Saturday, 28 May 2016

MS4 Video Games Industry Revision

MS4 Video Games Industry Revision: Audiences

Good morning, Medians!

Today's MS4 revision resources are focused on answering a question on Audience using the Video Games industry texts as your examples. I'll start off with some questions to get you focused and thinking, and then we'll add to this post over the coming days with lists of key points and some model paragraphs and answers.

(Thanks to those of you who have emailed me with questions and suggestions. You can join in by adding points through the comments below, or by emailing me on either my home or work email addresses, and I'll add your contributions to this post.

Is this useful to you? Tell me what we have missed and/or what else you need by email or comment.)


Your questions are going to be something like these:

  • How do audiences respond to your three main texts?
  • Explore the different ways your three main texts appeal to their audiences.
  • How do your three main texts position their audiences?
  • How do your chosen texts attract their audiences?
  • What do your media texts offer their audiences?
  • 'The main function of a media text is to entertain its audience.' How true is this statement for your three main texts?
  • What different pleasures do your chosen texts offer audiences?

Don't be put off if you get an audience question that uses slightly different language (e.g. 'offer' or 'appeal' mean basically the same thing - 'how does the text interact with the audience?'). There are only so many ways that the examiners can phrase the questions.

Just read the question carefully several times, noting the keywords in the question, and writing down some points about each of those keywords. e.g. 'Appeal', 'Attract', 'Offer' all deal with the same process of how the text interacts with its audience, but each looks at it from a slightly different perspective, but they aren't different enough to matter.

Once you feel that you understand the question, then you can turn your attention to the texts that you are going to use in your answer.

The Texts

Remember that the texts we have studied are:

  • Angry Birds (focus on Angry Birds 2 (2015))
  • Tomb Raider (focus on 'Tomb Raider: A Survivor Is Born' (2013))
  • Kinect Adventures (2010)
So you'll want several paragraphs on each of your texts, with each paragraph discussing one or more of the key points about that text. See if you can come up with any improvements or extras to these lists:

Angry Birds

  • Requires ownership of a smartphone or tablet to play, so wide ownership of these devices provides Angry Birds with a huge pool of potential players as these devices are becoming so popular.
  • Audience demographic is spread out among male and female, young and mature gamers (However, see the infographic below for data that suggests the players who end up paying for downloadable content tend to be males aged 18 to 24).
  • Free to download so no barrier to getting started.
  • Robert Cialdini's theory about Reciprocity argues that after being given something for free, consumers feel like they 'owe' something in return and so are more likely to make purchases when offered the opportunity later on.
  • Snack-sized/casual gaming so it is easy to pick up/play/put down multiple times in a day
  • More Ludology than Narratology so no requirement to immerse yourself in any complex story
  • The narrative is mainly hidden in the background, and merely provides a context for the game play. So when we play, we are enacting the revenge of the birds (aiming at the pig castles, destroying the pig castles) rather than actually moving to where the eggs are and playing out the retrieval of the eggs (we get validation that eggs have been rescued in a cutscene style sequence at the successful end of each level).
  • The audience is therefore positioned as being on the side of the birds, and as some kind of anonymous helper who is responsible for the aiming and release of the catapult that sends the birds to their target. We experience the game with the birds, not as a bird.
  • Preferred Reading - this type of free-to-play, casual game that I can carry around with me and play for a couple of minutes at a time without investing much time, effort or money is great!
  • Negotiated Reading - It's nothing new, I can play these sorts of games on my PC or console, but I like the fact that I can carry this around with me and play when and where I like.
  • Oppositional Reading - The graphics aren't as good as my console, the screen is too small to see properly, the interface is hard for my fat fingers to swipe accurately, and there's nothing to the game except repetitive goes and it gets boring quickly.
  • Uses and Gratifications - Entertainment: It's just a bit of fun to distract you and cheer you up. Escapism: while you are waiting around for your bus / friend to arrive / doctor's appointment etc. you can forget where you are and that you are hanging around waiting, and for a couple of minutes you can escape into a mini-world of short, rewarding episodes / levels.
  • Appeal to audience: the original Angry Birds did not sell many copies. It was not until Angry Birds was a featured app on the Apple App Store in the UK in February 2010 that it became a best seller, and it's No.1 spot on the UK App Store was followed by a No.1 spot on the US App Store by the middle of 2010, and it stayed there for 275 days. 
  • Language: tbd
  • Mode of Address: tbd
  • Polysemic meanings: tbd

