Dearth vs. Abundance of Information and Fan Engagement

When I was young, I often wondered about the worlds of the video games I played. Given only sparse information and basic “defeat the bad guy” plots, games were semi-open canvases for me to speculate. This desire is what led me to my earliest internet communities—video game fanfiction sites. Over the years, I began to notice a general distinction for anyone looking to explore beyond what’s available in their favorite works, between those where a bit of exploration reveals mountains of supplementary canon information, and those where the details remain sparse.

I once attributed the difference in fan involvement for filling in the blanks to just a natural consequence of the works themselves. Video game plots were simpler in an age before RPGs and cut-scenes were everywhere, right? More recently, however, I’ve been considering how the two avenues—abundance vs. dearth of information—appeal to different types of fans, and how more and more creative works purposely aim for one or the other (and sometimes even both, if they can manage it).

The “abundance” examples are many, as seen in lore-dense properties such as the Type Moon universe, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Tolkien fantasy. My personal favorite example from yesteryear is the Street Fighter Plot Guide on GameFAQS by Tiamat, because it’s for a universe that is otherwise pretty simple (as fighting game narrative tend to be), and it involves a healthy amount of fan extrapolation by Tiamat. On the “dearth side,” there’s Touhou and Overwatch, which invite fans in to elaborate on characters and character relationships. Broadly speaking, the former appeals to “sculptor”-type fans, while the latter appeals to “builder”-type fans. Sculptor I would define as those who like to reshape what’s already there, while builders prefer raw materials to weave their own elaborate ideas. Both types can make fan stories, but their differences lead to the two classic modes of Star Trek fanfic: the “hard SF” technical explorations, and the “softer” character-building and relationship works. Not that I think of those distinctions as rigid and wholly separate, of course.

An entire character profile and running joke was based on the Touhou character Cirno being labeled “baka” in an instruction manual.

While I am admittedly no expert on The iDOLM@STER, I’ve noticed that both researchers and builders exist within that fandom, possibly stemming from a generation divide of sorts. The original iDOLM@STER games were very involved experiences, where players interacted heavily with their idols. Roughly equivalent to a more animated visual novel format with some RPG elements, players could learn extensively about the characters’ histories, likes and dislikes, and generally explore the idols as fleshed-out individuals. At some point, however, The iDOLM@STER also became prominent as a series of mobile games where that active RPG aspect takes a backseat to more simplified story modes. Here, the visual impact of character designs can matter much more. For fans, especially those who have limited access to all The iDOLM@STER media, “headcanon” expression is a somewhat common Twitter activity.

Take for example the character of Tokiko Zaizen. Based on her appearance alone, one gets the idea of Tokiko being a sadist/dominatrix type, but the fans take that a step further.

Not all fans fall into either the “dearth” or “abundance”-favoring categories. Some prefer to take the story as-is, and then aim for criticism over speculation. Others might dip their toes into both of those worlds. Whatever the fan approach, the ability for fans to thrive in whatever space is left for them speaks to a kind of flexibility in what it means to be enthusiastic about the creative media we consume.

Advertisements

Hundred Hand Slap: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for July 2015

Over the past month, Ogiue Maniax finally hit the $100 mark on Patreon. I think that’s a pretty great milestone, and I’m thankful to everyone who’s helped out. I would consider this one of the more important events as of late, except that I actually also recently received my PhD and that kind of trumps everything else. Looking back, my academic achievement is a direct extension of a route that began with Ogiue Maniax all those years ago, and having my writing be appreciated on multiple levels fills me with a sense of wonderful pride (that’s also fleeting because I’m kind of self-doubting).

This month’s special Patreon sponsors are:

Ko Ransom

Alex

Johnny Trovato

Anonymous

Both Patreon-sponsored posts this month had interesting topics, I think. Touhou, Kantai Collection, and the Idea of the Controlled Fandom Experience is a post that came out of a request to talk about Touhou in general, but because Touhou is in such a different place compared to where it really began to make a mark in the English-speaking fandom, and because there’s so much competition in the mental space of otaku, I had to make it about Kantai Collection as well. For the other one, Miyamoto Ariana, “Japanese-ness,” and Black Cosplay, I’m not someone who normally thinks about beauty competitions or even cosplay, but the achievement by Miyamoto I think inevitably ties to a lot of ideas about identity and identity politics that even extends to the cosplay community.

