2021/03/19

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.

2020/12/28

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.


2020/11/22

Definitive Playthrough Video: A Curated Playlist

In our recent New Media & Society article “Definitive Playthrough”: Behind-the-scenes Narratives in Let’s Plays and Streaming Content by Video Game Voice Actors, Jaroslav Švelch and myself have explored the genre of “definitive playthrough video” – let's plays and streams by actors who control the characters they had performed. To showcase the breadth and richness of this new phenomenon, we have put together a curated playlist focusing on key aspects, such as the role of behind-the-scenes narratives. You can find the full playlist below followed by descriptions of each of the eight videos.

Behind-the-Scenes Narratives

In the first episode of The Last of Us playthrough, Retro Replay's hosts Troy Baker (Joel) and Nolan North (David) are joined by Hana Hayes who plays the role of Joel's daughter Sarah. Together, they look back at the recording process of the game’s emotional opening scene. Baker and Hayes talk about having to reshoot the scene multiple times and about Neil Druckmann’s approach to directing. The viewers also learn about a disagreement between the developers and the publisher about the pacing of the game’s prologue.

 

2020/11/13

"Definitive Playthrough": Behind-the-scenes Narratives in Let's Plays and Streaming Content by Video Game Voice Actors

The journal New Media & Society has published the article “Definitive Playthrough”: Behind-the-scenes Narratives in Let’s Plays and Streaming Content by Video Game Voice Actors, which I wrote together with Jaroslav Švelch. In this second article from our video game voice acting project, we explore how video game voice actors are picking up streaming and creating a new genre by combining variety streaming with behind-the-scenes narratives. We dub this new phenomenon "definitive playthrough video" based on the label used by Retro Replay. In these videos, actors Nolan North and Troy Baker play games in which they portrayed the main characters (the Uncharted series or The Last of Us). In the article, we present three case studies of YouTube and Twitch channels that create this type of video content: Dechart Games (hosted by Bryan Dechart and Amelia Rose Blaire), Retro Replay, and Strange Rebel Gaming (hosted by Briana White).

We provide a quantitative overview of these channels and their viewership numbers as well as qualitative analysis of their individual approaches to "definitive playthrough video". What distinguishes this new genre from general variety streaming is the exclusive access to production trivia and an authorial interpretation of games. Due to their involvement in game production, actors can claim to have a unique perspective that sets them apart from other content creators. While actors are adopting the formats and practices of streaming culture, they are using streaming to highlight their individual artistic achievements, and also to teach production literacy to their audiences. This requires a great deal of relational labor on the part of actors and balancing of multiple careers. Although "definitive playthrough videos" rarely challenge corporate behind-the-scenes narratives and the magic of game making and therefore serve as promotion, they give the actors the opportunity to advocate for the importance of their profession which can harnessed in labor disputes such as the SAG-AFTRA 2016-17 strike, which we explored in our previous article on voice acting Recasting Life Is Strange: Video Game Voice Acting during the 2016–2017 SAG-AFTRA Strike. Furthermore, streaming culture gives platform to actors whose position in the game industry is often seen as marginal compared to other game development roles.

2020/10/07

Recasting Life Is Strange: Video Game Voice Acting during the 2016–2017 SAG-AFTRA Strike

The journal Television and New Media has published the article Recasting Life Is Strange: Video Game Voice Acting during the 2016–2017 SAG-AFTRA Strike, which I wrote together with Jaroslav Švelch. In the article, we explore the recasting of Life Is Strange: Before the Storm caused by the strike, which forced Ashly Burch to give up her role of Chloe Price from the first game. While Burch became a writing consultant for the prequel and the performance of the new actor Rhianna DeVries was generally praised, the recasting still caused heated discussion about the importance of video game voice casting. 

Our analysis shows that some voice actors qualify as above-the-line talent partly thanks to their strong identification with popular in-game characters, which is often strengthened by appearance of actors in official promotional videos (such as the one embedded below). Actors in supporting roles try to rise above the figurative line by engaging in relational labor (livestreaming, cosplaying, and connecting with fans), highlighting their involvement in the game to compensate for precarious working conditions and contingent employment. During the strike, the above-the-line status and relational labor could be used to mobilize support for the union something that other more central but less visible professions in the video game industry might not be able to do. While not all SAG-AFTRA's demands were met, the recasting drew attention to voice acting and reignited the interest in organized labor action We conclude that the struggle for better working conditions calls for solidarity between above-the-line and below-the-line workers, as well as between core and peripheral professions.