is still an emergent media sphere, esports encapsulates the convergence of the real spaces with the digital spaces of fan consumption and play. Much like traditional sports, it allows for participatory cultures enacted through digital media to form shared communities and identities through the consumption of esports mass media. By ethnographically observing the media culture of esports the similarities with traditional sports, as well as the differences that set it apart, are evident through the behaviours and practices of esports fans in relation to new media technologies and platforms.

References

Crawford, G., 2004. Consuming sport. London: Routledge.

Hutchins, B., 2011. THE ACCELERATION OF MEDIA SPORT CULTURE. Information, Communication & Society, 14(2), pp.237-257.

Jenkins, H., 2006. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Part One). [online] Henry Jenkins.

Seo, Y. and Jung, S., 2016. Beyond solitary play in computer games: The social practices of eSports. Journal of Consumer Culture, 16(3), pp.635-655.

Seo, Y., 2016. Professionalized consumption and identity transformations in the field of eSports. Journal of Business Research, 69(1), pp.264-272.

 

(Special thanks to Pabu for taking time to answer some questions!)

Game Media Digital Artefact; Let’s Play FFIV Remakes

I’ve been working on a “Let’s Play” series of Final Fantasy IV (1991). This game has a special place in my heart; it was one of the first games to make me realise while growing up that video games are media texts capable of telling complex, compelling narratives just like film, television, and other forms of digital media. However, I believe that if it weren’t for my encounter with the Nintendo DS remake (2007) of this classic SNES game, I probably would have never played a single Final Fantasy game in all my life. For this reason, I wanted to make a digital artefact that analyses the intertextual value of remaking classic video games on newer platforms with increased software and hardware capabilities. The “Let’s Play” format allows me to share my own meaningful FFIV experience with an online audience that features comment, praise and critique on each of my selected remakes. Hopefully I am creating a valuable media paratext with social utility for fans of the Final Fantasy series, and also for newcomers who wish to learn about the Final Fantasy games and their stories.

Active audience members, fans in particular, challenge media researchers to look not only at their consumption of the primary object of interest but also at how fans interact with other fans, how they make sense of their interests, how their interest is sustained through intertextual means, and how they go beyond mere consumption to active production of media of their own that comment on, praise, and critique the media products that so interest them.

Consalvo, M. (2003). Zelda 64 and Video Game Fans: A Walkthrough of Games, Intertextuality, and Narrative. Television & New Media, 4(3), 321–334. 

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Research

After settling on my concept, I began to research my topic by gathering any useful sources of information that would help in forming an analytical framework and guide my digital creation process. I started by reading popular news articles from game media websites ([1], [2], [3]) about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ video game remakes. These lists mostly outlined reasons for and against remakes in terms of each game’s formal elements; graphics, sound, gameplay features, controls, characters, narrative etc. Although this structuralist approach is essential to the appraisal of a remake, there is also a post-structuralist layer beneath the surface that is important in understanding why changes to the game’s formal elements are considered either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

I decided to gather some primary data by polling fans of the Final Fantasy series on Reddit (r/finalfantasy), in two threads that can be found here and here. There were many different responses reflecting individual player experiences.

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I also looked at an interview with the original lead designer of Final Fantasy IV, Takashi Tokita, which discusses the PSP remake release. It provided rich insight into the development of this version and how it aimed to capture the integrity of the original while still enhancing the experience, something that I found through my primary research is important to many fans when assessing a remake.

Finally, David Heineman’s (2014) analysis of public memory, retrogaming, and nostalgia was useful in understanding why players enjoy and anticipate remakes. It allows them to revisit an aspect of shared public memory with a fresh coat of paint and quality of life improvements designed to enhance an experience that already is avidly replayed in retrogaming communities. This essay also briefly touches on emulation, a method of replaying old video games on PC that transforms the experience with new features (save states, romhacking, fast-forward). Because of these convenient features and ease of recording footage through console emulation, I chose to use this method when creating my “Let’s Play”.

