Platform synergy and participatory culture
- Engaging with entertainment in the digital world | An introduction
- How we engage with digital entertainment
- Platform synergy and participatory culture
- The power of voyeurism and let’s plays
- Is how we engage with entertainment important?
- How has consumer engagement with entertainment changed
- Engaging with entertainment in the digital world | Follow up
Minecraft’s success is already partially justified by it’s effective construction as a text, however, it can also be explained by recognising how the growing participatory culture that exists on YouTube acts as a catalyst for it and other already engaging channels. Jenkins defines this kind of culture as “[one] in which fans and other consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content.” (2006, p.290). A user who is both a ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’ can be referenced as a ‘prosumer’, this term and the idea around it was used by Toffler to describe the increasing do-it-yourself labour trending at the time (1980). However the reality of this culture is that not everyone is a prosumer, only about 10% ever produce material, and only 1% of users regularly. So whilst a participatory culture eliminates sole producers, about 90% of users are still only Consumers. This concept is best described by Bradley Horowitz on his blog and known as the audience 90, 9, 1% rule (Horowitz 2006). Another audience concept useful for understanding interaction consumers have with texts is Abercrombie and Longhurst’s five stages of fandom (1998, p.148). This understanding of fandom differs from Jenkins’ as it recognises that fans can have different levels of participation, from Consumer to Fan, Cultist, Enthusiast and Petty Producer.
Although computer games may be misconceived as being more interactive than films and traditional media, in reality that is generally not true. Games operate much more of a pseudo participation. In a conventional action/adventure computer game consumers are restricted to narrative that you get to follow but that is it, players can’t even really die, they’re just chucked back into it and forced to read the text as the producer intended. This is exactly the kind of flow culture de Certeau describes, “[R]eaders are travellers; they move across lands belonging to someone else, like nomads poaching their way across fields they did not write” (1984 p.174). However Minecraft provided something new for consumers, with no direction or instructions, the freedom was allowed for them to be creative in the way they used the game world. Naturally, being fans of the game, consumers then wanted to become prosumers, and share the creative ways they’ve played the game with other fans. These videos soon became known as Let’s Plays and although they are not new in themselves, their popularity, along with the gaming industry in general has been growing in popularity, for some time coinciding with Minecrafts. (Finniss, 2009). This trend was recognised by the YouTube itself, who in 2015 launched YouTube Gaming, a website specifically for content such as Let’s Play videos with improved features such as live streaming. (YouTube)
Paratexts are important assets in creating more effective key texts, “[they] surround texts, audiences, and industry, as organic and naturally occurring a part of our mediated environment…” (Gray, 2010, p.23). They can consist of anything that references or offers the consumer a way into a key text; for Minecraft some examples of key texts are the console trailers, the official wiki, characters memorabilia, screenshots of the landscape or entire let’s play videos. Paratexts are more likely to be created by Petty Producers because this category adds to the market. Every Let’s Play Minecraft on YouTube is a paratext to the game, this is how the game became so popular without any professional marketing and it is also for this reason; content owners are more lenient with fan made paratexts, because it’s free exposure. With the barrier to becoming a prosumer only lowering increasing numbers of fans are creating paratexts for fun (Gray, 2010, p.154). As Let’s Play videos grow in popularity, so does the effectiveness of the them as paratexts. The most popular channel on YouTube is a Let’s Player, ‘PewDiePie’ and he has over 44 million subscribers, this means every minecraft video he publishes is a possibility for minecraft to get exposure in front of over 44 millions people, this is a key example in how paratexts are the reason behind Minecraft’s Success. The video above is an example of conventional Let’s Play content and style, as well as being one of PewDiePie’s first.
Minecraft has no official canon, this is again credit to how open the game is in allowing players to be creative in what they read as meanings. This has let to many fan theories and conspiracies being published on the internet which fansub cultures discuss and paratexts to. The very first story to emerge from minecraft was about a mysterious character named, “Herobrine”, who would appear in people’s games without any reason, often scaring the players (Herobrine – Official Minecraft Wiki 2016). The game developers initially embraced the character, in a reply to one question a developer replied “[…] yes..but he is watching me! “ (Kappische 2012). However after already declaring it a hoax they soon became tiresome of still being asked whether or not he was official (Carnalizer 2012).
“The Herobrine stuff is awesome and kind of scary at the same time. It really shows how little control a content producer has over the content.”(xNotch 2012)
Fans continued to produce their own stories that fit with what little mojang provides consumers with, however, more interesting is the fact that these game related videos received nearly twice as much engagement than any other categories of video on YouTube (Carla Marshall, 2014). In 2014 Brandon Liatch, an invested petty producer of Minecraft wanted to create a part live action-part animation film based on the Minecraft world, “Minecraft is the perfect video game to adapt to a film … The reason is that it doesn’t have a character, it doesn’t have a story, which to me is a big benefit because we can come up with our own original story”. Using KickStarter he managed to get $60,000 before Mojang shut it down, saying “We don’t allow half a million kickstarters based on our ip without any deals in place. :/” (Laatsch 2014; BBC News 2014; Persson 2014). Despite Minecraft and Mojang being very open to the way you use it’s content they still have reasonable limits, and the agency of a prosumer is not breaking copyrights.