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.


Historicizing Video Game Series through Fan Art Discussions

"New Worlds" by velladonna
The new issue of fan studies academic journal Transformative Works and Cultures (Vol 22) is out now. Among other articles, it also includes my article (co-authored with Tereza Krobová) about everyday history and historical discourses in fan art discussions of Mass Effect Trilogy and Tomb Raider series. The whole article entitled Historicizing video game series through fan art discourses is available to read online for free thanks to the public access policy of the journal. It features analyses of fan discussions on DeviantArt of all-time favorite pieces of fan art inspired by Mass Effect and Tomb Raider and also selected discussions of fan art pieces created short after the unveiling of the newest installments in both franchises at E3 - Andromeda (upcoming) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015). I would like to thank the editors and reviewers for their helpful comments and to fan artists velladona and James--C for the permission to use their artworks in the article.