What is interesting about nostalgia in video gaming is that re-released games do, in a sense, afford players the possibility to return to an exact same “home,” a virtual environment that was present when they originally played a particular game.

Purchasing a used Nintendo Entertainment System and playing the original Final Fantasy game more than twenty years after it was initially released results in a much different kind of nostalgic experience (one that requires one’s physical and mental attention) than can be provided by more passive nostalgic media experiences, such as viewing a film or playing records.

Retrogaming communities facilitate shared reminiscences about those “homes” to which participants continually return.

Heineman, David. (2014). Public Memory and Gamer Identity: Retrogaming as Nostalgia. Journal of Games Criticism, 1(1), 1–24.

 

Analytical Framework

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The design of my analytical framework was guided by Clara Fernández-Vara’s Introduction to Game Analysis and my research.

Firstly, my goal is to unpack the intertextual value of remakes for two different types of players; those who have played the original game, and those who have not. It is clear that my approach to appraising a remake should change under this condition, as it represents a shift in context surrounding the player’s experience. For example, with Final Fantasy IV, a fan will play the remake and assess it in relation to their personal experience with the original game. However, a newcomer will go through the meaning-making process differently. The value of a Final Fantasy IV remake to newcomers could be found in the ease of accessibility when released on newer platforms, or in any other changes and updates that help lower the entry barrier.

After considering the context surrounding player experiences and the socio-cultural environment in which the remake was released, I analyse the player experience itself. This is a post-structuralist look into how the remakes are received by players. My “Let’s Play” will act as a shared and documented player experience that pays careful attention to each remake in relation to each other and the original game. While doing so, I will be mindful of acknowledging player experiences and opinions that are different to my own, based on my primary research from Reddit and other fan forums.

Which brings me to the final point of my triangulation, the changes made in each remake’s formal elements. These will be observed through comparison, and then discussed in relation to the context and player experience. In Final Fantasy IV, the most relevant of these formal elements are the graphics (backgrounds and character sprites/portraits), music, difficulty, battle system, localisation (script), and various smaller gameplay features.

 

Methodology and Progress

I had originally intended to upload this “Let’s Play” series to the Twitch streaming platform, though later changed to YouTube instead. I outlined my reasons for this change in my project beta; the game did not suit the live stream format due to long periods of repeated grinding and dungeon crawling that halted progression through the game’s narrative, and it was also alienating my existing aggregated Twitch audience (I usually live stream competitive digital card games and tournaments). This was apparent through a lack of initial engagement with my digital artefact.

Now, by cutting and editing my “Let’s Play” footage I am able to create an abridged and cinematic experience for my viewers. The first episode of my series, uploaded to YouTube and then shared both on Twitter and Reddit, received significantly more engagement than my live streams. I even got a few subscribers on my brand new channel. The only issue I’ve run into so far is low audience retention, which is likely due to having about 2-3 minutes of just analysis and discussion about the remake at the beginning of the video. I plan to change this in future by moving that content to the video description, and instead jumping straight into gameplay. I’d also like to improve my video thumbnails, using other popular “Let’s Play” channels as a reference point.

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Audience Retention

I am emulating three different versions of FFIV on my PC and recording my footage with Open Broadcaster Software. This footage is then edited in Sony Vegas and uploaded to my YouTube channel. Each episode is about 25 minutes long. Between each episode, I seamlessly switch to a different FFIV remake, picking up from exactly where I left in the previous episode. In order to achieve this, I have to play through each version up to my desired game state and then create a save file at this point. Although it sounds tricky, I have made a written plan of the exact points in the narrative I want to stop and start at so that I can prepare save files ahead of time. This method also benefits greatly from the console emulators’ save-state and fast-forward features.

