Fan Culture

eSports, Fangirls & the Celebrity Gamer: Autoethnography & State of Play

After dabbling in some autoethnographic research in the past — one of the ‘perks’ of being a Cultural Studies major — the notion of analysing, recording and addressing my personal experiences was not new to me. As a method to understand cultural experience, Ellis, Adams and Bochner describe autoethnography as an approach that embodies “subjectivity, emotionality and the researcher’s influence on research.” By doing so, this methodology helps to “facilitate understanding of a culture for insiders and outsiders”, and whilst watching State of Play, I was undeniably the outsider looking in.

It would be a complete lie to say I wasn’t entirely gobsmacked when watching and thus experiencing State of Play. I had never even heard of eSports until just last year and I would have never been able to comprehend the fervour with which its community shared.

For those of you who don’t know, eSports is an organised competition which involves the playing of video games — mostly multiplayer ones — across a number of electronic platforms. One of the most popular in this gaming phenomenon is the League of Legends World Championship. The global eSports market spans across transnational borders and attracts a viewership of over 200 million. In 2016, the industry is expected to make an approximate $463 million.

The documentary State of Play follows the lives of professional gamers — most notably Lee Jae Dong, — providing viewers with unique insight into the Korean cultural phenomenon that is gaming. I recorded my response to the documentary, and this is what I found most intriguing:

06

Lee Jae Dong

  • There was a distinct parallel I found myself constantly drawing on when watching Lee Jae Dong and his teammates compete in arduous keyboard thrashing battles. I couldn’t help but picture them as professional NFL players, striving for their chance at the Superbowl. They mirrored the same traits I expected in an Olympic team. Yet despite this, and perhaps most surprising to me was, they were just gamers.
  • The fan following which Lee Jae Dong and his teammates had accrued was surprising to say the least. As a former Directioner — I spent a significant amount of time in high school obsessing over 1D and may or may not have a Harry Styles doll — I could see myself in the fangirls State of Play followed. I just never thought a group of gamers would be afforded with the same celebrity status as boyband royalty.
  • The pressure with which the StarCraft professionals dealt with on a daily basis proved that the industry could not be treated with contempt. Lee Jae Dong showing emotion after winning a competition highlighted the highly competitive nature of the eSports league.
  • This moment further suggested that even in Korea, and in gaming culture too, gender roles are quite strict. I didn’t see the portrayal of a female gamer once in State of Play. Is this to say that female gamers are not part of this popular culture narrative?

In making sense of my State of Play experience I have been able to heighten my understanding of others. It never occurred to me that Korean gaming culture was so revered in the eyes of the community. In the words of Ellis, Adams and Bochner, my “assumptions of the world” have been changed.

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Pokemon and Soft Power Part 2: Kawaii and Consumption.

I came across an article this week that discussed the concept of Kawaii and how this seemly abstract notion that best translates as “cute” in English is incorporated into Japanese consumerism. For this blog post, I will briefly discuss a section of this paper and do my best to link the concepts Allison describes to my research into Japanese soft power and Pokemon.
This topic could be an entire essay in itself, and there is a part of me that would love to research this topic much more thoroughly, but alas, I’m short on time and words!

Allison (2003) describes the concept of kawaii  as a notion that combines “the qualities of amae—sweetness connected to dependence—and yasashii—gentleness”. While kawaii is linked to girls and girlishness, it is not exclusively ‘feminine’ (Allison, 2003). Someone’s personality can be called kawaii, for example, and so can a boy’s face. This definition aligns with my understanding of the concept of cuteness.

Interestingly, Allison notes that “Yasashii” or the gentle aspect of cuteness is the word Japanese producers use to describe the marketing of Pokemon in Japan:

If there is something soothing and appealing about a Doraemon or a Pikachu, the aim of marketers has been to extend and expand this emotional relationship into more and more vistas of commodifiable existence. As the Japanese toy company, Bandai, articulates this principle, a child’s happiness can be maximized by spreading her favorite character on everything from PJs, backpacks, and lunch boxes to breakfast cereal, bath bubbles, and galoshes – Allison, 2003.

