Digital Games Vids – paper report from NECS 2017

By Charlotte Stevens on July 9th, 2018

This blog post summarises research presented at the 2017 European Network for Cinema and Media Studies (NECS) conference, held at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3, 29 June-1 July 2017. In a paper titled ‘Video Game Vids: Fan Textual Productivity and Re-Presenting Digital Bodies’, I argued that games vids offer a textualisation of audience experience of different forms of digital games.

The spaces and platforms of gameplay overlap with those of television and film: living rooms, computers, mobile phones, and cinemas host content across film, television, and gaming. Further, building on a decades-long tradition of similar works made from film and/or television clips, textually productive media fans appropriate user-captured playthrough footage to construct fanvids (vids) of video games.

As I have previously noted, vids are made using existing moving images, approximate the music video in appearance and duration, and are non-commercial fan works which construct creative and critical analyses of existing media. As Jonathan Gray (2010) argues, a vid offers a record of a viewer’s ‘path through a text’. Extending this analysis to vids made from video game clips, I argue that video game vids render textual the vidder’s path through their unique player experience. These works construct compact histories of gameplay and interpretation, highlighting aspects of narrative, spectacle, and evoking the emotional stakes of navigating a game world.

The interactivity of games opens up questions of how the player understands their relationship with the virtual bodies on screen. For example, in the role-playing game series Mass Effect, the digital body of the player character is customisable. This virtual body is a point of identification as the character’s appearance will remain consistent while the games’ narrative develops. Players capture and share their gameplay footage online; when combined in a vid, the presentation of each unique avatar – performing identical actions – offers a chance to reflect (academically, emotionally) on the intensity of identification with their Shepard.

For this presentation, I examined examples of vids made from AAA games (Tomb Raider, Mass Effect), mobile games (Monument Valley), and classic PC games (Myst) to consider the points of access that are opened up through the vid form’s textualising of interpretation, and how video games can function beyond the expected gameplay experience.

Digital Games Vids (caption text)

In the writing of the presentation, queer perspectives on gaming became more useful to the project than I had presumed when writing the abstract. Happily, this meant that my paper spoke more comprehensively to the paper given by my fellow panellist, Zoë Shacklock (Warwick University), titled ‘Television’s Queer Posthumanism’. I have been particularly inspired by Bonnie Ruberg and Adrienne Shaw’s introduction to their edited collection Queer Game Studies (Minnesota, 2017), in which they argue for a queering of games studies to account for games ‘as spaces where we play within and against rules and explore representation beyond explicitly named queer content’. By editing recorded playthroughs and cutscenes into vids, the individual paths through texts – be they a queer reading of the text/experience, a memory of gameplay, or an empathetic awareness of others’ experiences of customised avatars – are textually instantiated into these video forms.

While the games vids in my study do not offer explicit critiques of their source material, they do demonstrate one possible afterlife for digital games once the playthrough has been completed. As with vids of television, games vids provide a site of sustained engagement for a medium that tends to have lower cultural value and therefore more disposability.