25 May, 2007


The battle fought at Blood Gulch seems finally coming to an end. After four years of serialization Rooster Teeth Productions of the celebrated machinima Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles (RvB for short) has announced to conclude the series with its 100th episode. RvB has claimed thousands if not millions of fans around the globe; it was the first breakthrough for machinima to reach the public outside of gaming community. Paul Marino (co-founder and the executive director of the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences) remarks the incident:

‘Beginning as what was to be a small six episode mini-series in the spring of 2003, The Blood Gulch Chronicles became the world's first extremely viral Machinima work, which spread like wildfire across the net, knocking out their hosting provider due to the massive amount of file requests. Over time, the series became increasingly popular, sustaining a loyal community that totaled into the hundreds of thousands of viewers - the download counts reaching into the millions on a per episode level. With a consistent delivery of high-quality episodes over the course of 5 seasons, it also allowed 5 friends from Austin, Texas to leave their day jobs in order to make Machinima for a living. Rooster Teeth not only made headlines for making successful Machinima, they also broke ground how to create a successful web-based entertainment brand.’ (Marino, 2007).

The story of RvB showed how a bunch of game fans turned their creativity into high-quality media production, steered countless eye-balls away from the mainstream media and become economically self-sustainable. Their success, compare to the underground small scale fanzine culture lived through the 1920s-1980s (Poletti 2005) was contrasting. Although it is not to assume all fan productions today could be as successful as RvB, and they do still face the numerous constrains similar to those faced by the earlier fanzine practitioners, the living condition for fan community as a whole has been noticeably improved.

Henry Jenkins contrasts the context for which the fans engage in creative production in terms of ‘textual poachers’ and ‘convergence culture’ (terms coined after his books): fans as ‘Textual Poachers’ live in ‘a world where fan culture was largely marginalized and hidden from view’; whereas fans in ‘Convergence Culture’ are privileged in ‘a world where fan participations are increasingly central to the production decisions shaping the current media landscape’(Jenkins 2007). In short, the environment for fan participation is much more understood and somewhat appreciated than before.

The emergence of convergence culture is not a natural occurrence, nor is it simply the result of technological advancement, but a process that involves renegotiating social and economical relationships between producers and consumers (Jenkins, 2004). The fans - those who ‘refuse to simply accept what they are given, but rather insist on the right to become full participants’ (Jenkins, 2006), are the most active segment of consumers who continue to assert their stake in this process.

In this essay we will use machinima as a case study to discuss two areas where fan participation has demonstrated significance (click on the links below to view the respective section):
1) Corporate ownership vs. Value added by fan community
2) Narrative Structure and Storytelling
And finally in conclusion, we will discuss some of the impact fan community has had on the outside world, i.e. those less participated media consumers.


  • JENKINS, H. (2004) The cultural logic of media convergence. International journal of cultural studies, 7, 33-43.
  • JENKINS, H. (2006) Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? Grassroots Creativity Meets the Media Industry. Convergence culture : where old and new media collide New York, New York University Press.
  • JENKINS, H. (2007) When Fandom Goes Mainstream... Confessions of an aca-fan. Retrieved 23 May, 2007, from http://www.henryjenkins.org/2006/11/when_fandom_goes_mainstream.html#more.
  • Marino, P. (2007). "Rooster Teeth winds down Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles " Retrieved 22 May, 2007, from http://blog.machinima.org/2007/04/rooster-teeth-winds-down-red-vs-blue.html#links.
  • POLETTI, A. (2005) Self-publishing in the Global and Local: Situating Life Writing in Zines. Biography, 28, 11.


We have so far focused our discussions of fan culture in economical and technological aspects of cultural convergence. We acknowledge the significance of other aspects but due limited in length this essay will not extend its scope to cover them all.

Despite the fact that fan community are reluctant to directly influence commercialized media industry, corporate initiated changes are nevertheless driven by the altitude of fan participation; fan creativity is also more sensible than the media industry in response to (both the empowerment and restrictions of) newer technology, being more flexible to adopt them before the mainstream media. Such that the mainstream media become subject to the influence of fan culture, ‘[t]o some degree, fandom has already started to lose some of its distinctiveness as a subcultural community.’ (Jenkins 2006b)

An awful generalization of those consumers outside of fandom would indicate they are somewhat confirmed to the mainstream media culture (compared to - ‘Fandom is a vehicle for marginalized subcultural groups... to pry open space for their cultural concerns within dominant representations’ see Jenkins, 2006a). However in the age of convergence culture as fans gradually begin to lead the shifts within mainstream media, passive consumers must have unconsciously altered their pattern of consumption accordingly.