The comments that Allison makes on what kawaii has come to mean and its relationship to how Pokemon has been used as a commodity speaks to the notions of soft power. It is my understanding that it is the combination of Pokemon’s cute factor, and the way both game and toy companies have capitlised on the cute appeal of Pokemon that have helped to popularise the  franchise internationally, as thus increase the appeal of Japanese culture internationally.

 

References

Allison, A. (2003). Portable monsters and commodity cuteness: Pokemon as Japan’s new global power. Postcolonial Stud., [online] 6(3), pp.381-395. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1368879032000162220 [Accessed 8 Oct. 2014].

Net Museums Pt 2: DeviantArt

Last week I made some observations of Pokemon fan art of Elfwood.com, as well as making some observations about the communication style on the site and comparing them with my own experience of Tumblr. As I mentioned last week, these observations are slight, and by no means exhaustive or indicative of how the websites in question operate in relation to fan art on a large scale. These observations merely reflect my personal experience and ability to navigate the sites.

So with that disclaimer out of the way, into this weeks website: DeviantArt! To be quite honest, I have only visited the site a handful of times, and never before have I specifically sought out Pokemon related fan art for auto-ethnographical purposes.  For anyone unfamiliar, DeviantArt, LLC is an online community showcasing various forms of user-made artwork, first launched on August 7, 2000 by Scott Jarkoff, Matthew Stephens, Angelo Sotira and others. deviantArt, Inc. is headquartered in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, California, United States.The site aims to provide a platform for any artist to exhibit and discuss works. Works are organised into categories including photography, digital art, traditional art, literature, Flash, filmmaking, skins for applications to name a few.

Like I did with Elfwood, keyword searched “Pokemon” and brought up a host of results.

The first thing I noticed was the difference in standard of artwork that was produced upon searching the term. Most of the artwork that I found  seemed to be digital art, or art that has been edited/enhanced digitally with visual art software, like Photoshop as opposed to hand sketched, then scanned and uploaded. GIFs and info graphics were also present and often included humour or incorporated elements of fan fiction or fan theories into the work. As I was scrolling, I noticed quite a few artworks that I had seen posted or reflagged on Tumblr, which suggests sharing of material across websites and platforms. One particular image I came across was a fan’s impression of a Tumblr -inspired poke ball which I had seen reflagged on my Tumblr wall a while ago.

The main comparison to be made between DeviantArt and Elfwood for me is the size of each website. DeviantArt evidently has a much larger user base than that of Elfwood, and thus the range and quality and quantity of Pokemon related fan art and fiction is much greater. Both sites however serve as a platform for fans of the Pokemon franchise to share their experiences and creative talents in ways that foster creativity and interaction between users. Like Tumblr, people share their both their work and their options with like minded users.

References

deviantART, I. (2014). deviantART, Inc.: Private Company Information – Businessweek. [online] Businessweek.com. Available at: http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=22872779 [Accessed 7 Oct. 2014].

Otaku, Fan Culture and Fan Fiction

Otaku Meme

According to the Otaku Encyclopaedia, the English equivalent of Otaku is “geek or fanboy. A hardcore or cult fan.” However it has a lot more meaning than that, in Western culture it has always been a positive notion to associate yourself with however it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Japanese negative connotations associated with Otaku started to fade (Galbraith, 2009, p. 171-173). Simply put it is someone who is a fan of anime, manga, video games and technology. “Otaku have come to represent a “Peter Pan syndrome, or the refusal to grow up and take on adult social relations. […] Without social roles, otaku had no fixed identities, no fixed gender roles, and no fixed sexuality (Kinsella 308-12, 314)” (Darlington, 2010, p. 13). The Otaku world is a place where young Japanese people can express their true fantasy through creating their own amateur manga, dressing in costume etc. and because of this Japanese mainstream culture has looked down on it. Darlington states that the mainstream culture views it “as a symbol of dangerously misguided youth, has created its own counter-economy by producing narratives that undermine the values of the society that looks down on them.” (2010, p. 10).

