Mediatization of Tabletop Role-Playing: The Intertwined Cases of Critical Role and D&D Beyond

The journal Convergence has just published my article Mediatization of Tabletop Role-Playing: The Intertwined Cases of Critical Role and D&D Beyond. The article explores the impact of Critical Role (a weekly show on Twitch where voice actors, including Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, or Matthew Mercer, play Dungeons & Dragons) and digital tools like D&D Beyond on the tabletop role-playing hobby and industry. 


I argue that Critical Role promotes in-person play with high-end physical accessories despite being a mediated form of tabletop role-playing. Overall, the process of mediatization of analog games, including D&D and Magic: The Gathering (see the article Mediatization of a Card game: Magic: The Gathering, Esports, and Streaming), seems to follow the logic of addition by maintaining analog modes of consumption alongside new digital and virtual ways of playing (and watching). This multitude of playstyles is marked by extensive commodification, ranging from physical accessories (miniatures, dice) to digital subscriptions and virtual goods. These findings are based on a quantitative analysis of Critical Role‘s episode sponsorships and a qualitative analysis of embodied player practices, including the use of physical accessories as well as D&D Beyond‘s digital character sheets (starting in 2018) by the cast members. Aside from advertising from TTRPG-related businesses, Critical Role is regularly sponsored by video game companies, which sometimes commission entire episodes. The show and its cast thus inhabits a unique position between analog and video game industries, further showing the complexity of the process of mediatization, which is anything but straightforward.


Normalizing Player Surveillance through Video Game Infographics

Deathloop (2021) infographic.
The journal New Media & Society has just published my article Normalizing Player Surveillance through Video Game Infographics. I argue that infographics contribute to normalization of surveillance by presenting one-sided representations of proprietary player data, which cannot be corroborated and which are made to look less problematic by focusing on harmless trivia. The infographic format is intended to make game metrics more appealing and to show telemetries as sources of fun facts. In reality, telemetries are used for optimization of game development and monetization of player activity, serving the economic agendas of developers and publishers. The specialized press is complicit in this normalization of player surveillance by running stories based on selective disclosures of proprietary data. The empirical analysis of 200 infographics suggests that the deliberate omission of more problematic and sensitive metrics points to the industry awareness of the potentially controversial nature of player surveillance if disclosed in full. Video game companies are extracting value from player behavior, yet portray the surveillance aparatus as a source of harmless fun facts.


Developer Credit: Para-Industrial Hierarchies of In-Game Credit Attribution in the Video Game Industry

The journal Games and Culture has just published my article Developer Credit: Para-Industrial Hierarchies of In-Game Credit Attribution in the Video Game Industry. In this article, I analyze in-game credits of 100 games published between 2016-2020, which represent four major sectors of video game production: AAA, AA, indie, and freemium games as service. I explore how credits shape above-the-line/below-the-line divisions and establish (or potentially subvert) professional hierarchies.

The specialized press has repeatedly reported on missing or denied credits, showing that there is no industry standard regarding what constitutes a recognized and noteworthy contribution to video game production. Despite efforts from developer organizations and initiatives like IGDA or Game Workers Unite, my analysis shows that credits are handled in various ways, leaving individual developers at the mercy of studio leadership when comes to receiving credit for their work. In the article, I highlight three major aspects of in-game credits that influence above-the-line/below-the-line divisions.


Game Production Studies Edited Collection

The edited collection Game Production Studies, which I have co-edited with Olli Sotamaa, has just been published by the Amsterdam University Press. The book, which is available in open access as well as hardcover, features 16 chapters dedicated to the study of video game production. The cover illustration was created by Jana Kilianová.

The official copy: Video games have entered the cultural mainstream and in terms of economic profits they now rival established entertainment industries such as film or television. As careers in video game development become more common, so do the stories about precarious working conditions and structural inequalities within the industry. Yet, scholars have largely overlooked video game production cultures in favor of studying games themselves and player audiences. In Game Production Studies, an international group of established and emerging researchers takes a closer look at the everyday realities of video game production, ranging from commercial industries to independent creators and cultural intermediaries. Across sixteen chapters, the authors deal with issues related to labour, game development, monetization and publishing, as well as local specificities. As the first edited collection dedicated solely to video game production, this volume provides a timely resource for anyone interested in how games are made and at what costs.


Shadow Academy of Video Game Production—Industrial Reflexivity of Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet

The journal Critical Studies in Media Communication has just published my article Shadow Academy of Video Game Production—Industrial Reflexivity of Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet. In this article, I analyze the first season of the Apple TV+ show Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet, which was co-produced by the video game publisher Ubisoft

The show is set in a fictional game development studio and adapts the genre of workplace comedy to this specific context. The show's creators (Rob McElhenney, Megan Ganz, and Charlie Day, who are perhaps collectively best known for their work on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) do not shy away from the problematic issues of game production, instead harnessing them for a comedic effect. Mythic Quest's satire of poor working conditions, the lack of workplace diversity, or toxic player communities can be understood using John Thornton Caldwell's concept of the shadow academy. Similar to TV shows like 30 Rock, Mythic Quest exposes structural issues of cultural industries, however it doesn't challenge their underlying causes, instead it normalizes the current status quo. Furthermore, it presents Ubisoft as a self-reflexive company despite its history of workplace issues, including Ubifree or a more recent alleged sexual misconduct of top executives

The article is based on thematic and discourse analysis of the first season of Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet (10 episodes), 30 journalistic interviews, 30 journalistic reviews, 5 promotional videos, and 220 user comments (sampled from 1354 comments using the logic of qualitative data saturation). A full overview of the analyzed empirical material is available here.