The purpose of this case study was to explore social changes in online activities and communities by observing the evolution of the text based social roleplaying game of fantasy wrestling – specifically coinciding the rise of social media culture. This subject was chosen as it is an underrepresented area in the social gaming sphere given that the majority of recognised social games nowadays are heavily backed financially and presented in an interactive environment. Using a series of both academic and non-academic sources it was determined that while this particular social game has been enhanced by social media it is not dictated by it as are many others.
The aim of this essay is to demonstrate an understanding of the social changes associated with online activities, communities, networks and social media publics by conducting a case study on social gaming. Broadly defined as a structured multiplayer activity with contextual rules through which users can engage with one another (O’Neill 2008) social gaming is often characterised, since the rise of new media, as being an embedded interactive experience within a social media platform. This has not always been the case and to narrow the scope of this case study the essay will focus on the progression of one particular style of social gaming – fantasy wrestling, more commonly referred to as “efedding” (a combination of e, as in electronic, and fedding, a contraction of federation) – and explore, with the help of academic and peer reviewed sources, it’s evolution over the last 40 years. The three key academic sources that will be used in the analysis of the chosen case study will include virtual communities and their characteristics (Siapera 2012), the rise of the always-on culture (Boyd 2012) and the introduction of constant social media connection (Wilken & McCosker 2014).
Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) are not always dependent on consoles and fast action in fantasy worlds set in far off galaxies. There are some who still prescribe to the old fashioned methods of text-based interactions. In an easily accessible corner of the Internet an entire universe exists filled with larger than life characters, evil geniuses and heroes who will always come to save the day. It’s not the WWE – the WWE has even gone as far as to send cease and desist notices to some of the creative individuals who borrow from their trademarks and likenesses – it is the world of efedding. Started in the 1980’s by real life wrestling magazines (Merritt n.d.) the grounding of the game has not changed for the best part of 4 decades. Writers create characters, give them personality traits and a level of in ring training, and they are pit against other players. Matches can be decided in a number of ways (a points system, dice rolls, computer simulation) but the most common is roleplaying – or competitive writing. Two (or more) authors publish a piece, which is judged by their peers, and the best piece wins. Much like the real world of professional wrestling the best characters are rewarded with high profile bouts and championships. From humble beginnings with mail order competition the 90’s saw the rise of the Internet and with it the game was able to launch itself into the future. As the popularity of real life wrestling grew, and the stories became increasingly grounded in reality, so too did the world of the efed. Hosting sites such as Invision and ProBoards became the “fedheads” – a common term for the owner of an efederation – best friend and they were able to manage community interaction, distribution of information and keep records all in one place (ICWF 2017). To keep things above board each federation would have a set of rules and guidelines set out by the fedhead on their forum of behaviours that would be tolerated both in and out of character (GEW 2014). Generally the rules are made uniform throughout the many companies in existence, which keeps things easy to understand across the board and makes participating simple from forum to forum. (De Zwart & Humphreys 2014)
As the times changed so to did the prerogative of the competitors. The contests became more about collaboration and story telling as opposed to direct competition and alternatives to roleplaying battles – such as predetermined, or “angle feds” – began to grow in popularity. With the push towards developing interaction many character handlers moved their in character social interactions from lengthy novellas to the 140 character world of Twitter where on any given day at any given time you can find a plethora of fictional wrestlers discussing all things from real life football matches to the results of fictional wrestling shows (AlohaAdamAlpha 2017). The evolution of this game would not have been possible without the mainstream shift in online culture and the rise of social media. The emergence of social media in the roleplaying subculture has allowed participants a new medium in which to express themselves and provides an interesting perspective on the Always-On theory discussed by Boyd (2012). As Boyd explains how individuals who use mobile devices to manage their social media are constantly connected to those in their network, in the example of the case study, In Character Tweeting allows writers and collaborators to connect on a level that was not previously possible – and at a constant. Where as in days gone by writers would have had to arrange for a time or place to get together, in person or through an Instant Messaging service, to flesh out ideas and build stories together now they need only check their mobile device. From creating complex personal lives, friendship circles, annoying habits and anything in between writers are now able to control the lives of their characters down to the most minute of details in 140 characters while simultaneously participating in a global conversation with other likeminded individuals who are choosing to do the same (Waddell & Peng 2014). In doing so these individuals are prescribing to Boyd’s Always-On ideals twofold – both in and out of character.
When examining the manner in which social media is used within this specific community in terms of the theories discussed by Wilken & McCosker (2014) – who raise concerns of diminishing privacy and social media encouraging increasingly public levels of self-disclosure or exposure (Wilken & McCosker 2014, p.292) – its use can be explored on two levels. On one level there is the actual user, working behind their character, in a location that they may or may not choose to disclose. Considering this then, for all the fanciful tools of the GPS, the geo-locational data gathered from their activities is essentially redundant as it bears no relevance to the content of the postings. Geographic information linked to the actions of the account are stored and disclosed to others but their content is false – therefor nullifying them for any further use (Wilken & McCosker 2014, p. 294). On the other hand there is the characters themselves – whose lives are on display for all to see when exploring down the communities rabbit hole – discussing topics/visiting places which are often in different cities, states and even countries to the handler behind the screen. Again this demonstrates how, despite all of the advancements in technology and fanciful ways to interpret data, the data is redundant if the information it reads is not true (Wilken & McCosker 2014).
Looking at the game on a large scale the efed community has grown significantly and prospered with the rise of social media and now allows global collaboration and multi-point contact between all of its members. This is of considerable difference to the single point contact that was initially available in the game between players and a magazine writer or Webmaster. The freedom to communicate allows for more robust and dynamic story telling and also a greater appreciation of peers and peer reviewed content. (Siapera 2012) The game itself is social gaming at its most basic – characterised by regular social interaction (Rheingold 2012) without need for paying subscriptions or substantial financial investment. By meeting these criteria it becomes the perfect medium for social interaction as anybody with a computer and an internet connection can take part – knowledge of wrestling isn’t even essential as there are so many experienced “fedders” willing to help and even specifically designed promotions to develop new talent and train those with no experience (SCCW 2017).
From this case study on fantasy wrestling it can be seen that social media platforms and advertising do not solely define the realm of social gaming. In the context of fantasy wrestling the shift towards the social media network has enhanced the overall experience of the game by allowing players to come together in a state of constancy that was not previously available. This can be seen to differ from most other social games as its dedicated members run it as a solely not for profit community. Considering this it can be declared that ultimately those who are in it define the social gaming sphere and, when those individuals come together to form a digital community, they can use social media rather than letting social media use them.
AlohaAdamAlpha 2017, Atlanta Falcons Playoff Discussion, 22 January, viewed 6 February 2017 <https://twitter.com/AlohaAdamAlpha/status/823289830440337408>
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