An important part of otaku is the fan fiction created, the Japanese term for this is doujinshi, and it is hugely influential. The fans take the original characters and place them in “new stories, alternative couplings, or parallel worlds” (Galbraith, 2009, p.65). Fan fiction is nothing new, it very much exists in the Western world too, take for instants 50 Shades of Grey which is definitely the most successful work of fan fiction for Twilight. Doujinshi is so popular that it has its own convention called Comic Market which was established in 1975 for otaku to attend and “distribute amateur manga” (Darlington, 2010, p. 10). In Japan fan fiction is an industry in itself, no only does it have the convention but also bookstores and publications and is almost branching out on its own separate from mainstream manga.

Having background knowledge of otaku and doujinshi is important for understanding Ouran High School Host Club because the most significant element of the show is its play on otaku culture.

 

References:

Darlington, T. 2010, ‘The Queering of Haruhi Fujioka: Cross-Dressing, Camp and Commoner Culture in Ouran High School Host Club’, Interdisciplinary Comics Studies, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 1-19.

Galbraith, P.W. 2009, The otaku encyclopedia: an insider’s guide to the subculture of cool Japan, Kodansha International, New York.

 

Net Museums Pt 1: Elfwood

So last post I proposed that I would make a comparison between a few of the websites where fan art emerges and comparing them with my own experience of tumblr.com By giving a brief overview of my findings, I hope to gain a better insight into how Pokemon fans communicate online and whether there is any distinct difference in the form of communication between sites. The fan art and communities that spring up online is as diverse as it is fascinating, as is the ways in which people discuss and discover in online environments. I took a trip to, Elfwood.com to observe the types of art and communication on each site and aim to compare these differences with the observations I have already made of Tumblr. I have decided to split the observation of these sites across two weeks, otherwise this post with be much too long. It must be noted that these are merely surface-level observations, and I’m sure if given the time, a much deeper and richer understanding of online fan culture could be gained from a more thorough comparative analysis of online fan art communities.

I’d only heard of Elfwood in passing conversation with people, and had not visited the site until this week. For those of you who are unfamiliar, May 1st 1996 was the day Elfwood saw the light of day. Created by a man named Thomas Abrahamsson, the original name of the project was Lothlorien and mainly focused on high fantasy art made by amateurs. On Elfwoods first day it held art from three artist, and Thomas being one of them. Today,  small team of people in Swedish people run the website and the site is owned by the company Usify AB. The site is a mixture now of amateur fan art, photos and fan fiction, or stories written mostly my amateur writers. A quick search for “Pokemon” turned up 604 results, with 601 images and 3 stories. I clicked on a work of Articuno was posted near the top and read through the comments. Articuno is a legendary ice/flying type Pokemon that can be found in the Seafoam Islands in Pokemon red, Blue and Yellow, and this particular artwork of the Pokemon seemed to have been a digital creation.

To summarise in a qualitative manner, the comment section consisted mostly of badly spelled, grammatically incorrect praise for the work put into the picture, along with affirmations of the fan’s love of Articuno/Pokemon in a general sense. There were very few negative comments on that post, which for me reiterated the excitement and genuine interest fans of the genre felt towards the franchise and other amateur artists. It is difficult to tell the age and location of the commenters, but for Elfwood users it doesn’t seem to matter. The picture of Articuno th in a sense, became a symbol for me of the Pokemon franchise’s international successes a vehicle for both non-verbal and verbal communication.

What Interested me most about the site was the range and quality of the Pokemon fan art, with the inclusion of uploads of pencil sketches and hand coloured pictures along side digital artworks. The site is moderated by a “trusted member of the Elfwood team” and has seemed to have made a point of trying to feature a diverse range of artworks in the site. This site seems much smaller and more of a niche audience than Tumblr, catering specifically to amateur fan fiction and art. I feel as though it is harder  on Elfwood to generate discussion among fans than it is on Tumblr, whether this is due to the seemingly smaller user base of the site in comparison to Tumblr, or perhaps it is because of the inability to reblog or share other users works, as is the case with Tumblr.

References:

http://www.elfwood.com

http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Seafoam_Islands