game pitch; a new adventure

I love playing tabletop role-playing games with my friends, so I wanted to incorporate the genre into my game experience design project. TRPG’s fall under the niche/hobby category of games and are about face-to-face, collaborative story telling aided by dice rolls and the guidance of a ‘game master’ moderator. Players act out their character roles and engage in different facets of adventuring determined by the game master’s chosen rule system. It’s a fun way to bond with friends while also experiencing escapism through fantasy, becoming fully immersed in the imagined play space.

“Basics of t-RPGs are to let a set of players share the creation of their own story, where they interpret the main characters. T-RPGs mix dynamics from both society games (for the ludic aspect) and improvisational theatre.”

Delmas, G., Champagnat, R. and Augeraud, M., 2009.

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My TRPG of choice is Wizard’s of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. I have the most experience and knowledge with this rule system, though truthfully I’ve never run my own campaign as the game master and will usually take the role of player character instead. Regardless, I want to create my own D&D module to be used by myself and other game masters as an adventure guide. I’ll be brushing up on the official Dungeon Master’s manual and asking for help from some of my experienced game master friends. My goal will be to design a game experience that is immersive, compelling, fair for all players and, most importantly, fun.

“One of the distinguishing features of the RPG genre is its ability to immerse the
player in the world and story that the game creates. The example from a D&D adventure in the epigraph addresses the readers in the second-person, pulling them directly into the story world, situating them in a place, and immersing them. “

Cover, J.A.G., 2005.

There are countless resources online that will assist me in creating this adventure module, including many video tutorials and forum discussion posts over at r/DnD. The website Dungeon Masters Guild also has a variety of templates and game materials that can be downloaded for free. Creating an adventure for D&D involves planning and preparing the narrative, setting, combat encounters, exploration and non-playable characters of an imagined story, then organizing these elements into a document that can be easily applied to the official D&D rule system. I might also attempt to design new gameplay features for my adventure module under the framework of the D&D rule-set, a practice known by TRPG fans as ‘homebrewing’.

The most important factor to consider when designing an adventure module is that it first and foremost acts as a guide for game masters to follow when running their own D&D campaign. This means that my target audience when designing is not just the players but also the game master, as they enact the most important role in determining the players’ overall experience. So, while I may want to consider how the adventure can appeal to both new and veteran players, I should also keep in mind whether or not my module design is effective in aiding the game master’s efforts to run a campaign; having the document be easy to understand and convenient for the game master is key.

“The game master is both a referee and a story director. On the one hand, he checks
the player characters’ actions. He validates actions and their results according to
game’s rules. On the other hand, he is responsible for story’s unfolding. He has to
describe the environment and to interpret the set of non-player characters (NPC). As a consequence, he produces a frame for the story and adapts it to player’s actions.”

Delmas, G., Champagnat, R. and Augeraud, M., 2009.

The theme of my game design project will be based on the existing lore of the D&D universe, which takes inspiration from Tolkien fantasy. I’m currently dreaming up a world and narrative for the adventure module and seeking inspiration from online campaigns that are live streamed or recorded and uploaded by the game master. One of my favourite online campaign series is Critical Role, run by voice actor Matt Mercer. I’m definitely interested in creating some pre-made character sheets for new players who are unfamiliar with the D&D system, or veterans who would like to jump in straight away without needing to create their own character first. I’m interested in a narrative that involves a band of outcasts or misunderstood ruffians who come upon the dark secrets of a sleepy village (or two) by chance. They’re left with a choice of covering up the corruption, or putting an end to it. D&D’s alignment system will be handy in this situation.

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My main concern with this project was the logistics of testing the adventure module and receiving feedback while in self-isolation due to the current global pandemic. I’ve been looking into online solutions, including the virtual tabletop website Roll20, and a variety of D&D bots for Discord servers. I plan to test combat encounters and exploration sections of the adventure with friends, and get feedback about my module manual online from other TRPG fans through discussion forums like Reddit. Since I plan to keep the adventure as brief enough to fit a ‘one-off’ campaign, meaning it can be completed over one or few play sessions, I may also be able to do complete play-throughs with different groups of players. Then, from those experiences I can flesh out areas I feel required more preparation and planning that I had not previously considered.

General Project Timeline

Week 6 – 7: Apply pitch feedback to my project and develop the game narrative + explore resources and tutorials for creating a D&D adventure.

Week 8 – 9: Start prototyping and testing the adventure module.

Week 10 – 11: Apply beta feedback and findings from the first rounds of testing to the adventure module.