 

Conclusion and Reflection

After receiving feedback for my beta, I aimed to integrate more course concepts into my media analysis. The Heineman reading about nostalgia and retrogaming was very relevant and useful to my topic. When discussing how some gamers prefer 2D sprites to 3D character models from some remakes, or changes to the game’s musical score due to hardware limitations, I was able to apply concepts relating to shared public memory and the re-visiting of familiar virtual spaces and how they facilitate a nostalgic, retrogaming community. I have also been using passive audience engagement as a feedback loop, with an increase in views, likes and subscribers indicating a successful iteration cycle for my project. Overall, I am very happy with the trajectory of my digital artefact, and I feel like I’ve laid the foundations of a project I’d like to continue outside of this subject. My digital literacy in video-editing has definitely improved, as previously I’ve only ever done live streams with very minimal time spent video-editing my own projects. As for how I’d approach this idea differently next time, I found it difficult to increase the depth of my analysis throughout my “Let’s Play” commentary, as I was focused on gameplay and using a casual tone. I think this project would benefit from a supplementary blog post or video essay that clearly outlined my main arguments about the value of each remake.

research project pitch [part 2]; qualitative research methods and planned format

I’ve decided to focus my research project on the fandom cultures and customs surrounding the live-viewing of sporting events. My chosen medium of presentation for the ethnographic observation is inspired by the television program Gogglebox Australia and the general reaction video format that has been popularised on the internet. Currently, both the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2019 League of Legends World Championship are broadcasting live to select platforms. Being a fan of both Rugby and League of Legends, I plan to film myself and family or friends watching and reacting to games from each of the tournaments, and later cut together the footage to compare the practices of each subculture. I’ll be looking for common or contrasting behaviours, objects, and practices (food and drinks, cheering and talking, physical interaction, pets, viewing space etc.)

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This video will be accompanied by a written report that summarises the observations made from the captured footage, and supplements the ethnographic study with qualitative data gathered in one-on-one interviews with sports and esports fans. I also aim to support my work with the work of media theorist Henry Jenkins, focusing on participatory media cultures and fandom.

In accordance with the principles of visual ethnography as proposed by Sarah Pink, I will strive for reflexivity and ethical practice in conducting my research. This includes being aware of my own social context and possible bias, while also ensuring my research participants are comfortable, consenting, and fully informed of their role in my final presentation. My footage aims to embody an experience within a particular subculture, and will hopefully succeed in documenting the practices of sports and esports fans when consuming the relevant media. In order to do so effectively, I must find participants who will consent fully to appearing on camera and having their experiences shared in public online spaces.

“Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.”

“Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material. Identify yourself and your employer before obtaining any interview for publication or broadcast. Never exploit a person’s vulnerability or ignorance of media practice.”

MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics

research project pitch [part 1]; sports fandom and participatory cultures

In my high school ‘Society and Culture’ class I submitted an extensive research report about the global esports phenomenon. At this time, the industry had only just started formalising and regulating the structure of competitive gaming after the last decade saw tremendous growth worldwide. Esports is a subculture of competitive sports involving video games. Like traditional sports, there are many different types of esports; big titles like League of Legends, Overwatchand Dota 2 all have corresponding, organised competition platforms that feature professional players, teams, and coaches. Although the formalisation of competitive gaming has existed since the early days of video games, the esports industry has seen its most significant growth and legitimisation in recent years with the capability of live-streamed events, sponsorship, player salaries, and large sums of prize money.

My research focused on comparing esports with traditional sports, and the process of legitimising the esports subculture on a macro scale. Although it was only three years ago, so much has changed for esports in the short period between now and when I wrote that report. In observing the phenomenon now, I see a subculture with firmly placed roots worldwide that continues to grow. Esports has experienced its ‘adolescent’ phase, finding its place in our global media sphere, and now continues forward into ‘adulthood’ with a clearly defined structure and aggregated audience.

