Theory

Peril-sensitive sunglasses, superheroes in miniature, and pink polka-dot boxers: Artifact and collectible video game feelies, play, and the paratextual gaming experience

Ian M. Peters

Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Material artifacts included in video game packaging, referred to in the industry as feelies, operate as media paratexts that are both extensions of and separate from the video games that inspired them. Although most discourses on video game feelies are centered on 1980s text-based adventure games, feelies have continually been included in contemporary games, albeit primarily in collector's or special editions. To explore the diversity of feelies and how they are able to generate their own texts away from the digital game itself, I identify two specific types of feelies: artifact feelies, which are life-size reproductions of objects from within the game space, and collectible feelies, which serve as extensions of the game space into the physical realm but tend to include objects more frequently associated with fan collecting activities. Taking an interdisciplinary approach that includes material culture studies and media studies, I show how feelies allow scholars to gain further insight into how screen media operate away from the screens themselves, how the accumulation of material objects in the digital age encourages us to reevaluate our notions of the material and the immaterial, and how the concept of play is crucial to understanding how these objects are reappropriated in ways that move beyond their originally intended use.

[0.2] Keywords—Adventure game; Artifact; Atlus; Batman; Catherine; Collectible; Diegesis; The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; Immersion; Infocom; Interactive fiction; Material culture; Media studies; New media; Play; Role-playing game; RPG; Text-based game

Peters, Ian M. 2014. "Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses, Superheroes in Miniature, and Pink Polka-Dot Boxers: Artifact and Collectible Video Game Feelies, Play, and the Paratextual Gaming Experience." In "Material Fan Culture," edited by Bob Rehak, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 16. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0509.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The focus of most scholars' examinations of video games tends to be on the game's digital components. Although some scholars have researched the materiality of gaming systems and their relationship to games (Murphy 2009), less attention has been paid to the material objects included in many of the games themselves. However, since the days of Infocom and the heyday of text-based games, video games have often been accompanied by physical objects that materially connect virtual, digital gaming worlds to our own. For the past several decades, such objects, called feelies, have usually been included only with collector's, special, and limited editions of games. Academic interest in feelies is growing, with scholars such as Ian Bogost, Nick Montfort, and Veli-Matti Karhulahti exploring their use in classic Infocom text-based games. However, they have primarily focused on historical examples rather than examining how feelies play a role in contemporary gaming culture, having moved beyond their origins in text-based games.

[1.2] Video game feelies raise questions about how we immerse ourselves in fictional worlds on material, narrative, and cultural levels, encouraging scholars to further explore the intersection between the virtual and the real. As Karhulahti (2012, 7n1) states, the term feely was most likely adopted from Aldous Huxley's 1931 novel Brave New World, in which feelies are a "cinema-like form of entertainment that provides the sensations of touch and smell in addition to sight and sound." However, the choice of the term in Huxley's novel seems to have been ironic: Huxley treats feelies as dangerous things in a technological world. As one scholar states, "We surrender our reason and join with the undifferentiated masses, slavishly wiring ourselves into the stimulation machine at the cost of our very humanity" whenever "we open ourselves to these illusory environments" (Murray 1997, 21). Video game feelies, however, are to be celebrated rather than feared. Immersing ourselves in fictional worlds is something we all do at some point in our lives, through playing with toys (frequently tie-in merchandise) as children, playing a video game, watching a movie on a giant screen in a darkened theater, or reading our favorite novels. Video games, unlike these other forms of entertainment, are digital environments in which players interact with their surroundings by playing the game rather than merely observing. As Gray (2010) explains, games operate as extensions of childhood play, giving players the opportunity to interact with and inhabit a fictional space. When we play with media franchise toys, we either extend or re-create the same narratives we experienced previously, or we create our own stories using these material objects. Feelies serve as an extension of a game's fictional world; like toys, they enable us to explore that world away from the game through acts of play and reappropriation.

[1.3] By examining feelies in greater detail, scholars can learn more about how video games operate away from the games themselves and can gain further insight into the concept of play, into how the accumulation of material culture in the digital age impels us to reevaluate our notions of the material and the immaterial, and into how cultural practices are created through the utilization of material objects. There has been little scholarly concern to date for how these objects generate texts in their own right, or how players' own cultural practices enable them to either engage with or resist their intended or dominant use. In this study I identify a distinction between artifacts and collectibles, using this distinction to clarify and expand on our existing understanding of feelies. I chose these terms on the basis of terminology frequently utilized in media studies and material culture studies, and I have combined both these fields in my approach.

[1.4] To explore the concepts of artifact and collectible feelies, I examine three contemporary video games and the feelies they contain: Batman: Arkham Asylum—Collector's Edition (Rocksteady Studios, 2009), Batman: Arkham City—Collector's Edition (Rocksteady Studios, 2011), and Catherine—"Love Is Over" Deluxe Edition (Atlus, 2011). I also briefly discuss some others, such as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Infocom, 1984), to provide historical context for these more contemporary examples, as well as to provide further insight into the concepts of artifact and collectible feelies. This initial study is designed to flesh out the distinction between them and propose possible functions for these objects through a material culture studies lens. Before future studies can apply these concepts to specific audience studies, a theoretical understanding of the diversity of feelies must be established. Through engaging with the off-screen aspects of these games, we gain further understanding of the relationship between material culture and digital media and of how play operates between the digital and the material, linking the two while also extending the game's life in the material world through cultural reappropriation.

