Drew: I enjoyed reading both your responses to the provocation questions, and it seems like we have agreement for the most part around a lot of the issues involved with acafandom.
Corvus: I think I'd like to explore Nick's definition of fan though to start our conversation. I'm not sure it applies as much today as it once did. I think fandom has evolved considerably and the "fanatic" connotations are being lost.
Nick: How so? I might be pointing to an extreme case in my initial thoughts, but I still see people defending Attack of the Clones.
Drew: And Comic-Con always reminds me that the relationship of fan and fanatic.
Corvus: Maybe it's that I live in Portland, or that I self-select to not interact with the most maladjusted members of the many communities I participate in, but I think fandom has evolved a lot in the last 20 years.
Drew: I think this brings up an interesting point in terms of pop culture. I have a general impression that Portland as a city/community has a vibe of being laid back and that fans are almost like friends. Whereas NYC is where you would find your elite connoisseurs.
Nick: Well, what is a fan if not a person passionate about a piece of content? And being from NYC, I'm comfortable with the notion of being elitist. I wear that hand-designed, custom-made badge proudly. I don't think the important part of the fanaticism is thinking your love is superior to other loves. I think it's that you are rooting for your love. Which is an inherently not critical position.
Fair enough. It seems like everyone in Portland is very into their own thing, but very open to everyone else's thing being different. I guess then it's important to make a distinction between fan culture and enthusiast culture?
Drew: I like this notion, particularly in the context of sports. You're a fan, you root for your team regardless. Although you can be (highly) critical of how your team performs.
Nick: Right, so is that an acafan position? The guy who thinks that Knicks are making a huge mistake by doing such and such rather than such and such.
Corvus: I think a potentially severe problem of fandom is myopia, and lacking a broader perspective. Do you think that this is what the "aca" portion of acafan is meant to offset?
Drew: I think so, although Nick brings up a great point about how acafan could possibly be a "nicer" way to be elitist.
Corvus: Sure, but isn't it also about objectively exploring your own subjective enjoyment? For instance, I learn a lot from my enjoyment of objectively bad media.
Nick: Are you a fan of that bad media though?
Corvus: Some of it I am! Star Trek is, on many levels, objectively terrible, but I consider myself a fan.
Drew: This gets to the heart of it for me, I think acafan includes a more self-reflex look at what you're doing. Like Nick notes (in referencing Derrida) it could collapse into a mess of relativity where everything is cool (which isn't cool). And then you have the other end of the spectrum which is elitists who dictate canon
Corvus: Right. I didn't mention him by name, but I hope it was clear that I was talking about Ebert in my opening statement in regards to the elevation of subjective taste as objective assessment. I think he really helped establish this as a school of criticism, while the other movie critics at the time he began his career weren't so blatant about it.
Nick: He's by no means alone in doing that. But to return to sports for a second, I think that sports is the border case that's telling. If I'm a serious fan of baseball, and I love the Mets, I can objectively say that the Mets suck this year, for reasons objective to sports, and still love the Mets. So, is the educated sports fan the ideal acafan?
Drew: I like this tact, and even thinking beyond sports (in how to be critical (and still feel the love) this is where aesthetics (in a classic sense) come into play for me. It's how I work through my impressions and ideas to articulate my "judgment" of an experience. For example, take a movie like, The 5th element. Referencing Arnold Isenberg, to make an aesthetic judgment, you make a verdict, give a reason and cite a norm. So, to make a verdict (aesthetically) is to look at the movie in terms of the expression of its form and function. And the reason would be a detailed articulation of the experience how that related to the verdict. And finally, citing a norm would be placing it in the spectrum of movies in general or in specific (e.g. it's a scifi action flick). Thinking this through helps me then make the claim that I appreciated The 5th Element (even though it had a rather rote plot) because of it's art direction, set design and sense of fashion. (or something like that).
Nick: That makes sense as a methodology, but it sounds a lot (no offense) like elitist fandom.
Drew: Well what's problematic (for me at least) is how negative the concept of "elite" has become. You "earn" an expertise by being well read (or well played even).
Nick: Oh, I agree 100% about that. I'm not ashamed at all about being snobby about good work. Why should I like crap?
Corvus: Well when you combine these two loaded pejorative terms (elitist fanatic) do they cancel each other out?
Nick: No, they resonate into something even more powerful.
Corvus: I'm going to immediately change my self-descriptor on all my social networks. But seriously, those are both the problematic ends of a spectrum of consumption, right? So to embrace both ends is to stretch yourself to cover the entire spectrum, and that has to be a good thing. For example, "I only eat the best" and "I only eat this one thing."
Drew: From sports to food, talk about some great territory for this discussion. "Let me tell you about the best place to get a burger in the world," can start a heated deep conversation.
Nick: I think where we've been evolving is to say this - Academic thinking has some claim to an objective standard. Or at least an intersubjective standard that's formed from rigorous exposure to a history of a medium. And fandom is support for a particular entrant in the medium. And to your earlier point Corvus, that is different from the enthusiast, who just likes the medium. If the above definitions apply, there is nothing mutually exclusive between fandom and academic approaches to work. And you can certainly be fanatic about that. Only eat whole-grains or non-pasteurized cheese. Only read Martin when you read fantasy. Only play RTS by Blizzard.