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Sports fandom encompasses communities that form around the shared enjoyment and support of particular sports, sporting teams, or professional players. These groups of fans engage in participatory media cultures; they do not act exclusively as passive consumers, instead they are also interacting with the media they consume. This can occur through creation of media para-texts (memes, tweets, forums, blogs etc.) or by enforcing customs and traditions associated with the media consumption (posters, pom-poms, instruments, jerseys, viewing parties etc.)

Jenkins et al. (2009) define a participatory culture more specifically as one that consists of:

  1. Relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  2. Strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others 
  3. Some type of informal mentorship in which the most experienced members pass along their knowledge to novices
  4. Members who believe their contributions matter
  5. Members who feel some degree of social connection with one another and care about other members’ opinions about their contribution

Anon, 2019. Fandom and Participatory Culture – Subcultures and Sociology. Grinnell College.

Your typical viewing party for a sports match, especially grand finals and championships, is accompanied by countless fandom traditions and behaviours. I’d like to ethnographically research these customs, and also explore the psychology of sports fandom; why do you support these teams, why do you enjoy watching these competitions? I will support my primary research with the work of media theorists like Henry Jenkins, specifically relating to participatory cultures in media consumption. In my next blog post, I plan to discuss my ethnographic research methods in more detail and outline the format I would like to use when presenting my research.

 

References

Anon, 2019. Fandom and Participatory Culture – Subcultures and Sociology. Grinnell College. 

Larch, F., 2019. The History of the Origin of eSports. ISPO.

Miller, P., 2019. 2011: The Year of eSports. PCWorld.

Popper, B., 2013. Field of streams: how Twitch made video games a spectator sport. The Verge.

critical self-reflection of comments (part 2)

Beta #1; ‘Mr Pickles Wants Your Ball’ by Hannah

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Hannah is making a short series of video essays about game modding as participatory media culture, focusing on the ‘Vinesauce Corruption Mod’ for Nintendogs. She has uploaded a prototype video and further developed her analytical framework.

In my comment, I told Hannah that her research and engagement with the subject materials has been thorough and comprehensive. I shared an academic research report about modding (Bostan & Kaplancali) that examines the psychoanalytical aspects of modding, including player motivations and intentions. I also talked about different types of modding, contrasting fun, “breaking” mods to practical, “fixing” mods. I’m hoping Hannah considers these approaches to analysing mods in her upcoming video essays. I gave some feedback for the video essay, suggesting more humor and the implimentation of an informal tone to match the fun, silly nature of the ‘Corruption Mod’. Finally, I recommended some outlets for help with setting up and using the ‘DeSmuMe’ Nintendo DS emulator to avoid future complications with capturing gameplay.

[Hannah’s Blog]

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Beta #2; ‘AI in Video Games’ by Tamara

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Tamara is writing a series of blog posts exploring Artificial Intelligence in video games, observing a variety of games such as Mario Kart and Fortnite. She has made two blog posts in total, and intends to create more while also updating her existing ones.

In my comment, I told Tamara that I liked her blog post format because it compliments her topic. My main point of feedback was that she could have chosen more suitable titles for exploring AI in video games, in particular Fortnite ‘Battle Royale’ does not have a clear use of AI technologies because it does not have NPC’s. I shared a variety of news articles and Reddit threads that list game titles known for good or bad AI implementation, and suggested that Tamara use the media archaeology approach in her analysis. I also shared a journal article (Michael Mateas) about expressive AI in video game design. I praised Tamara for making her blogs a multimedia experience with embedded videos and podcasts, and recommended she record her planned interview with a twitch streamer in a podcast format too.

[Tamara’s Blog]

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Beta #3; ‘Scaping a Re-Birth’ by Serena

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Serena is unpacking the role of nostalgia in either reviving popular video games, or potentially compromising their future development. She is using the divide between Old School RuneScape (OSRS) and the flagship RuneScape 3 (RS3) as an example. The DA will be one large multimedia blog post, and so far Serena has published a draft including a complete interview with an OSRS player.

