The Myth of Representative Video Game Trailers

In the new special issue of the journal Kinephanos about the promotional context of video games, you can also find my own contribution about video game trailers. The article entitled Exploring the Myth of the Representative Trailer analyzes the widely spread notion of representativity of video game trailers, which often leads to dissapointment upon the release of a game.

Beyond dicsussing the origins of the video game trailer and its specificities, I present an empirical analysis of the reception of twelve trailers for eight mainstream games grounded in online dicussions on YouTube and three gaming news sites (Eurogamer.net, Kotaku, and Polygon). The fidings show different approches to trailer watching from information-driven perspective, which highlight the paratextual role of a trailer, to more cinematic ones, which appreciate the self-contained entertainment value of a video game trailer. Nonetheless, trailers are in many cases judged based on their perceived representativity. This means that trailers that are more detached from a given game, for example by not employing gameplay footage, are often criticized by their lack of direct (indexical) representational relationship. Even the knowledge about recent cases of misleading trailers does not stop viewers from basing their expectaions of a video game and its features purely on paratextual information. Notably, some video game fans believe that they are able to see through marketing ploys and accurately predict how the game is going to play like once it is released.

One of the analyzed trailers is the CGI commercial for BioShock Infinite, which shows a rather non-canonical narrative sequence from the fictional world of the game. For its departure from the source material, it has been criticized by many viewers. The main reasons was the (perceived) lack of representativity, which is also explicitly communicated by the trailer through its footage disclaimer.


Paratextuality in Video Game Culture - Dissertation

My recently defended PhD thesis provides a thorough update of video game paratextuality based on Genette's original framework. In the opening chapters, I review the current research on paratexts in game studies, media studies, literary theory, and film and television studies, including the highly influential redefinitions by Mia Consalvo and Jonathan Gray. I argue that the current state of paratextual research is often misleading. In many notable cases, scholars shift away from the original meaning of the concept without fully acknowledging the consequences of such a departure on the applicability of Genette's framework. This applies both to the reduced scope proposed by Werner Wolf and to the expanded version, which can be found in works of Consalvo and Gray.

My redefinition of paratextuality is based on the underlying concept of transtextuality. In the context of other transtextual relationships such as metatextuality or hypertextuality (in Genettian sense of adaptation and transformation of an existing text), paratextuality is established as link between a text and the surrounding socio-historical reality. The updated definitions are accompanied by a methodological framework for analysis of paratextuality in video games. I provide conceptualizations of four main paratextual dimensions: (1) function, (2) authorship, (3) substantiality, and (4) spatiotemporality.

Main Categories
1. Referential
1a. Promotional
1b. Legal
2. Instructional
3. Interfacial
4. Corrective
5. Revelatory
Discrete categories
1. Authorial
2. Worker’s
3. Publisher’s
4. Distributor’s
5. Retailer’s
6. Allographic
1. Semiotic
2. Sensorial
3. Technical/Material
4. Factual/Cultural
Two-dimensional continuum
x-axis – before and after launch
y-axis – outside and inside the surface
Table 1: Overview of paratextual dimensions and their operationalization

The empirical part of the thesis focuses on video game trailers as an example of video game paratextuality. I analyze both the formal aspects of twelve selected trailers as well as their audience reception. The findings of the formal analysis show that video game trailers are to a certain extent paratextual as they address the socio-historical circumstances of video game production by informing about developers, publishers or release dates. At the same time, many trailers feature original content and possess an aesthetic quality which makes them autonomous in the sense of an artistic text in its own right. This ambiguous nature of video game trailers is also reflected in their reception. In the analyzed online discussions, viewers sometimes emphasize the paratextual capacity of trailers by focusing on their informational value. Others highlight their cinematic quality and praise (or criticize) them based on their own merits. Overall, the combined findings suggest that trailers are a complex phenomenon of video game culture and they cannot be easily classified as either paratext, or text. Instead, I propose to focus on individual traits and characteristics trailer by rejecting the reductive label of paratext, which is currently used to classify any video game epiphenomena.

You can read the full dissertation here: link


Playing with and against Microtransactions

The cover of the edited volume.
The edited volume The Evolution and Social Impact of Video Game Economics has been recently published by Lexington Books (an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield). It features my chapter about acceptance and rejection of video game microtransactions in full-priced mainstream video games. I take a closer look at the implementation of additional monetization models in five video games: Mass Effect 3, Dead Space 3, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mortal Kombat X, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Beside a formal analysis of the types of microtransactions including their pricing and overlaps with downloadable content (DLC), I explore the online discussions about the reception of microtransactions. I identify several discourses that feature arguments such as general unaccepability, diversification, cosmetics, single-player traditionalism, cooperation, and transparency. I also focus on declarative behavior of players regarding microtransactions, including various forms of political consumerism and cheating.


The Virmire Survivor: Ashley and Kaidan in Mass Effect

The cover of the edited volume.
The recently published volume 100 Greatest Video Game Characters includes my contribution about two major characters from the original Mass Effect trilogy - Ashley Williams and Kaidan Alenko. These two squadmates have been the ultimate reminder of player choices for over five years based on a crucial decision during the Virmire mission in the first Mass Effect. At this point, the protagonist Commander Shepard has to choose which one of these two subordinates, friends and also potential love interests sacrifices their life to save the other one and to fulfill the mission. While the so-called Virmire Survivor is sidetracked for the majority of Mass Effect 2, except for a brief reunion half-way through the game, they return as a rival figure (but also a romanceable character) in Mass Effect 3. Here they become a poster hero for the human military after Shepard's incarceration for their crimes against Batarians in the Mass Effect 2 DLC Arrival. Even though Ashley and Kaidan belong to the least popular squadmates according to the official statistics unveiled by BioWare at PAX East 2013, they have still received a relatively large amount of screen time. The treatment of their story arcs shows a dedication to showing the consequences of player choices unlike the retconning of Leliana's possible death in the Dragon Age series by the same developer.


Trailer Literacy: Discussing Representativity in Video Game Trailers

Check out the Watching the Trailer blog for my thoughts on representativity in video game trailers: Trailer Literacy: Discussing Representativity in Video Game Trailers.

Apart from the recent controversy about No Man's Sky promotion (inluding the Advertising Standards Agency's investigation), it briefly covers another notable case of Killzone 2 and tackles the issues of video game trailer literacy, footage disclaimers and the socially constructed nature of representativity in video game promotion.

Watching the Trailer is an online hub for academic and industry-based research and opinion on the 'coming attraction' film trailer. It is run by Frederick Green, Keith M. Johnston and Ed Vollans. Its empirical work is focused on audience reception of trailers.