Mediatization of a card game: Magic: The Gathering, esports, and streaming

The journal Media, Culture & Society has recently published my article Mediatization of a card game: Magic: The Gathering, esports, and streaming. This piece explores the recent shift of the genre-defining trading card game towards esports. By analyzing Twitch streams, paratextual material, and online discussions in the period from September 2018 to March 2019, leading up to the first major tournament - The Mythic Invitational - played using the new digital adaptation Magic: The Gathering Arena, I show that this top-mediatization is a contested process with its own discontinuities and opposing forces. To a certain extent, the new competitive structure organized around esports-like league consisting of 32 top ranked players from the season 2018-2019 turned many of these selected professional players into advocates of this transition, although not all of the changes were welcomed by the community. The "legacy" ways of playing - the tabletop version and older digital adaption Magic: The Gathering Online - remain supported, but Arena is central to the new stage of the game both for competitive and more casual audiences. Furthermore, the more mainstream interest in Magic: The Gathering draws attention to various long-standing issues in the player communities, such as the often uncontested notions of meritocracy and the lack of diversity.


Resisting the Perpetual Update: Struggles against Protocological Power in Video Games

The journal New Media & Society has recently published my article Resisting the Perpetual Update: Struggles against Protocological Power in Video Games. This article explores the evolution of video game updates and patches from a mechanism of customer support to a tool of control over the way games are played in the ecosystem of digital gaming platforms. It charts a historical trajectory across various cultural industries, including literary publishing, screen industries, and music, to show a shift from multiplicity of editions to one perpetually updated contingent commodity. Focusing on the issues of power and control enabled by the always-online platforms, the analysis shows that previously updating was often voluntary. However, now players must actively resist patches if they wish to play the game on their own terms. As illustrated by three case studies of update resistance (Borderlands 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Marvel Strike Force), developers, publishers, and platform holders wield protocological power, which can be successfully opposed—although the outcome often remains localized and tends to alter a specific iteration of protocol and not the underlying infrastructure.


Analog Game Studies: Volume 3

The third volume of the Analog Game Studies journal was just published by the ETC Press. The full book can be downloaded for free here in PDF. Among other articles and essays on analog games, there is also my piece about Magic: The Gathering, which focuses on a critique of the computational essentialism of platform studies. This article was previously published in the online version of the journal in 2016 (link). The third volume was edited by Emma Leigh Waldron, Aaron Trammell, and Evan Torner.

Analog Game Studies is a bi-monthy journal for the research and critique of analog games. It defines analog games broadly and include work on tabletop and live-action role-playing games, board games, card games, pervasive games, game-like performances, carnival games, experimental games, and more.


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