Back in 2011 the folks at market research firm Ask Your Target Market researched and compiled this useful infographic about why Angry Birds might be so popular (click on thumbnail to open the full size infographic in a new window):

Notice how the infographic breaks down the demographic of which audience segments are the ones who actually convert from free to paid players (Males, and especially Males aged 18 to 24 years old). It also reports audiences describing the effect of playing Angry Birds as making them feel mainly 'Somewhat Relaxed' (32%) or 'Very Relaxed' (23%), with only 6% of players reporting as 'Very Anxious' and 17% as 'Somewhat Anxious' after playing, so generally beneficial effects for a majority of players.

Take a look for yourself by clicking on the thumbnail graphic above, and see what facts and angles are useful for your revision.

Angry Birds Softography


December 2009Angry BirdsPuzzleThe first game released of the series. It primarily involves shooting birds into pigs' fortresses.[11]
October 2010Angry Birds SeasonsPuzzleThe second game in the series, featuring holiday-themed levels. It was also originally released as Angry Birds Halloween.
March 2011Angry Birds RioPuzzleThe third game in the series, tying in with the films Rio and Rio 2.[12]
February 2012Angry Birds FriendsPuzzleThe fourth game of the series features weekly tournaments and is also available on Facebook.
March 2012Angry Birds SpacePuzzleThe fifth game in the series that features space physics.[13][14]
November 2012Angry Birds Star WarsPuzzleThe sixth game that ties in with the original Star Wars trilogy (Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983)).
September 2013Angry Birds Star Wars IIPuzzleThe seventh game of the series that ties in with the Star Wars prequel trilogy and the television show Star Wars Rebels. It is the first game compatible with Hasbro's Telepods, that allows the player to summon a specific character in the game.
December 2013Angry Birds Go!RacingThe eighth game of the series and it is the first to branch off from the puzzle genre to the racing genre.
June 2014Angry Birds EpicRole-playingThe ninth game of the series that features turn-based RPG combat and a gear and item crafting system.
October 2014Angry Birds TransformersSide-scrolling shooterThe tenth game of the series, which ties-in with the Transformers franchise, is a shoot 'em up game.[15]
June 2015Angry Birds Fight!Tile-matching, Role-playingThe 11th game of the series, which is a match-3 game to match birds to have enough power to defeat the enemy and features a gear system that can be upgraded.[16]
July 2015Angry Birds 2PuzzleThis is the sequel to Angry Birds and the 12th game of the series that features the player picking the birds to launch into the pigs' fortresses in multistage levels.[17][18]
April 2016Angry Birds Action!Puzzle, PinballThis is the 13th game of the series that features a top-down perspective in pinball-type levels, and the first game to feature the birds in their The Angry Birds Movieappearances.[19]

Angry Birds Gameplay

If you need to remind yourself of the gameplay but don't have the game to hand... then here are a couple of gameplay walkthrough videos for you to watch and take notes on.

Angry Birds II (2015)

Angry Birds Star Wars II (2013)    ("Booooom!")

Tomb Raider: A Survivor Is Born (2013)