As opposed to the conventional notion of fans being ‘cultural dupes, social misfits, or mindless consumers’ (Jenkins 2006a), the above analysis (and many other academic research) suggests that fans are really the cultural leaders in reshaping the future media landscape. If in the past they have not succeeded was largely due to their inability to challenge commercialized media industry, they are now empowered by the ever expanding convergence culture.

Will fan culture ultimately become the mainstream and thus mark the end of cultural convergence? Such speculation is highly subjected to future trends though we suggest that since fandom is not a generalization of all subcultural groups; some fans remain cultural rebels as long as one finds it necessary. As such, convergence culture is a cyclical process of power struggle and contest for cultural leadership.


Jenkins, H. (2006a). Fans, bloggers, and gamers : exploring participatory culture New York, New York University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2006b). "When Fandom Goes Mainstream..." Confession of an Aca-Fan Retrieved 20 May, 2007, from http://www.henryjenkins.org/2006/11/when_fandom_goes_mainstream.html#more.

Narrative Structure and Storytelling

David Bordwell’s research draws several examples of how DVD has enabled viewers to break the linear storytelling mode imposed by classic Hollywood films, but such function is rarely used by them for this purpose. Similarly non-chronological (or any other) narrative structure remains marginal presence in the mainstream film industry although some producers tended to add complexity after their films become rewatchalbe on DVDs. Bordwell argues that ‘We can’t easily draw conclusions about how films are constructed on the basis of how they’re presented and consumed. Changes in viewing practices don’t automatically entail changes in storytelling.’ (Bordwell, 2007)

The implication of Bordwell’s argument in the context of convergence culture is whether technological advancement can foster new media genres - i.e. whether the development of machinima is merely in the scope of new production methods or has it become a distinctive genre of its own; While today’s technologies has empowered consumers to watch, archive, reply and reproduce media content in unprecedented ways, this may or may not be transformed in their prosumer practice.

Jason Mittell analyses Bordwell’s argument in the television industry where commercial incentives to rerun TV programs has led to the creation of self-contained episodic series. He observes the unusual storytelling mode in these series being base on ‘a consistent setting, continuing characters, recurring themes and types of events’ such that consumers do not need to watch the entire series sequentially to make meaning of the text. He reasons that since 'reruns were not typically scheduled sequentially or on a sufficiently regular schedule to guarantee that viewers would be able to rewatch a series in chronological (or any logical) order[,] [t]his meant that producers needed to make episodes that could be shuffled, watched in any sequence with minimal disruptions to narrative logic.'( Mittell, 2007)

Mittell further observes that the trend of avoiding serialization is reverted when VCR first introduced the ability to record and replay programs. The new mode ‘encouraged obsessive viewers to use VCRs to decode and piece together the complex narrative, trying to present a storyworld that not only needed to be watched in sequence, but invited rewatching for comprehension… However, the VCR timeshift has always been a marginal practice for hardcore fans, not the norm for a mass audience, and thus remained lodged within the terrain of cult programming.’ ( Mittell, 2007) In short, Mittell’s research showed that both narrative structure and consumers viewing behavior (except for ‘hardcore fans’) are reluctant to change simply due to technological empowerment, it is possible to change however if the producers decide there are sufficient commercial incentives.

Both Bordwell and Mittell have focused their research on commercialized media production (Hollywood films and TV series); In the scope of grassroots production, since the producers are free from profit pressure or institutional constrains often faced by corporate producers, theoretically they enjoy the freedom to be as much creative about how their story (or anything else) is to be told. This notion opens up possibilities for new forms of media content to spawn from the non-corporate community, which seems to support the hypothesis that machinima has or will become a genre of its own.