Week 12 – 13: Final testing of the prototype and working on the project dossier

References;
Cover, J.A.G., 2005. ‘Tabletop Role-Playing Games: Perspectives from Narrative, Game, and Rhetorical Theory’.
Delmas, G., Champagnat, R. and Augeraud, M., 2009. ‘From tabletop RPG to interactive storytelling: definition of a story manager for videogames’. Joint international conference on interactive digital storytelling (pp. 121-126).

live tweeting [part 1]

Metropolis Online

Week 1 – Metropolis (Lang, 1927)

For my first week of live-tweeting I decided to compile my tweets about Metropolis into a thread. Although this seemed like a great idea in theory, I felt that it didn’t quite work for the live-tweeting experience as each tweet explored a self-contained idea about the film. Threads seemed to be better suited to the stringing together of tweets that focus on the same general topic or argument. I used a literary approach for my analysis of this film, focusing on the ideas and concepts being portrayed on-screen as well as key inter-textual references.

Evidence of live-tweeting and engagement in discussion

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Week 2 – 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)

This week I made an effort to draw upon the subject materials in a few of my tweets. I decided not to compile my tweets in a thread so that I could improve the layout of my ideas. I also focused more on engaging in discussion through comments/retweets. This may have been because the film was easier to follow while actively tweeting than the week before, with Metropolis being a silent film that required reading title cards. The content of my tweets focused on a combination of themes expressed in the film and facts about the film’s production.

Evidence of live-tweeting and engagement in discussion

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Week 3 – Westworld (Crichton, 1973)

Having seen the popular television series Westworld based on this film, I went into this week of live-tweeting with some prior knowledge and was able to show that in my tweets. I managed to achieve a good balance between sharing my own tweets and engaging with others this week because of that. This told me that if I were to research the films I am not familiar with more deeply than I had been before, or even pre-screen them the day before, it would probably enrich the quality and quantity of my live-tweeting significantly. My tweets contained a lot of comparison between the original film and the series, and also included terms and ideas from the subject materials.

Evidence of live-tweeting and engagement in discussion

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Bladerunner by Chris Thornley (Regular)

Week 4 – Blade Runner (Scott, 1982)

This week was another film that I was familiar with which benefited my analysis once again. My best tweets were those that referenced the subject materials and included GIFs to support the idea being expressed. I chose to include more live commentary-style tweets this week to see how much engagement they would receive. I feel like I produced a good mix of different content for each tweet. Something I needed to work on in the future was including more details about production and the context in which each film was created.

Evidence of live-tweeting and engagement in discussion

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Week 5 – Minority Report (Spielberg, 2002)

For this week of live-tweeting we were thrown a curve ball; the planned film for screening was not available for rent or on any streaming services in Australia. So, the film was changed to Minority Report. This meant that my prepared research would not be useful for this live-tweeting session. Despite this I think I did well at going with the flow and engaging in discussion. I focused on trying to incorporate references to the subject materials in most of my tweets. Again I did not explore the film’s context and production as much as I would have liked to, but this is likely because of my lack of preparation.

Evidence of live-tweeting and engagement in discussion

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Final thoughts and reflection

Going into the next few weeks of screenings, I feel as though my live-tweeting skills have improved and my content+engagement from now onward will be of higher quality and quantity. I’m more confident in being able to prepare and execute tweets that explore each film’s themes, context, and relevance to the subject topics. Something I could definitely improve on in the future would be incorporating links to articles or sources that have informed my research in some tweets. I’ve realised upon reviewing my tweets that I neglected to do this, while some other students will often link articles and academic sources. I’ve learnt which tweets capture the attention of my peers and receive meaningful engagement and will apply this knowledge to my future live-tweets. Some examples include tweets that live-commentate the action on screen, tweets that are supported visually by GIFs, and tweets that analyse how the weekly subject topics relate to the chosen film.

critical self-reflection of comments (part 1)

‘COVID-19: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE FOR SMALL BUSINESSES?’

Grace’s digital artefact topic is the future of small businesses during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically how online presence will become an essential part of engaging with customers. Grace will be examining this idea through her own social media business that began this year. Her website offers a range of social media packages from general advisory to content creation and page management. She plans to offer her services free of charge or at a reduced rate to small business struggling to transition to an online business model during the outbreak. Grace’s methods when promoting these businesses will consider the government guidelines set in place regarding COVID-19.

In my comment, I commended Grace’s thorough planning and digital artefact utility. I was interested to hear more about her methodology, and what her new website packages would entail. I suggested that Grace use primary research methods by creating a survey for small business owners, with a goal of understanding what these businesses need most during this time. I also linked a news media article for her background research.