  • Traditional gaming, where you sit down at a PC and monitor / console and television in order to play.,
  • Is this game gender-biased? Will it appeal more to male gamers and why (is this due to a sexualised appeal)? Does it provide a positive female role model? Does Tomb Raider introduce gaming to a female audience? 
  • What do we think the preferred reading of Tomb Raider is? 
  • Is the Preferred Reading that this new version of Lara Croft and the new hybrid game style has successfully rebooted the then almost two-decades old franchise, and used realistic graphics and gameplay to update the game into the modern gaming era?
  • Is the Negotiated Reading that the audience can see improvements to the game (improved graphics, new less sexualised Lara Croft) but the gameplay format has changed from the original and familiar action platformer style game of the first 17 years of game releases, to a new and unfamiliar hybrid of action, survival and exploration style gameplay. Does this departure from the familiar format alienate the fans?
  • Is the Oppositional Reading that this is not a traditional and familiar Tomb Raider game at all? The graphics, gameplay and character of Lara Croft are all different to what fans are used to from this franchise, and overall it just feels like they made a game and stuck the Tomb Raider logo on it, it's so uncharacteristic of the previous games in the series. So ultimately it feels like either they reworked the game concept to revive falling sales of a popular but tired old franchise, or it was just an attempt to cash in on the Tomb Raider brand.
  • Requires ownership of a high-spec PC or games console (Xbox, Playstation etc.) so the potential audience for this game is very large, but smaller than the smartphone/tablet audience.
  • Quite an immersive narrative so this is simultaneously a) a barrier to getting started ("I'll need to invest quite a chunk of time playing to get anything out of this.") which might put off casual gamers and b) an incentive to play ("The longer I spend playing, the more I'll become immersed in the storyline.") which would attract and appeal to more hardcore gamers.
  • The game's high-quality 3-D graphics (enhanced to full 1080p HD at 30fps for the Definitive Edition that was released a year after initial release) and immersive audio experience will appeal to gamers who value realism in games (photorealism in games is considered by them as being 'better' than older, less-photoreal graphics). Does this appeal more to those who favour Narratology do you think, as it helps them to immerse themselves into the story?
  • Gameplay is based around the hybrid of Exploration, Action and Survival. So there is strategy involved in choosing how to approach missions, and some innovative gameplay that will appeal to those who favour Ludology
  • A balance of gameplay features to appeal to those who favour Ludology, and storyline and immersive game world to appeal to those who favour Narratology.
  • Audience is positioned to experience the game with Lara Croft as they are always following her in a third-person over-the-shoulder action perspective. (This slightly less immersive than FPS (First-Person Shooter perspective) where we would be positioned as actually being Lara Croft, but in third-person mode we are still closely relating to Lara Croft as our avatar, but it is important to note that we are with her, not in her.)
  • Audience are essentially invited to take part in a narrative that takes a young Lara Croft and builds her into the action heroine that we are already familiar with. So there is a hero arc as we play as Lara and make her increasingly powerful and capable with new items and experience levels.
  • Audience are also involved in the narrative of Lara Croft as a carer or nurturer, as we are positioned to help care for her well-being and keep her alive, and simultaneously help her to care for / rescue / bring medical help to others within the game. Does this involve us in a traditional / stereotyped positioning of females as carers and nurturers?
  • Audience responses to prior versions of Lara Croft in earlier games had become increasingly negative, as Lara was seen as increasingly sexualised (gratuitous 'less clothing and bigger breasts') 
  • Uses and Gratifications - Entertainment (it's fun playing Lara's story; we get an enjoyable adrenalin thrill out of the action gameplay).
  • Debates - Violence. This game is a departure from previous Tomb Raider games in that it has extensive graphical violence, and tends towards the cruelty of say Mortal Kombat X fatality cutscenes where the camera lingers on the helplessness of the character as they are twitching and expiring. Is this violence in keeping with earlier Tomb Raider games and is it appropriate for fans of the series? Is this game aimed at teenaged fans of the earlier games who are now young adults and who look for more mature themes and realistic violence in their gaming experiences?
  • Debates - Sexism. Lara Croft is a female archaeologist and action heroine. Is she now more of an empowered feminist icon than a cyber-bimbo? This game sees a slight de-emphasising of the sexualised Lara Croft we are used to in comparison to earlier games in the series. Although her legs are still disproportionately long (a trait stereotypically considered attractive in women), she wears considerably more clothing (although still sports some bare flesh), her waist is more realistic and no longer looks as though she is wearing an invisible cincher corset and/or has had a few ribs removed, and her breasts are smaller and less conspicuous (previously, and perhaps uniquely for a video game character in a way that references the world of modelling, she was known to have a 24 inch waist and a 36 inch bust. Why might we as an audience be told these statistics about her? And should we believe the apocryphal story from the developers that a programming error initially made her breasts 150% larger than intended, but they decided to go with it? Does this sound like an attempt to excuse what is essentially sexism?)  Using our understanding of Laura Mulvey's male gaze theory, we can briefly mention issues of gender representation in an essay about Audiences, as this issue will affect audience responses to this text.
  • Debates - Racism. Lara began her female life (she was originally intended to be male, ripping-off Indiana Jones) as Laura Cruz, a sassy Mexican explorer, but the name was changed to avoid the negative (racist?) connotations for the US audience (where it was assumed the game would make most of its sales) and instead the developers chose a more marketable (i.e. more appealing to the US market) Lara Croft, a member of the English aristocracy (ruling class elite) who goes around the world raiding and stealing artefacts from other cultures and taking them back to Britain. This mirrors the controversial periods of history where Great Britain ruled over several other countries as colonies that were part of an empire. The issues of colonialism and imperialism are still at play in this game. Are they suitable issues that we can use them uncritically for our entertainment? Even the locations within the game are potentially controversial, being represented negatively as dangerous places populated by hostile 'natives', and being mainly locations considered 'exotic' to Europeans, all of which are encouraging the acceptance of 'tomb-raiding' colonial and post-colonial perspectives
  • Spin-off Products: Lara Croft has been used to advertise Lucozade (linking an athletic and popular gaming figure with a fitness / energy product to target a young male segment of the energy drink market); She has released two singles (only in France though. One of the singles was called 'Getting Naked'. Oh dear.) 
  • DLC (Downloadable Content): DLCs were first available exclusively on the Xbox 360, with other platforms receiving access to DLCs at a later date.
  • Enigma codes in the game (so are there any? I'll leave this for you to think about, and in a day or two we'll return and put what we think the enigma codes of Tomb Raider are)
  • Language: tbd
  • Mode of Address: tbd
  • Polysemic meanings: tbd

