[Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander looks at a niche social media phenomenon for an example of how expressions of game fandom proliferate in the Web 2.0 era -- and how publishers should take note.
What is "Horse_ebooks
?" If you're a high-volume Twitter user, or you participate in some of the more cultish avenues of internet culture, you're familiar with this feed -- it's just a bot designed to sell ebooks about horses, apparently.
It seems to populate itself automatically, primarily with snippets from the books themselves. Combine that with other inscrutable fan algorithms and the Tweets are surreal and funny enough that "Horse_ebooks" has attained memehood.
Examples of fan-favorite Horse_ebooks Tweets include: "I hope for your sake you are ready for a life WITHOUT back or neck"; "Famous Crab", and "How to Teach a Horse to Sit, Give a Kiss and Give a Hug," as well as lines that look more like erectile dysfunction spam than anything one would find in an ebook about horses.
Since it became a minor sensation, Horse_ebooks has created legions of imitators, as well as fan-made Twitter feeds that attempt to apply the Horse_ebooks tone and formula to other media, like television shows and, of course, video games.
In recent weeks, Persona_ebooks
, Horse_ebooks tribute feed based on Atlus' Persona
games has rapidly emerged to both confound and amuse fans. The overlap between internet users who understand obscure Persona
references and those who see the humor in Horse_ebooks is incredibly small -- the account's currently followed by just over 300 users -- but then, it's only been active since September 1, indicating a healthy growth rate.
And Persona_ebooks has a Klout score of 54, whatever that's worth (it's influential about toothpaste, dogs and books, according to the new service that measures reach and influence on social networks).
Social media offers a fascinating arena for evolution on gamers' cultural participation in the medium. Many of us probably have childhood memories of sending our carefully-created crayon drawings into television or magazine contests, reaching for the slim hope that our fan tributes would be glanced over by eyes other than ours.
Plenty of folks still send fan gifts to game studios, sometimes of impressive scale and depth. The fan-made film "No Escape
," an homage to Valve's Portal
, caused jaws to drop across the internet, earning over 6 million views and coverage on nearly every major consumer gaming website.
And it's also only to be expected that the number of avenues through which fans can connect has increased along with the breadth and depth of the internet over the past decade: There's online fanfiction, fanart, forums, fansites, wikis and Tumblrs and Twitter feeds. And while some of these are probably official, most of them are very much not (this DeviantArt user page recommends a collective of Persona 4 roleplayers
on Twitter, for example).
This means expressions of fandom are often smaller, more specific, the result of a small in-joke that spreads. Instead of a few bright spires of passion around a product on the internet landscape, it's more a stardust constellation.
It's impossible to prove who operates Persona_ebooks, just as it's hard to tell at a glance which is the best or most official of several Persona 3
fan pages available to be "liked" on Facebook.
Evidently, though, 10,583 people "like" a Persona 3
page whose most recent update is devoted to weighing in on G4's year-old review of the game: "they spoil the ending of the game in the beginning of the review... idiots. they also said that the music is bad?! THEY SAID THE MUSIC IS BAD?! well f them they dont know good music. they can go listen to crap. they suck they rated it a 4/5 f them they dont know real games they can go play their sucky games..."
Doubtless, a few people who "like" this Persona 3
page believe it's official. And yet it'd be unwise of Atlus to try to quash or censor it -- countless past events when copyright-antsy publishers have tried to control what fans do with the characters and words they create have left them looking villainous.
Social media has revolutionized the landscape of community relations almost before anyone could blink. Some game developers are looking at services like Twitter to find out how such services can play a role in the gamification of apps, but plenty more would do well to look at how their fans are using the service to participate in fandom (and not just because it's alternately bizarre, hilarious and fascinating).
Your average user of social media enjoys fun fan-made feeds far more than the official ones (just check the Tumblr "CorporateTwits
," which documents users who live to troll oddly-formal corporate Twitter feeds). And they can take it surprisingly seriously -- one of Persona_ebooks' followers became irritated
when the feed's operator(s?) retweeted something, suggesting a human autonomy that would be inconsistent with the Horse_ebooks mien.
It might have been a brilliant and funny PR move for Atlus to have created Persona_ebooks first -- the company's got a reputation for entertaining and amusing devoted fans of its often-niche products, such as with the cosplay contest it annually holds.
But either way, as fans make themselves increasingly at home on social and viral platforms, they're rapidly taking control of the communities around games, leading them while publishers can only watch and learn.
It's yet another a sign of the continuing shift for games away from controlled product to democratic experience.