[Grace’s Blog]

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‘LIFE AFTER COVID-19’

Steff’s digital artefact addresses a similar topic to Grace’s in observing the effects of COVID-19 on the future, however her focus is more broad in looking at the impact of this pandemic on lifestyle and society. Steff will be exploring this concept in a series of fortnightly blog posts featuring a unique topic (business, education, food, music, law etc.). The posts will contain multimedia elements like images, videos, and interviews. Steff hopes to bring awareness to the importance future-thinking in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and plans to get feedback from post engagement and by sharing her digital artefact on Reddit.

In my comment I praised Steff for her planning and research, which was the most developed and outstanding I’d seen for this round of peer commentary. My suggestion was that Steff interview a variety of local people involved in the area of discussion by reaching out on Twitter for interviewees, as her pitch stated she would be interviewing her roommate. I thought that finding people with relevant knowledge to the fortnightly topic would enhance her posts significantly. I also suggested she narrow down the scope of her ideas if she wished to reduce her own workload when it came to research. I shared a news media article that may be useful to Steff.

[Steff’s Blog]

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‘THE FUTURE OF TIKTOK’

Tahlia was considering two different ideas for her digital artefact, and eventually decided on the more developed of her two concepts. Tahlia plans to explore the future of content creation, specifically the emerging social media platform TikTok. She wants to look into the mechanics of the platform itself, which allows short, fast and frequent creation, and how this content model continuously engages TikTok users. Tahlia also plans to examine the ‘influencer house’ phenomenon on TikTok with creators like ‘The Hype House’ dominating the platform.

In my feedback I suggested that Tahlia should start planning her methodology and utility for her project, as neither were discussed in depth throughout her pitch. I feel this may have been because Tahlia was unsure about which topic she wanted to choose. I thought her topic would suit a series of explainer blog posts/videos, or a visual essay. I shared an academic research report about TikTok.

[Tahlia’s Blog]

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Critical Reflection

With this round of comments I think I did well at engaging with each person’s digital artefact and making suggestions that could enhance their projects. However, I feel that I failed to engage with the research sources I shared in each comment. I neglected to summarise what the articles and reports linked in my comments were about and how they could be beneficial to the digital artefacts. I also did not draw upon any lecture materials and should strive to use concepts and ideas from the BCM325 subject when commenting on the Beta blogposts in the future. I need to find proactive ways to relate future theory to my peers’ projects when giving feedback.

cyberculture [digital artefact pitch]

“High tech.  Low life.”

Background Research

I’ll be researching the history and iconography of the cyberpunk genre so that I can successfully incorporate cyberpunk references and ideas into my original content. This can be achieved by familiarising myself with and analyzing popular cyberpunk literature, films, news media, academic articles, and lecture materials.

Literature; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick, 1968), The Shockwave Rider (John Brunner, 1975), Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1984)

Films; Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995) Alita: Battle Angel (Robert Rodriguez, 2019)

News Media; Bringing Cyberpunk 2077 To Life (GameSpot, 2019), Neon and corporate dystopias: why does cyberpunk refuse to move on? (The Guardian, 2018), What Is Cyberpunk? (Neon Dystopia)

Academic Articles/Books; 

Csicsery-Ronay, I., 1988. Cyberpunk and neuromanticism. Mississippi Review16(2/3), pp.266-278.

Featherstone, M. and Burrows, R. eds., 1996. Cyberspace/cyberbodies/cyberpunk: Cultures of technological embodiment. Sage.

Hollinger, V., 1990. Cybernetic deconstructions: Cyberpunk and postmodernism. Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature23(2), pp.29-44.

 

Production Timeline

Mid-Sem Break; background research and collate assets (music, images) for edits, develop ideas for content

Week 4; Apply pitch feedback to DA concept/method/utility, start creating content

Week 5; Create accounts for sharing original content, post content

Week 6; Continue creating and posting regular content

Week 7; Assess first round of engagement and feedback, iterate upon content

Week 8; Continue creating and posting regular content, submit DA beta

Week 9; Apply beta feedback to DA concept/method/utility, keep creating content

Weeks 10-12; Continue creating and posting content, work on DA contextual essay

Week 13; Submit DA contextual essay

 

Expanding on Methodology and Feedback Loop

I will be making these edits by collecting images and assets online through boards like Pinterest or Google Images and then using photo editing software edit them into collages. After that, I will use PHOTOMOSH to add dynamic effects to my edited images, and edit the produced gifs into short clips with background music using video editing software.