Berkeley opposes the above notion that ‘[w]hile machinima communities assert the ‘newness’ of the form, completed machinima work usually presents as a traditional linear narrative. The elements of the form that make use of new developments in media technology occur at an earlier stage – during the production process – a stage that is not apparent to the viewer.’(Berkeley 2006)

However the linear narrative structure in machinima appears to be its only adoption from traditional media genre. The typical length of a machinima film is between 5 to 10 minutes - much shorter than a traditional TV episode. Machinima producers often have to keep their films short and formatted in low resolution due to limited bandwidth of host website and download speed of viewers, which forces them to either pack more information into one episode or break them into many. This length of films has become the norm of online video cast over the last few years (such as those casted on Youtube) and online viewers tend to be less patient about watching a longer video.

Machinima series also appear to be a hybrid of self-contained episodic program and serialized program. For instance in Red vs Blue, although the storyline is constantly developed episode after episode (as opposed to constant settings in self-contained episodic series), each episode draws little relations to the main storyline developed previously. In fact only one character Sarge in the entire RvB series has been consistently attentive to the Red versus Blue civil war while other characters are mainly focused on only the plot developed within one episode. Viewers are thus free to either watch only one episode and be able to understand the text reasonably well or watch the entire series to build a more comprehensive understanding.

The narrative style of machinima has hence been developed quite distinctively due to both technological empowerment (internet video streaming, website archivability and rewatchability) and restrictions (limited bandwidth and download speed). We will continue our discussion of some of its implications more fully in the conclusion.

A random episode of Red vs. Blue, viewers are able to understand the text without the knowledge of previous episodes.


Corporate ownership vs Value added by fan community

After several decades of struggle fans have finally gains some recognition among the corporate intellectual property owners. But the situation is still much fogged in the grey area – not only are the fans confused of what and how much they can do with the original material, media companies also seem undecided where to draw the line.

The top-down process

On some superficial level, the dilemma faced by media companies is whether to please the fans and lose a profit now, or anger the fans and lose a profit in the long run. In some cases, arms of even the same media company (such as filming and game development) exhibit different levels of tolerance. Henry Jenkins suggests a division between Old and New media companies (or in the above case, segments) in their treatment of fan participation: Old media industry (e.g. film, television and music) tend to treat fan creativity as a threat to their profibility, thus filed law suits and cease and desist letters to bring down those most active fans; New media industry (e.g. game and internet) on the other hand has increasingly engaged with the fan community and some have even go so far to produce tools to lower technological barriers to encourage fan participation (Jenkins, 2006). Indeed, the New media industry draws much similarities with the Web 2.o model, which participation and convergence are quite central to their success.

The mind-map pictured above (constructed by Markus Angermeier on November 11, 2005) sums up the memes of Web 2.0, with example-sites and services attached. (Cited on Wikipedia)

The cause of mixed response is thus largely economical, diverged of Old and New business models. In such light we propose the following question - if the majority of media companies continue to move towards convergence culture in the next five years or so, will the Old media companies eventually extinct as their business model become so intolerable of the then level of fan participation?

It appears that Old media companies had a even chance to survive. On the one hand media convergence may continue to stimulate this process by merging media platforms, extending the reach of New media industry; on the other hand Old media industry seems also to find ways to engage with the fans in controable manner. One example being setting up official fan clubs, which the companies seems to encourage fan culture but at the same time they gained more control through compulsory terms & conditions - such as claiming copyright over fan produced work and restricting publishable material. Whether these official fan clubs are supporting or damaging fan participation is still unclear at this stage, some fans welcomed the idea to be ‘official’ while other didn’t.

In the New media industry, game companies have consistently pioneered the support for fan culture. For more than a decade they have developed tools which can be used by both the modding community (modify in-game characters and environment) and machinima community to utilize their game engines with more comfort. More recently game companies also start to sponsor machinima competitions that are based on their games, including big names such as Atari, Blizzard (World of Warcraft), Bungie Studios (Halo3) and even Microsoft.

Unsurprisingly however commercial incentive is still the key motivation in the New media industry– fan generated in-game content prolongs the shelf-life of games; machinima competitions become excellent marketing campaigns for newly released games since one must first own a copy of the game to create machinima. But fans responded much more positively to the modding software and machinima competitions as they greatly enhanced fan creatively compare to the restrictions imposed by offical fan clubs. For machinima advocates ‘it’s all a part of it having cultural and commercial significance as a medium.’(Marino, 2007)

The bottom-up Process

In 2004 when a group of machinima producers gathered in New York City to prospect the future of machinima, one suggested to set up a set of standards to be used by game developers to ensure future games being ‘machinima-compliant’.