The changing appearance of Lara Croft:

Tomb Raider Gameplay

If you need to remind yourself of the gameplay but don't have the game to hand... then here are a couple of gameplay walkthrough videos for you to watch and take notes on.

(Watch at least the first 15 minutes of this one, at least until Lara escapes to the surface, sees the lifeboat and gets given the sub-mission of searching for survivors, clambers up and across the crashed WWII aeroplane, finds Sam's pack and the two-way radio, and then receives the mission 'Take Shelter From The Storm')

Kinect Adventures! (2010)

  • Requires ownership of the Kinect camera equipment, so the potential audience for Kinect Adventures! is actually quite limited to a subset of the Xbox platform (not all Xbox owners own Kinect). Also requires ownership of Xbox 360 or Xbox One.
  • Motion gaming is not a traditional method of gaming, so this might be a barrier to traditional gamers. At the same time, hardcore gamers might also be put off because of the extra equipment and extra playing space requirements. 
  • The high level of physical activity required to play the game might appeal to active, athletic, dance-oriented audience segments, but this also might put off gamers who prefer/are used to playing games sitting down and not moving.
  • A sports video game consisting of 5 adventure games and sports mini-games.
  • The actual Kinect technology costs £130 so this could put off casual gamers for example.
  • Most Kinect sales were achieved by selling it already bundled in at a steep discount with new Xbox 360 and Xbox One purchases, so this tended to appeal to completists or segments of the audience who didn't want to miss out or were curious about this new type of gaming.
  • More Ludology than Narratology so no requirement to immerse yourself in any complex story.
  • There is a simple narrative in the Story mode that casts you as a world traveller who has to then take part in the various games as you travel around the world on your adventures.
  • Preferred Reading: This is a novel and exciting way to play games in a social way with my friends and family, and even get fitter while we have fun!
  • Negotiated Reading: It's a bit of fun and I quite like playing it when friends are round, but it isn't as good as the other games I've got and I wouldn't play it on my own.
  • Oppositional Reading: With a control system that isn't as good as the Nintendo Wii, and needing a playing space that's bigger than my bedroom and living room, just to play some average games that I wouldn't buy, but I've got them because the Kinect came bundled with my Xbox when I bought it... nah, don't bother.
  • The audience is positioned as being in the game twice over - once as a cartoon avatar that responds to our bodily and facial movements so that we are actually being represented in the game as a version of ourselves, and then also as our literal selves when at the end of each level photographs of us leaping about are displayed on screen. So we experience the game as ourselves whilst simultaneously viewing an avatar of ourselves moving in conjunction with our own real-life movements. When we do see ourselves in photographs, this is disorienting because we have been watching cartoon avatars instead of our photorealistic selves, and the photographs are displayed in reverse mirror image which is not how we see ourselves when we look in a mirror.
  • Photos are uploaded to which is a walled garden site for Xbox and Windows Kinect owners to engage socially.
  • Uses and Gratifications - Entertainment: moving around is a fun way to interact with a video game. Social Interaction: you can play Kinect Adventures! alongside a friend, being careful not to hit each other in the face as you leap about waving your arms :-) Personal Identity: the game takes pictures of you while you are playing, and as well as showing them to you after each level so that you get a degree of confirmation of how silly / cool you look, you then get to choose which ones (if any) you'd like to upload to the Kinect website and/or various social media sites. So to a degree, you get validation of, and the chance to help shape, your own personal identity. Education (Fitness): I'm going to class fitness as a type of education, on the grounds that educating yourself involves a degree of self-improvement, and fitness is another form of that. If you play Kinect Adventures! regularly, you are going to experience a mild improvement in your fitness levels. It's no substitute for the gym though :-) But I think you can see how it is being marketed as a device to help keep you active and get you fit.
  • Language: tbd
  • Mode of Address: tbd
  • Polysemic meanings: tbd