I will be sharing my cyberpunk edits online using various platforms; Instagram will be the primary source of feedback through user engagement (likes, views, comments, follows, etc.) for this project. By assessing and comparing posts that are successfully engaged with to those that are not, I can deduce what type of content is most favourable to my target audience. I also plan to look into tumblr and tiktok as sharing platforms, though I don’t have any experience using these and therefore am not certain about how suited they are to this type of content. I hope to get feedback from my peers about these two potential points of engagement. I also will attempt to share my edits on reddit as original content (without linking to any accounts, ie; Instagram) to hopefully receive verbal feedback on the quality of the content I produce.

Tabletop Trials; the art of social deduction

Social deduction games are games in which some or all players’ roles are unknown. While the win condition varies from game to game, players can use logic and deduction to figure out the roles of others and gain a tactical advantage. This means players will often bluff to prevent suspicion.

I have a close friend who loves tabletop games so before commencing my study of game experience design I had already played a few social deduction games; The Resistance, Coup, and of course the popular party game Mafia using a deck of standard playing cards. I had also played an online variant of Mafia called Town of SalemPersonally, I have never been a big fan of this genre. I realise that this is probably because I am terrible at the strategic aspects of social deduction, so I almost never win these games (and, really… who doesn’t want to win?). However, I can still enjoy myself while playing some variants of social deduction games without winning. I tend to favour hidden role and deduction games with more mechanics and structure, instead of a game like Mafia where I have to simply talk my way out of suspicion.

 

Ultimate Werewolf 

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The game experience closest to Mafia was a popular variation called Ultimate Werewolf designed by Ted Alspach and published by Bézier Games. There are two teams; the villagers and the werewolves. The villagers’ goal is to ‘lynch’ all werewolves that have invaded their village, and the werewolves’ goal is to ‘kill’ villagers one at a time until they are outnumbered. Each player is given a hidden role that is aligned with either the villagers or the werewolves, and some will have special abilities or unique motivations to win. There are ‘day’ and ‘night’ turns in which players discuss and eliminate other players based on their assigned role. The game is run by a moderator who does not play for either team.

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The mechanics of the game can be very complex when multiple special roles are introduced, but we played a simplified version with only werewolves, villagers, and a seer. There are not many physical pieces in this game; only a deck of role cards to be distributed to players. Gameplay is enacted through discussion and collective player choices that are facilitated through the game moderator.

On the box, this game claims to be for “up to 75 players”Having played hidden role games like this one before, I found that the larger group was way too chaotic and confusing for me in comparison to the usual 5-10 players. This made it difficult to feel meaningfully involved in the game, especially as a villager with limited agency. That said, I am not a huge fan of Mafia, or in this case Werewolves, as a hidden role game to begin with which may have already predisposed my game experience. I found the artwork and theme of Werewolves perfect for the mystery and hysteria of a hidden role game like Mafia, and its villager-versus-supernatural-threat narrative is similar to Town of Salem and the witch trials.

 

Coup

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Coup is a hidden role game designed by Rikki Tahta and published by Indie Boards & Cards. It requires revealing all other players’ roles, referred to as ‘influence’, to win. Each player is given two influence role cards with their own set of unique abilities and take turns to enact various actions with those cards or ‘coins’ accumulated on previous turns. Players can also choose to bluff which cards they have in their possession to gain an advantage. Each action taken by the player gives others the opportunity to ‘challenge’ and catch their bluff, resulting in the loss of one influence card.

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Coup can be played using high-risk, high-reward mind games, or with a more safe but slow method. There are many different mechanics and combinations at play that reflect good strategic depth. Although the rules may seem complex at first, once the initial entry barrier is overcome the game’s effective simplicity becomes more apparent.

Because I had played this game before, I had the task of explaining the gameplay to others in a way that was easy enough to understand. I described Coup as “kinda like the game Cheat (read; Bullshit) but with more steps”. Although the experience was great overall, I found that I again had a similar preference for smaller groups of players, just like I had with Werewolves. I personally find that tracking and deducing is just much easier with less players on the board. The artwork and theme of this game are also well-executed and would be especially interesting to any fans of The Resistance universe, though I feel as though the way gameplay mechanics are tied into the narrative could be improved. While playing this game, I don’t get as immersed in the playspace and role I have been assigned as I do in Werewolves or Town of Salem.

 

Takeaways from this experience

There were aspects of both social deduction games that I liked and disliked. While I preferred the gameplay of Coup to Werewolves, I enjoyed the theme and collaborative roleplay aspects of Werewolves much more than the lacking narrative-gameplay relationship in Coup. If I were to design my own social deduction or hidden role game, I would like to focus on creating something with the depth of strategy and simplicity of Coup that also has the fun, immersive aspects of Werewolves by encouraging players to really get into character.

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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.