This suggestion is highly appreciated by peer machinima producers. 'Initiatives of this nature bring structure to the movement. Filmmaking relied upon standards to assist in its development (the 35mm format is nearly 115 years old). By constructing standards for creative needs, this helps us match feature sets and creates a foundation for this new medium. A combination of focused efforts from both the software developers and the Machinima community will bring continued promise to this already groundbreaking medium.’ (Marino, 2004)

Three years later we are yet to see any implementation of the machinima standard. It was after all too difficult to convince game developers to follow strict guidelines during their production to cater for such a small market. Compared to other kinds of support offered by the commercial media industry, a grassroots driven initiative is much harder to realize due to their lack of commercial incentive.

Possibility for commercialization

Despite all possible kinds of encouragement from Old or New media industry fans are still totally prevented from commercializing their work due to copyright restriction. This would be the last forbidden ground of the mainstream media since commercial incentives are simply the central most consideration for how they engage with their fans.

One exception would be the machinima production team Rooster Teeth, which its well-known series Red vs. Blue has gained support from Bungie Studios to commercially release DVDs; its another series Strangerhood has become the first machinima to be commissioned for broadcast. While being noteworthy, commercialized fan production still remains a marginal practice and one shall not expect many more of them to spawn in the foreseeable future.

Read the next section: Narrative Structure and Storytelling

Further Readings

Transforming Fan Culture into User-Generated Content: The Case of FanLib


22 May, 2007

Planning for this Essay II

For those anxiously anticipated my 2nd post in the past week I sincerely apologize for causing your disappointment. It's almost 11pm at Bailieu Library three days before the due date and I'm still working on this project. After several days of very intensive research (yes I did get my hands on Henry Jenkins' book) I realized how broad the subject I have engaged with and how difficult it is to follow my original plan (i.e. posting daily) because it's simply impossible to come up with a comprehensive essay in this manner. Nonetheless all difficulties added to the fun and I'd like to show you a few topics I have decided to include in this essay so far (subject for future amendment):

- Introduction
- Gendered Fans
- Corporate ownership VS Value added by fan community
- Narrative Structure and Storytelling
- Conclusion: What's Happening Outside the Fan Community

You will have to wait a bit longer to read more details, but I promise you this won't be too long because the due date is only three days away!

In the meantime, check out a few interesting articles on David Bordwell, Jason Mittell, Paul Marino and Henry Jenkins' blogs (you can find their links on the sidebar). This might give you some clue of what I'll be writing in this essay.

Now my time to go home!

09 May, 2007

Planning for this Essay I

I figured that since this essay is to be written on a blog it is probably more natural to write like a blogger than an academic, i.e. instead of writing up a draft then edit over time, I will be posting new ideas and analysis day by day and eventually link them altogether to form a complete argument.

However to still keep this essay academically credible, I came up with this idea to separate all postings in this blog into two categories: THE ESSAY and THE THOUGHTS. Entries under the first category would be what you call ‘the actual essay’ whereas a posting like this one would fall under the later. THE THOUGHTS tend to supplement THE ESSAY but does not form part of this assignment.

After several days of careful consideration I have chosen the following research question:

2. Why is media fandom so central to the notion of convergence culture? What does this mean for less invested consumers?
Use a case study of a particular fan-community to illustrate your argument.

Machinima (click to view definition on Wikipedia) seems like an interesting case to study for this question. The fact that I've already done some research on Machinima for my first assignment in this subject would also make my task a little bit easier.

Before I derive my own research topic from the above question, I would usually do some research before hand to know what resource is readily available to me. There is obviously no way that I can avoid ‘the guru of media convergence’ Henry Jenkins, but unfortunately all his books in the uni library are on reserve and can only be borrowed overnightly or for 2 hours, which isn’t what I would call ‘readily available’. I will try my luck in the e-journals with keywords like ‘fan community’, ‘machinima’, ‘convergence culture’ and ‘Henry Jenkins’

So off I go, until enough research is done to give me a clear picture of what I will be writing in this essay, hang around for the next post.