Corvus: Right, and now I want to Venn diagram this!
Drew: Running with the idea of foodies. Again, it becomes a way to discuss something you have a passion for (so much so that you get it a lot (say dark chocolate) and to better understand and express your appreciation, you do get "elitist" in that you learn and develop a specific language (for instance, to describe why this chocolate's "snap" is better than that one's., and it lingers on the palate so pleasingly).
Nick: That's where I end up too. Insofar as academia in part a refinement of taste from exposure and a particular heuristic, then it's elitist by direct result.
Corvus: Whereas a fan would only eat one specific dark chocolate because "it's the best" while offering no justification necessarily.
Drew: In some ways for me, acafan is a way to try and better express your appreciation in more general terms so that people outside of your field of expertise can understand what you're saying.
Nick: We can also fall right into radical relativism here (Look, I hate radical relativism. I'm just trying to be thorough). Why does an academic approach merit more respect than a fan's? I think that's where we have a desire to have academic mean objective.
Drew: Well on a cultural level, there's a general sense that "academic" as a term connotes consideration, rigor, thoughtful. And "fan" connotes passion, " all in", excitement.
Nick: Do we accept those definitions?
Corvus:If someone can recognize their own subjective experience and objectively discuss it, it gives greater weight (in my opinion) to their opinions, because I have to do less filtration myself.
Drew: Interestingly, I think this ties into why Henry invited us to join this conversation. He thought the Well Played books were "acafan" and that video game criticism seemed to inherently be acafan (since the play experience is so individualized).
Nick: Transient art is hard to critique. You can't have a truly Apollonian relationship to it if you're making it exist and a part of it.
Corvus:I tend to agree there. Not only is the emotive experience radically different from one play to the next, but the structural experience can be as well. And because it's easier to grasp that notion, it's easier to accept the reality of the differing emotional and intellectual experiences as well.
Nick: Sure. That's the whole point of having agency.
Drew:And that's why I like to try and describe and define my "agency" in relation to the play experience (how much I played the game, did I reference GameFAQS, etc.)
Nick: I agree about that aspect of agency, Drew Davidson. Very Baudrillard. So, Well Played is about applying rigor to evaluating gameplay. That's the "aca" side. Is that fair?
Drew: Seems so to me. And the fan side comes from that ephemeral play experience that we each have. Also, that the essays, while critical, are appreciative.
Nick: Ok. I like that. You still cite flaws in the work, even while being appreciative.
Drew:Plus appreciative in the sense that games are worth considering. 5-10 years ago that wasn't the case, but now it feels more like a norm (so i think we don't have to say it as much (or as loud)
Nick: Yeah, true. I guess we still have to say that.
Corvus: Now we add it to the conversation for clarification, rather than leading with it as our point. That's progress
Drew: In fact, when I started thinking about "well played" as an idea, I went with the assumption that it was.
Drew: To wrap up, it's been thought-provoking to write and read our response to the provocations. And I really appreciate working together to articulate our ideas around the concept of acafandom. And while we needed the text for this post, I think it would have been an even better as a conversation (I've been doing some video interviews on another project, and it makes me think that could be a great way to capture the back and forth discussion around this topic, but I think we had some good ideas here.
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Drew Davidson is a professor, producer and player of interactive media. His background spans academic, industry and professional worlds and he is interested in stories across texts, comics, games and other media. He is the Director of the Entertainment Technology Center - Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University and the Editor of ETC Press.
Corvus Elrod is a Semionaut and Narrative Designer. He is the co-founder of Zakelro! Story Studio and creator of The HoneyComb Engine, an upcoming open and extensible tabletop RPG framework. He has been designing participatory experiences for the better part of two decades, beginning with his exploration of improvisational theater. As he incorporated more and more game mechanics into his performances, he turned his attention to how video game mechanics communicate meaning and began formalizing a semiotic theory of game design. He has contracted for a broad spectrum of clients, from major game studios and publishers to installation artists, and has worked on several small game projects in collaboration with independent developers and artists.
Nick Fortugno is a game designer and entrepreneur of digital and real-world games based in New York City, and a founder of Playmatics, a NYC game development company. Playmatics has created a variety of games including the CableFAX award winning Breaking Bad: The Interrogation and the New York Public Library's centennial game Find the Future with Jane McGonigal. For the past ten years, Fortugno has been a designer, writer and project manager on dozens of commercial and serious games, and served as lead designer on the downloadable blockbuster Diner Dash and the award-winning serious game Ayiti: The Cost of Life. Nick is also a co-founder of the Come Out and Play street games festival hosted in New York City and Amsterdam since 2006, and co-creator of the Big Urban Game for Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2003. Nick teaches game design and interactive narrative design at Parsons The New School of Design, and has participated in the construction of the school's game design curriculum. Nick's most recent writing about games can be found in the anthology Well-Played 1.0: Video Game, Value, and Meaning, published by ETC-Press.