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.

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