January 14, 2007
Implied Interactivity in Fan Site Toolkits

I recently wrote a newsletter piece on 'implied interactivity', i.e. decentralized forms of strategies involving the encouragement and indirect pre-structuring of user-generated content through structural properties of the media artifacts themselves.

An interesting case in point are toolkits, i.e. structured collections of materials to facilitate (and shape) the creation of fan sites. I will try to use the toolkit offered for the decent tactical shooter Close Combat - First to Fight (2005), a game focusing on and endorsed by the US Marines as 'brand' that is allegedly also used as training tool.

First and foremost, the FTF toolkit archive is not an unstructured and 'innocent' bulk of data but a precisely conceived quasi-interactive medium. The 'readme' document already lists the categories of materials, including developer diaries, company logos, pictures of the Marines, (selected) press coverage, Marine biographies, and even webgraphics which 'naturally' transfer into the imagined structure for the website.

The webgraphics, i.e. standardized 'board pieces' in the webdesign game, are predesigned to produce an 'official', generic look, including e.g. bullets and dividers that look like Marines ribbons. Even the CI-compliant colors are indicated in a multi-format image indicating the color code. Some images, like the photoshopped panorama of a burning city apparently to be used as menu backdrop stand out. The best-quality image, a rendered front view of a Marine with the raised sword as vertical axis will likely be chosen as iconic index page element (as in the official site, btw).

By creating a website that "honors the game and the brave Marines who have helped [...] design it", the game's developers offer acknowledgment by publisher/developer, thus ostensibly breaking down the author/reader barrier, and, especially, social embeddedness in a webring ("You will receive recognition for your efforts from the publisher, developer and the web ring to which you will belong."; all quotes cf. readme.txt from the toolkit archive).
Thus, the process of 'independent' fan site creation is turned in a quasi-game, a quest for being represented and becoming part of the 'brand'. Since the offical site's layout is implicitly communicated as role model, its aesthetics form the rules of the game.