This past month I also went and replaced my old Patreon milestone, the internet meme post, with a new challenge. At $150 I will now write a genuinely negative review of Genshiken, focusing mainly on its flaws (and not fake mascots ever). As my favorite manga ever, and because I tend to be positive overall with the blog, I see this as a challenge for myself. If you’re interested in seeing me squirm, this is your chance.

I still want to think about the whole Skype conversation reward, but it’s more a time concern than anything else at this point. I also am not sure how valuable talking to me actually is. Maybe once I get myself a silky smooth baritone voice, I can bump it up something fierce.

 

Touhou, Kantai Collection, and the Idea of the Controlled Fandom Experience

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to be a patron of Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

Touhou is an interesting phenomenon. Beginning as a passion project for a game developer, this ostensibly “amateur” shmup in the tradition of R-Type and Ikaruga replaces spaceships with cute girls, introducing a wide variety of characters with distinct yet generally simplistic personalities. This has given fans plenty of room to position and interpret the characters in their own way, using the barest scraps of evidence as the catalyst for imagination. While not the first franchise to encourage this, with Touhou it’s particularly noticeable given its popularity at doujin events and the like, but it’s also interesting to note what has come in a post-Touhou environment. In particular, I feel like Kantai Collection has to be viewed within this lens, and so this post is mainly about a comparison between Touhou and Kantai Collection from an outsider’s perspective.

On a personal level, outside of Magic: The Gathering, the biggest nerd fandom that I’ve barely scratched the surface of is probably Touhou. Sure, I’ve drawn a crossover fanart between Cirno and Esports personality Day[9], and I’m a fan of bkub (particularly his New York Comic Con special featuring “the Deadpool”), but I’ve never played any of the actual games. In fact, the only Touhou game I’ve ever played is the doujin game Mega Mari, which is more of a Mega Man game than anything else. However, I’m well aware of Touhou‘s presence, if only because my surrounding environment is “other geeks,” and inevitably among hardcore anime fans there will be Touhou fans as well.

The same goes for Kantai Collection, a browser-based strategy game where battleships are personified as cute girls, except I arguably know even less about it. I’ve watched a few episodes of the anime, I know which character design I like best (Tenryuu), and I know that the game plays with supply and demand because you have to win a lottery to even get to play it in the first place. I’m also aware that it’s become Touhou‘s rival in terms of popularity, with a big difference being that Kantai Collection actively employs popular and professional artists, whereas Touhou‘s official art is famously lacking in refinement.

The relationship between Touhou and Kantai Collection is therefore a tricky one in terms of how these respective series have prompted fan production that hinges on interpretation in their fanbases (which also have plenty of overlap).  Whenever I see the two, I feel as if Touhou is primarily this product that just had an intentionally simplistic presentation that fans took and expanded into their own world. Kantai Collection, in turn, with its voiced characters, better artwork, and overall presentation invites that sort of activity from fans, and revels in being able to provide that space.

In other words, it’s as if Kantai Collection saw how Touhou inadvertently had its characters transformed into commodities through the efforts of its fans, and actively sought to replicate that through careful planning and razor-sharp marketing. That means actively trying to appeal to what fans want. Whether that’s a good thing or not is personal opinion, of course, and I’m hesitant to label it as “David vs. Goliath” in the traditional sense, especially because the border between an amateur and professional artist in Japanese games, anime, etc. can be so nebulous. However, I feel like perhaps part of what made Touhou appealing to its fans in the first place is that “amateur” environment, even if it’s indeed populated by professionals. There’s a rawness to it, a kind of unregulated frontier that’s continuously re-shaped compared to Kantai Collection with its carefully measured attributes, that makes more room for the fan to be in a sense also a creator.