Being inspired to create is one of the most natural feelings one can have, as this is what drives our society to innovate. The people’s ability to create is of society’s most significant pushes for change. However, we tend to gloss over how important the ability to receive and analyze is to how new media is created in the first place. Players are the most significant part of video games, much bigger than the games themselves. As an aspiring video game designer, I’ve observed the growing importance of the player audience in the video game industry.
The video game industry has one of the fastest-growing audiences in the world. This year, there has been an estimated total of 1.2 billion PC gamers globally (gaimin.io). Minecraft, a top-rated sandbox survival game, has over 50 thousand mods, all created by dedicated fans (curseforge.com). A mod is a user-made modification that can be added to enhance the gameplay of a PC game. A vast majority of PC gamers rely on mods to make the game more suited to their needs or add in mods for the fun of it. This aspect of participatory culture has led to people turning their mods into their own stand-alone games. The Stanley Parable, a PC game launched in 2013, started as a mod for Half-Life 2, a game that came out nearly ten years earlier (watchmojo.com). The mod reached 90 thousand downloads before creating a separate game, which was even more successful (watchmojo.com). However, some modders have caught heat from game developers for their alterations.
The struggle of copyright infringement and the video game industry are not strangers to one another. As a newer medium, the line of copyright infringement gets blurry as we advance into modern styles of games. Fortnite, a popular online battle royale game, now has 250 million players(buisnessinsider.com). This sort of game style is relatively new, starting with games like Z1 and PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds(digitaltrends.com). However, Fortnite has run into some copyright issues with American celebrities like Alfonso Ribeiro, and rap artist BlocBoy JB for their use of the ‘Fortnite dances’ that have a striking similarity to the ones they created(raconteur.net). While these lawsuits fell through, video games are pushing the boundaries of what is considered intellectual property. Fortnite’s popularity is what sparked this debate, the broad audience made it hard to ignore, especially as the dances began to go viral on social media.
Following the release of Fortnite was a community of people who relished in creating online ‘parties’ to achieve goals at a faster rate rather than one person playing by themselves. Fortnite, however, is not the first online gaming community that relished in helping each other succeed. Earlier MMO games like Ultima Online and Everquest were dependent on ‘grinding’ to win (pcgamer.com). People would group up to help both themselves and each other succeed and rank up through the levels. If enough people joined, they would create a guild. Don Tapscott’s ‘Four Principles to the Open World’ explains the process in which players can succeed in these MMORPGs. The first principle is collaboration. More experienced players will lend a helping hand to players just starting by helping them defeat bosses or clear a dungeon that’s proven difficult. The second principle is transparency. As the ‘grinding’ is happening in-game, the players will often find themselves communicating in a chat, even exchanging skype or using discord tags to find out more about each other as they play, which builds trust. Sharing is the third principle, HP boosts and powerups are given as necessities to keep each other alive while they level up. The fourth is empowerment. Now that these players have done their grinding, helped each other out, and are sharing supplies, they have become a high ranking guild that reaches out to new players to expand themselves.
Marshal McLuhan’s (1964) idea of the global village has manifested itself very prominently in video games. There is a feeling of community spread across the world through video games. Discord is a top-rated app for gamers to communicate, not only through text chat but through both voice and video chat as well. CMC is allowing players to talk to each other all over the world. Van Vliet and Burgers (1987) ‘4 realms of community’ are found in many, if not all, MMORPGs played today. For example, through combining typical MMORPG style of communication and real-time strategy duels, League of Legends was able to create an entirely new form of online gaming, MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (gamasutra.com). This form of communication fulfills the social interaction realm, with the rest being political, economic, and cultural. League has strict rules on cheating, foul language, and abusive behavior that can result in being permanently banned from playing the game, fulfilling the political realm(nexusarabia.leagueoflegends.com). Economically, the game functions on both in-game currency(Blue Essence)and currency only acquirable through real-world dollar(Riot Points)(metabomb.net). The culture surrounding League is described through ranks and titles based on the skill level of the player (iron, bronze, silver…etc.)(dotesports.com). Through these elements, League of Legends supports a multitude of communities.
Building a large, solid fanbase is much easier when a story can translate into different mediums. Transmedia storytelling is used to pique the interest of people who may not be interested in video games, but want to explore the plot and characters. An excellent example of this is video game franchises that took their story to the big screen. Detective Pikachu was a Nintendo 3DS game created in 2016, which then became the most successful video game movie in 2019, grossing $436 million globally (theverge.com). The game, however, was met with mixed reviews initially, but the film was very well received both in Japan and the U.S(egmnow.com). User-generated content is another example of why a fanbase is vital to any ongoing media. Fanfiction, alternate universes, and fan art all draw attention to the game. They can even create hype around surrounding a character. I was introduced to the MMORPG Overwatch through fanfiction months before I touched the game.
The hype surrounding a game could potentially make or break an entire franchise. No Man’s Sky is a game that promised to have an overwhelming amount of features, being a multiplayer interstellar war with a large variety of ships and planets to battle and more(cracked.com). However, when the game launched, it had much less than half of the promised features and did not at all prove to be an enjoyable experience(cracked.com). Gamers enjoy seeing what hasn’t been done in the past, which is why we’re usually very quick to hop on a hype train. The inflated expectation in the hype cycle seems to have higher stakes in the video game industry because of this. Vannevar
Bush’s(1945) misguided hypothesis of the memex proves that it’s challenging to predict the future and what the future holds may just be staring us in the face. Hype in the video game industry makes the future of video games obscured, as it blinds both gamer and critic of what could be coming next.
Video games started as a mild form of entertainment, starting back from games like Pong and Astroids. It wasn’t very long until we had games like Legend of Zelda and King’s Quest that featured adventure-based storytelling and roleplay(britannica.com). However, players have expressed so many interests that the genre of games is ever expansive, ranging from FPS horror to dancing games on the Wii. One of the best examples of this is the gamification of education. By taking game elements like problem-solving and combining them with educational subjects like math and science, we can create a more effective way of learning than traditional textbook education (Dicheva 1).
With the increasing access to social platforms, we can communicate to creators what kind of content we want to see, shaping not just the content, but the relationships a creator can have with their audience. Through CMC, we are amplifying unheard and marginalized voices in games, which was impossible before. To create social change through video games, creators will have to understand the way their art impacts society, and that the only way to guide their audience forward will be through listening.
Jalyn Gadson is currently a college student at Arcadia University studying video game design abroad at Australia’s Bond University.
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