In my comment, I told Serena that the primary research methods on her blog and beta video will be very effective in enriching her final post. I also complimented her main thesis of ‘re-birth or division’ in the RuneScape community, and cited similar cases where separate communities are developing around the new and old versions of popular MMORPG’s. I also commented on the prevalence of nostalgia marketing in the gaming industry in the released remakes of classic games and consoles. I gave Serena some general feedback about the formatting of her blog post, and shared a brief web article (Mark Hill) about the potentially risky patterns of nostalgia marketing in the gaming industry to help with her argument of nostalgia hindering a game’s future development. I did not suggest much for Serena about her DA’s direction because I was already impressed by the trajectory of her project.

[Serena’s Blog]

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Critical Self-Reflection

With this round of comments, I consciously attempted to make my feedback more brief and concise. I think I succeeded in posting shorter comments, though one comment may still be considered lengthy because I felt it was necessary to give comprehensive feedback in that case. I think my biggest improvement was that I focused on the direction of each person’s DA and offered suggestions for enhancing their projects, rather than my previous overly-analytical approach that mostly assessed the blog posts and videos based on the marking criteria. I also believe that I engaged with the subject materials and concepts more in my feedback this time. Most importantly, looking at other DA’s through a critical lens has allowed me to practice the essential skill of reflection and critique in the context of digital literacy. In turn, I will now be able to assess my own DA more effectively by applying the same method of review throughout my progress.

prototyping the “let’s play” shuffle; even a lack of engagement is useful feedback

 

Following up on my Digital Artefact pitch; After prototyping two live-streams on my Twitch channel, I’ve made a few changes to my format, though my concept remains intact. I’ve further developed my analytical framework using Clara Fernández-Vara’s book Introduction to Game Analysis’ as a guide. 

Unfortunately, my Twitch chat was entirely dead for both streams, and I peaked at 4 unique viewers. It seems despite already aggregating an audience for my channel, the drastic difference in content did not appeal to any of my 55 followers. I can’t say much about how effective sharing the event on my socials was either. I have decided the live-stream format won’t work for this ‘Let’s Play’ series. By attaching the episodes to a schedule and trying to encourage live discussion, I am also (inadvertently) discouraging engagement with the video after the broadcast as well. Many people will miss the live stream due to time zones or their own personal schedules, not all potential viewers will catch the Twitch VOD (video on demand), and having long sections of my streams without any commentary lessens the quality of the content when watching it ‘un-live’ on YouTube re-uploads.

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Screenshot from one stream. The large blank space to the right of the gameplay window was for two reasons; a) I didn’t want to stretch the resolution of the GameBoy emulator too much as the image would possibly be blurry or lower quality, b) the empty space was meant to be accommodating an embedded live chat, that did not get used at all 😔 meaning that on a YouTube video episode, this layout looks awkward and has too much negative space.

Initially I considered changing the format to an entirely different one, such as critical blog posts or a video essay series. However, a comment on my DA pitch prompted me to research further into the ‘Let’s Play’ subculture. I found an article by Burwell and Miller in the E-Learning and Digital Media journal that explores the ‘Let’s Play’ genre and its function as a gaming paratext. They argue that LP’s allow commentary and analysis that develops gaming literacy.

“In recent years, a great deal of scholarly work has been done to consider video games as productive sites for the development of creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and collaborative skills (e.g., Gee, 2003Hayes and Duncan, 2012Steinkuehler, 2007). This work has challenged the video game’s reputation as a mindless diversion, and has instead shown that games encourage thinking and learning, and play an important role in the production of cultural capital amongst young people. Much of this work explores games as a form of literacy.”

“Inherent in the Let’s Play video is an invitation to viewers to join in the game play; here, we invite the reader to see the complex meaning-making and social practices associated with this emerging paratext.”

– Burwell, C., & Miller, T. (2016).

