THE ETHNOGRAPHY OF COLLECTIBLE MINIATURE
GAME STORYWORLDSEthan Watrall, PhD
Assistant Professor – Matrix: The Center for Human Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences OnlineAssistant Professor - Dept. of Telecom, Information Studies, and Media
Assistant Professor - Dept. of History
Patrick ShawReactor Zero
An era of entertainment media convergence - narrative unfold across multiple media channels and products.
Audiences have become information hunters and gatherers, tracking down character information and plot-points
Making connections across multiple texts within the same storyworld.
Multiple media channels are an opportunity to create holistic storytelling realities in which many different stories can be told.
Stories are bound together in a fictional reality that is designed (and evolved) with continuity and canon in mind.
The reality connects the stories together, and is not only fed by the stories, but in turn feeds the stories, making them part of a living world.
Do story products that exist within a rich and compelling storyworld provide greater enjoyment for the audience than story products that do not.
RESEARCH FOCUS: TABLETOP RPGs
RPG materials - significant space is dedicated to in-depth information that defines the game’s
Researchers focused study on HeroClix
Tabletop miniature RPG game produced by WizKids Inc (www.wizkidsgames.com)
WizKids’ HeroClix games: Marvel HeroClix, DC HeroClix, Indy Heroclix
Other Wizkids HeroClix games: MechWarrior, Mage Knight, HorrorClix
The primary purchasable unit in the HeroClix game is the Booster Pack.
Contains several random figurines
Marvel Avengers HeroClix figurines
Marvel X-Men HeroClix figurines
HOW HEROCLIX WORKS? Each character has 4 statistics:
speed (how far the character can move), attack (how likely the character is to him another character, defense (ability to avoid attack), damage, and range (how far away the character can attack)
As a character takes damage (damage is measured in “clicks”), the base is rotated to reveal new stats (reflecting the characters increasingly weakened state).
Each character has a finite number of clicks (depending on how powerful they are) before they are KO’ed and removed from the game.
STUDY METHODS Mixed Methods: traditional ethnographic
participant observation and empirical survey
1. Do players draw upon meta storyworld information during gameplay
2. When do players draw upon meta storyworld information
3. How do players draw upon meta storyworld information
4. What sources do players use to draw upon meta storyworld information
ETHNOGRAPHIC METHODS PHASE I: Interviews with gatekeepers (store
owners and WizKids judges)
PHASE II: Participant observation at two local (East Lansing, MI) game/comic stores (GS1 and GS2)
Each group was observed for 4 game sessions a piece
PHASE III: limited number of open ended interviews with select individuals from the observed game groups
IN-GAME FIELDNOTES CODING GAME STORE - descriptions and opinions of the venue
COMPETITION - comparisons of player skills
FIGURES - discussion of the figures themselves
GAME PLAY - events occurring in game, such as attack, movement, or character elimination.
OTHER - Comments that did not fit into other categories.
PERSONAL - player's personal lives
RULE CLARIFICATIONS - debate about rules
STRATEGY - plans to produce a given game outcome.
STORYWORLD - storyworld information
TEAMS - Discussion of comic based super hero groups or team
IN-GAME OBSERVATIONS: RESULTS
OUT OF GAMEPLAY OBSERVATIONS: STORYWORLD Outside of gameplay there were marked
difference between how players from GS1 and GS2 discussed the HeroClix storyworlds:
At GS1, the discussion that took place before, between, and after the game rounds was dominated by the discussion of ongoing comic book stories and associated characters.
At GS2, the frequency to which players engaged in comic book storyworld discussions was comparatively lower.
OUT OF GAMEPLAY OBSERVATIONS: PLAYER MOTIVATION
1. Players at GS2 were motivated primarily by competition
2. Players at GS2 were motivated by a desire to optimize their teams for official WizKids competitive events
3. Players at GS1 were motivated more by entertainment and enjoyment
OUT OF GAMEPLAY OBSERVATIONS: VENUE
Very little “cross pollination” between venues
Those who regularly played at GS1 rarely played at GS2, and vise versa.
The only instances in which there were large numbers of players from GS2 at GS1 was when GS1 held qualifier rounds for competitive games that would place .
GS1 and GS2 were separate gameplaying “ecosystems”
Original plan to administer survey to players after gameplay proved to be too disruptive (survey made available on web instead)
The survey provided information on demography, playstyle, and media consumption
Provided a counterpart in terms of breadth to the depth that naturally comes with ethnographic observation.
341 survey respondents
SURVEY RESULTS: DEMOGRAPHICS
97% of respondents were male and 3% of respondents were female
Average age of respondents was 29
Most respondents (64%) had at least an undergraduate degree
SURVEY RESULTS: MOTIVATIONS
Participants played the games either for "fun" or "competition,” but generally not both.
96% respondents were primarily interested in fun
50% respondents were primarily interested in competition.
Negative correlation between fun and competition (i.e. competition is not necessarily the same as fun)
SURVEY RESULTS: GAME INTERESTS
“Fun” is positively related to storyworld interest and character interest and negatively related to interest in game mechanics (“crunch”)
Interest in competition is positively related to interest in game mechanics
Interest in competition is negatively related to interest in storyworld and characters
SURVEY RESULTS: PLAY EXPERIENCE
Players with more than three years of experience have slightly stronger interest in storyworld.
Other interests were not significantly different between experienced and inexperienced players
CONCLUSIONS Based on ethnographic observations and empirical
survey, researchers made the following conclusions:
1. The degree to which players draw upon meta storyworld information depends on their motivations for play (fun vs. competition)
2. Meta storyworld knowledge is draw upon extensively along the edges of the game
3. Comic preferences draw players to the game & influence the figures they choose to play (or the combination of figures they choose to play)
4. Individuals who have played longer have a greater interest in storyworld
FUTURE DIRECTIONS While this portion of the research is
concluded, the research model is extensible:
1. MMOGs (very similar model of gameplay to tabletop RPGs)
2. Original IPs vs. licensed IPs
3. Any differences between genres (fantasy vs. science fiction, etc.)
4. Different WizKids clix genres
Ethan WatrallMatrix: The Center for Human Arts, Letters, and Social
Dept. of Telecom, Information Studies, and Media
Michigan State University