The Ethnography Of Tabletop Miniature Game Storyworlds


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The Ethnography Of Tabletop Miniature Game Storyworlds

  1. 1. THE ETHNOGRAPHY OF COLLECTIBLE MINIATURE GAME STORYWORLDS Ethan Watrall, PhD Assistant Professor – Matrix: The Center for Human Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online Assistant Professor - Dept. of Telecom, Information Studies, and Media Assistant Professor - Dept. of History Patrick Shaw Reactor Zero
  2. 2. TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING 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.
  3. 3. 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. 
  5. 5. QUESTION: Do story products that exist within a rich and compelling storyworld provide greater enjoyment for the audience than story products that do not. 
  6. 6. 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 (
  7. 7. WizKids’ HeroClix games: Marvel HeroClix, DC HeroClix, Indy Heroclix Other Wizkids HeroClix games: MechWarrior, Mage Knight, HorrorClix
  8. 8. The primary purchasable unit in the  HeroClix game is the Booster Pack. Contains several random figurines 
  9. 9. Marvel Avengers HeroClix figurines
  10. 10. Marvel X-Men HeroClix figurines
  11. 11. 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.
  12. 12. STUDY METHODS Mixed Methods: traditional ethnographic  participant observation and empirical survey Primary Questions:  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
  13. 13. 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
  14. 14. 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
  15. 15. IN-GAME OBSERVATIONS: RESULTS GS1 GS2 40 36 30 25 INSTANCES 20 14 11 10 10 5 4 3 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 e es n ld sd nu tio or r ki gu Ve ca yw iz Fi W ifi or ar St Cl le Ru CODED OBSERVATIONS
  16. 16. 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.
  17. 17. 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
  18. 18. 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”
  19. 19. SURVEY METHODS 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 
  20. 20. 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
  21. 21. SURVEY RESULTS: MOTIVATIONS Participants played the games either for quot;funquot;  or quot;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)
  22. 22. 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
  23. 23. 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
  24. 24. 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
  25. 25. 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
  26. 26. THANK YOU Ethan Watrall Matrix: The Center for Human Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online Dept. of Telecom, Information Studies, and Media Michigan State University