After reading this article, I was assured that I would be able to effectively use the LP genre as my DA format when analysing and making meaning of the Final Fantasy games. I’ve decided that YouTube seems to be the most appropriate platform for an LP series as twitch channels often fall into either competitive or social streamer categories, the latter requiring lots of time to build-up an engaged and loyal viewership. I’ll be editing and cutting down my gameplay footage to make my commentary more consistent, reduce long periods of level grinding, and overall make the LP more abridged and cinematic. Finally, I’ve chosen to split the game into six episodes of three ‘acts’, with each ‘act’ being played as one of three different versions of the game.

 

References

Burwell, C., & Miller, T. (2016). Let’s Play: Exploring literacy practices in an emerging videogame paratext. E-Learning and Digital Media13(3–4), 109–125.

Fernández-Vara, C. (2015). Introduction to Game Analysis. 1st ed. New York, NY: Routledge. 

let’s talk about k-pop

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K-pop group BTS with American singer Khalid, teasing and upcoming collaboration. Source

These days, you simply can’t scroll through Twitter without stumbling upon k-pop fans in the masses. ‘Fancam’ video edits seem to be posted in threads about anything and everything, and tweets are embedded with hashtags urging to #stan or #stream various k-pop groups. Although my own obsession with k-pop started and finished with whatever was playing on SBS PopAsia circa 2015, the ‘Hallyu’ phenomenon, or ‘Korean wave’, has reached tsunami levels of huge in the last decade. The craze has made a splash all across the globe in neighbouring Asian countries, the West, and beyond.

K-pop boyband ‘BTS’ are an immensely popular group within the genre, achieving incredible break-out success in the US at a level never before seen. The group has collaborated with many popular US/European artists like Nicki Minaj, Halsey, Ed Sheeran, and many more. You could say BTS are the poster group for the rapid spread of k-pop throughout the US and other Western audiences. Ingyu Oh’s research paper about the globalisation of k-pop credits platforms like YouTube and the new distribution structures of the music industry for the global success of k-pop as a musical subculture. The report argues that South Korea’s standout success in comparison to other Asian music industries (such as Japan or China) is because of k-pop’s “photogenic appeal”, borrowing aesthetics and production techniques from popular American music. By localising these elements of American music and distributing the final, hybridised product to both Asian and Western audiences, k-pop is able to attain mass global appeal. Woongjae Ryoo explains the cultural hybridisation of k-pop further in an article from the Asian Journal of Communication; South Korea is described as a mediator in popular culture exchange between the West and Asia, and in comparison with Japan, South Korea has “broader cultural affinities with China and other Asian countries while also being just Westernized enough.” In other words, South Korea is currently the bridge between Asian and Western popular culture.

In 2018, American game development company Riot Games released a k-pop inspired music video promoting an upcoming line of cosmetic character ‘skins’, available for purchase in their online multiplayer game ‘League of Legends’. The video features iconic characters from the game in a ‘virtual’ idol group, dancing and singing in the k-pop style. The artists featured in this collaborative project were two American singers, Madison Beer and Jaira Burns, and two members of the k-pop girl group (G)I-DLE. The track ‘POP/STARS’ was debuted on the League of Legends world finals stage in Seoul, South Korea, and featured character avatars in Augmented Reality. This collaboration is an example of cultural hybridisation through the k-pop genre, mixing together elements of Western and Asian pop culture to create a media text with globalised appeal.

 

References

Alexander, Julia. (2018). The League of Legends world championship opened with an AR K-pop concert. The Verge. 

Daly, Rhian. (2019). All of BTS’ collaborations with western artists, ranked. NME.

Lee, Lee. (2018). Top 10 most viewed K-pop idol solo fancams. SBS PopAsia.

Oh, Ingyu. (2013). The Globalization of K-pop: Korea’s Place in the Global Music Industry. Korea Observer, 44, 389-409.

Romano, Aja. (2019). BTS, the band that changed K-pop, explained. Vox.

Woongjae, Ryoo. (2009). Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: the case of the Korean wave. Asian Journal of Communication, 19(2), 137-151.