Kinect Adventures! Gameplay

This first video is an official Xbox pre-release (June 14th, 2010) promotional video for Kinect Adventures! showing the audience as an idealised family situation where everyone plays and is amazed at how great it is. You also see some two-player split screen play. Wooo :-) I think that Mom has the best moves down, tbh.

This next video is another official Xbox promotional video where the audience is shown as a series of talking heads trying to explain Kinect gameplay in such a way that you are persuaded to give it a try (two-step flow? :-) ...) and my favourite segment, where the guy in the blue hoodie tries to describe each game and gives us an extra emotion afterwards ('awesone', 'panic', 'bananas'), but in a cool, deadpan sort of way, like he doesn't quite believe what he is telling us :-) but in a way that tries to make him look like a real guy rather than a paid actor...  also check out Mom at about 1:30 into the video, giving Kinect Adventures! the parental seal of approval as a wholesome game that is a joy to watch because it gets her kids moving, socialising etc.

This third video is a short review by someone who gets paid (either as an affiliate making money through you clicking through their link to sign up for something or to purchase something; or as a favoured reviewer who gets sent free equipment and games in exchange for providing influential (and likely to be biased, as they want to keep getting free stuff sent to them!) reviews that hopefully you'll be influenced by. This kind of 'astroturfing' is common in the internet age ('astroturfing' is an expression describing the creation of a fake 'grassroots' campaign, opinion, or movement. A 'grassroots' campaign would be where people just naturally expressed a point of view or opinion on something. As astroturf is fake grass, the expression 'astroturfing' describes how companies can create fake opinion formers and influencers in an attempt to make it look like lots of people unconnected with the company are in favour of their product). Interestingly, Morgan makes a joking reference to it at around 0:50 in this video, but unfortunately the joke is real.

If you search for 'kinect adventures gameplay' on Youtube, the top (or around the top) search result is DanQ8000's video 'Kinect Adventures HD Gameplay Part 1'. Dan does a PiP (Picture in Picture) recording so you can hear and see him in a small screen superimposed on the main gameplay screen. This is useful for seeing how the real life movements of a player match up (or not, due to detection issues) with what their avatar does on screen in response. Unfortunately, due to the fact that DanQ8000 swears an awful lot in his videos, I won't be linking to one here. But if you are 18 and not going to be offended by him, you can do the search yourself.

Finally (I know, right?) these last videos shows the screen as someone plays Adventures Mode. The Adventures Mode basically shows the different games as being located at different places on a world map, and you see a helicopter that presumably transports you from game to game along a dotted line on the map that connects each game location. There's minimal, almost non-existent story. You don't hear or see the player (although at the end of each level you get to see his wacky photos taken during the game), but you do get to see things like (in the second video) the warning popup in the top left of the screen when the player moves too close to the Kinect, telling him to go backwards, and telling him when he is in the right place / at the right distance. This first video shows what little 'story' there is, just in the first 3 minutes (after the text screens about his Dazzle (a device for ecording the screen as he plays)).

Audience Theories

Remember too that you know several theories about how audiences respond to media texts.

You can bring in discussions of these theories when you are discussing how texts appeal / offer things to audiences, or how audiences use / respond to texts.

If you've forgotten any, or you want to refresh your memory, you can watch this short series of videos to get back up to speed:

The Hypodermic Needle Theory

The Two-Step Flow Theory

Uses and Gratifications Theory

Links and References:

WJEC Exam Questions

Angry Birds

Tomb Raider

Kinect Adventures!!

Audience Theories

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