It’s 2015, the age of the internet, and the average person has never experienced a better chance of being heard. With public platforms like Twitter, Change.org, Kickstarter and the like, the individual has arguably never been more empowered to impart change on the world, no matter the scale.
Within the field of entertainment, the power of the individual viewer has been particularly effective. What used to require a coordinated letter-writing campaign with rather low visibility can now be accomplished with a 140-character tweet featuring an attention-grabbing hashtag. This power, like all forms of power, can be both useful and dangerous.
In 2012, TV Guide took a survey of social media users to find out how they interacted with their favorite TV shows on social media sites. Seventy-seven percent of respondents stated that they talked about and reached out to representatives of particular shows online in an effort to keep them on the air. Seventy-one percent of those surveyed also reported that they had been influenced by impressions of TV shows that they had read online.
Fans are willing to directly petition for the preservation of their favorite shows because the method has been proven to work time and time again, especially in recent years. Jericho fans, for example, bombarded the CBS corporate headquarters with 20 tons of nuts as a not-so-subtle protest of the networks’ decision to cancel the show. The ploy worked, with CBS ordering seven more episodes of Jericho to be produced. Fans of the show Veronica Mars took a similar approach, sending thousands of Mars Bars to the CW network in protest of the show’s cancellation. Meanwhile, a third season of NBC’s Chuck essentially got funded by its fan base, who took it upon themselves to purchase tons of sandwiches from Subway, the show sponsor. Ravenous Community fans kept the pressure on NBC to keep the show going with the notorious “#sixseasonsandamovie” campaign.
Beyond keeping their favorite media alive, fans can actually shape its content if they make enough noise (or spend enough money). PlayStation users were raving for months about P.T., a beautiful and absolutely terrifying teaser demo for the upcoming Silent Hills survival-horror game created by Guillermo del Torro. Due to internal strife at Konami and the imminent departure of project director Hideo Kojima, production of the game was cancelled.
Not long after, however, a Kickstarter campaign for an indie game called Allison Road began. Borrowing heavily from the P.T. aesthetic, Allison Road appears to be a spiritual successor to the now-defunct Silent Hills game, and the campaign has raised almost $180,000 to date. Fans who donate a certain amount of money get the chance to have their own original music, personal sound clips, or even photos of themselves inserted directly into the game. Although gamers won’t be able to play Silent Hills as it was first intended, they will be able to play a successor to the original vision that is being created and funded by the fans themselves.
While Allison Road came about as a sort of happy accident, many games have fan involvement in mind from the start. The makers of Dark Souls II, for example, held a contest calling for fans to submit original shield designs. The winners’ designs were inserted into the game as actual usable items.
It’s not unheard of for fans to actually have their likenesses placed in their favorite games, either. Gearbox, the developer behind Borderlands 2, gained attention when players began bumping into a mysterious and generous character named Michael Mamaril in certain outposts. Curious fans discovered that Mamaril was a huge fan of the Borderlands series who passed away from cancer at 22. A friend of his wrote to Gearbox, asking if they could have the voice actor for the game’s notorious robot sidekick, Claptrap, read a eulogy for Mamaril.
Gearbox went above and beyond for Mamaril, not only having a eulogy read in his honor, but actually making a true-to-life character modeled after him and placing him in the game. His likeness has become integral to the Borderlands universe, not just as a small but forgettable homage, but as a crucial character who is known by the entire player base for providing high-quality items and great dialogue.
The high level of fan influence is a mixed bag for some. There are certainly those who believe that while fan participation may be beneficial for many, it also has the potential to contaminate the artistic vision of those who are actually producing the media. Nevertheless, as entertainment has become an increasingly interactive forum, it only makes sense for the producers of media to adapt to the times. The challenge is to find that middle ground between maintaining artistic integrity and pleasing the fan base.
Featured photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley.