February 26, 2007
Positioning Console Fandom Between Brand and Media Fan Communities: Reaction to an Essay from Elliot Panek

Earlier today, I wrote a piece which focused on the work of Suzanne Freyjadis-Chuberka and girl gamers' interest in Guitar Hero.

The piece appeared as part of a February special issue of Flow, the scholarly journal of television criticism out of UT-Austin, which focused particularly on video games.

Another fascinating study from that same issue of Flow is written by Elliot Panek of neighboring Emerson College, who writes, "Who Are Wii? The Study of Console Fandom."

Panek focuses on the brand communities surrounding gaming platforms, asking some intriguing questions: "Why do these objects mean so much to so many? Is console fandom something like other forms of media fandom? Is it akin to brand fandom, or something more like people's love/hate relationship with televisions?"

We've written many times on the development of brand cultures, from Geico's Caveman's Crib to Pepsiman! and even fans of everyday brands like Windex, Pillsbury, and Pringles, or even the post office.

I find the questions posed by Panek to be particularly intriguing. When dealing with media enabling technologies, do you analyze the community of supporters in the way one would a brand community or the fan community surrounding a media property? It's the common question people pose about the fervent Apple fans as well.

Panek deals with what Joshua Green here at C3 likes to call "iCult." He writes that "all varieties of brand fandom are based on the images of the brand and the community around the brand," emphasizing the role of the press and advertising campaigns in helping shape some of these images.

I think that one has to constantly struggle when developing a working definition of fan communities between the community-forming intentions of ad campaigns and the actual organic behaviors of the users and the push vs. pull impulses of these two forces. At their strongest, these two forces work in tandem to create a strong partnership between producer and consumers, as has traditionally happened with Apple.

Panek points out that functionality plays an important part in console fandom, which sets it apart from straight media fandom, which is based much more on the characters, narrative properties, or imagery attached to a product. In this case, the technology serves a pragmatic function, as does Apple products, so that there is an important performance question involved with evaluations of the brand.

Panek's concluding point is that each brand will find its niche in what it offers its audience in terms of new modes of interaction, leading to a much more varied gaming experience across platforms in the future.

While it may take some time for the industry to continue expanding its definition of what games are and to find compelling new answers to that question, Panek's essay is worth a look for provoking interesting questions regarding the next generation of console development, the fan communities surrounding those technologies, and how companies will engage with those users.