How we engage with digital entertainment

How we engage with digital entertainment

I love you. All of you. Thank you for turning Minecraft into what it has become … In one sense, it belongs to Microsoft now [in reference to the game’s sale]. In a much bigger sense, it’s belonged to all of you for a long time, and that will never change.”

(Persson 2014)

The above quote was published in a blog post for fans of Minecraft by Markus Alexej Persson, the founder of Mojang, known by followers more widely as Notch (Markus Persson – Official Minecraft Wiki 2016). As a lead developer, and the producer of the text, Peerson had every right to take credit for the game’s success, however in the above quote he actually does the contrary, directing the credit towards the consumers, going as far as to assert that they themselves in fact own the text. To validate whether, and to what extent, this may be true, this post will explore and attempt to quantify the relationship consumers have with Minecraft.

Figure 3. Ladder of Citizen Participation.

Audiences’ engagement with texts has historically been recognised as being a passive ‘flow’ relationship; producers write texts and consumers read and accept them, along with any encoded meanings. In an attempt to update this and “illustrate [a] point that so many have missed[, which is] that there are significant gradations of citizen participation” (1969, p.217), Sherry Arnstein developed a more progressive theory (1969, pp.216-224), which is illustrated above (figure 3). Using Persson’s comments, we can determine that as owners, consumers of Minecraft would fall within the top three degrees of citizen power, where they would have full managerial power. However there are also examples that contradict the consumers having this much power. Following the announcement of Minecraft’s sale to Microsoft there was an angry outburst from fans on social media (Newsbeat 2014), if they really did have as much power as Persson suggests then they would have been able to stop such a significant decision from happening. This would suggest that in reality, as with most other texts, it is much more likely that consumers have a tokenistic level of participation, where their voice is heard, but the definitive power resides with producers.

“[…] our society is characterized by a cancerous growth of vision, measuring everything by its ability to show or be shown and transmuting communication into a visual journey. It is a sort of epic of the eye and of the impulse to read. ”

(Michel de Certeau, 1984, xxi)

In many ways Minecraft exemplifies the principles de Certeau highlights, without a narrative or even instructions the game has a distinctive lack of direction, but it also means consumers are not restricted in the meaning they take away or how they use the text. It is an unconventional style that many mainstream games, particularly those of high budget, wouldn’t have risked, to just drop a consumer into a text and leave them to decide what they do with the it and what they take away from it is, however, a great way of encouraging genuine engagement. By actively using the texts, they will interpreting their own meanings, each of which will be unique because of the openness of the game and the influence personal socio-cultural experience plays in decoding meaning (Jenkins, 1992, p.293). This characteristic is something games have since tried to replicate, most notedly in No Man’s Sky (Hello Games 2016) with it’s large narrative-free world (Hurley 2016); and with Lego Worlds (Traveller’s Tales 2016) similar gaming mechanics. However, it is important to note that this isn’t necessarily something that’s new in entertainment, it’s almost a throwback to traditional toys such as Lego (The Lego Group, 1932), where consumers are simply given the tools to create their own products like a ‘DIY’ kit for entertainment.

Figure 4. Players Create a 1:1 scale of Denmark

So far this post has looked at how texts engage with consumers, however it’s just as important to recognise how consumers, or fans, engage with the text. Minecraft developed a huge fan following early on, this can be recognised by how the title surpassed a million users in less than a month of the beta being released. Without any publisher or official marketing this was the result of traditional word-of-mouth (Luke Plunkett, 2011), and this itself would imply that the text was forming part of the social interaction of consumers everyday lives. Even despite this not being the intended uses of entertainment and escapism, this can be used as a credit to the texts success in engaging with consumers. When taking into account the type of the text, server-based multiplayer, and the previously mentioned references to the fans, Persson’s online blog post, one effective way of viewing the fans of Minecraft is as a “cultural and social network that spans the globe” (Jenkins, 1992 p.46). Jenkins progressed de Certeau’s ideas of fans, proposing them as being not only engaged in reading texts, through poaching and appropriating them, but to be capable of using these and more practical skills to create new texts themselves (pp.23-27).

Series Navigation<< Engaging with entertainment in the digital world | An introductionPlatform synergy and participatory culture >>
Jamie De Vivo

(15 Posts)

I'm a digital producer and fourth year student at The Media School at Bournemouth University. Summarising myself is a difficult task, so I'll just leave it to the blog. But my posts will focus on everything from web and app development to behavioural science. Specifically you'll also find my views and advice on cameras, editing, business, culture, mentality, my adventures and my DIY projects. Enjoy.
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