2. Artifacts, collectibles, and the materiality of video game paratexts: Feelies in historical and contemporary context

[2.1] As Montfort (2005) explains, feelies in their earliest forms served multiple functions: they were antipirating measures, they were designed to entice buyers during an era when games were expensive, and in some cases, such as Wishbringer (Infocom, 1985), they even inspired parts of the digital game. Bogost (2010) describes early feelies and contextualizes them as extending a game's experience beyond the computer, allowing the player to contemplate the game while not interacting with its digital components. Additionally, Bogost identifies feelies as "value-adds" that "not only made a game seem more hefty and substantial as a product but also allowed developers to clarify the systems or fiction of a game away from the computer" (19). He discusses the diversity of early feelies, which included reproductions of game artifacts, comic books or novels related to and produced exclusively for the game, cosmetic features for game controllers, and other custom-made accessories. In many instances, these objects were incorporated into standard editions of text-based games that had no visual components. Such games are frequently considered examples of interactive fiction, which Montfort describes as "computer programs that display text, accept textual responses, and then display additional text in reaction to what has been typed" (2005, vii). Feelies during this era, which consisted of mostly inexpensive objects (materially speaking), provided a visual and physical link to the game, offered additional narrative information, and aided in the player's immersion in the fictional world and identification with the main character (Karhulahti 2012).

[2.2] A good example of the early use of feelies is Infocom's 1984 adaptation of Douglas Adams's 1979 novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which includes a variety of life-size feelies that re-create specific objects from within the game, such as a pair of Joo-Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses made out of construction paper, a ball of Fluff (a cotton ball), a "Don't Panic!" button, and an empty plastic bag marked "Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Microscopic Space Fleet" (figure 1). Players could reappropriate them for other uses, such as by incorporating them into their material surroundings, using them to augment their daily wardrobe (the button could easily be attached to clothing or bags), or playing with them away from the game in whatever fashion they chose.

Color image of objects (described in caption) laid on a brown couch.

Figure 1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Infocom, 1984) feelies. Top: Destruction orders for Arthur Dent's house and planet Earth. Middle: Don't Panic! button, Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses, and Fluff. Bottom: Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy microscopic space fleet. Photograph by author. [View larger image.]

[2.3] Much of the game packaging during this era was elaborately constructed (Bogost 2010; Karhulahti 2012). In some games, the packaging itself counts as a feely; Hitchhiker's included an advertising pamphlet from the fictional Megadodo Publications on the outside of the box (figure 2). This booklet, which is also a game manual, introduces the player to Adams's fictional universe and also lists potential uses for the feelies within the box, which the player can choose to follow, resist, or ignore. One of the feelies it lists might be called a nonfeely because it does not actually exist: the pamphlet informs players that the box contains "no tea." This is a reference to the endless (and endlessly unsuccessful) search for tea by Arthur Dent, the game's protagonist. For those familiar with Adams's sense of humor, "no tea" serves as the perfect commentary on feelies and their suggested uses: the monetary value of a feely's components does not determine its value, significance, or meaning. For some people, feelies are no more than what they appear. For others, they are gateways into the world of the game and sources of inspiration for players' own adventures. Players assign meaning to objects according to how they use them, socially and culturally (du Gay et al. 1997; Woodward 2007). Feelies exist within the game and have been re-created in the physical world, thus transcending their material components and offering the possibility of cultural reappropriation and physical play.

Image of 2 yellow-colored pages. [Text at top left] BUT WAIT...THERE'S MORE! Now for a LIMITED TIME ONLY when you RUSH your Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy order to Megadodo Publications, you'll also get as our SPECIAL GIFT to you ENOUGH THROW-IN ITEMS TO FILL AN ATTIC! So act now and receive all these fabulous bonuses! [leftmost page, reading down] [Color image of white cotton ball] FLUFF: Goes anywhere—under the bed, behind the commode, at the bottom of your pocket, inside your navel! [image of order for destruction] DESTRUCT ORDERS FOR YOUR HOME AND PLANET: Suitable for framing, and great gag gifts at any party! [Image of yellow button/badge reading in yellow DON'T PANIC!] DON'T PANIC! BUTTON: Perfect for those times when your planet is being bombarded by laser beams, your toaster starts talking to you and traces of radioactivity are discovered in your breakfast cereal! [rightmost page, reading down] [Image of solid black glasses] JOO JANTA 200 SUPER-CHROMATIC PERIL-SENSITIVE SUNGLASSES:**** You'll look cool and stay cool even when attending a Vogon poetry reading! [**** footnote in small type reads, Not recommended for driving] [No image provided] NO TEA: Just like the tea professional hitchhikers don't carry! [Image of a silvery bag with a yellow, blue, and red tag atop reading Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy MICROSCOPIC SPACE FLEET] MICROSCOPIC SPACE FLEET: Just the thing for attacking microscopic civilizations. [Text at bottom right] HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY NOW? ONE HUNDRED ALTAIRIAN DOLLARS? TWO HUNDRED? THREE HUNDRED?!

Figure 2. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Infocom, 1984) description of feelies from the inside of the Megadodo Publications pamphlet attached to the outside of the game's packaging. Photograph from the Infocom Gallery (http://gallery.guetech.org/hhgttg/hhgttg.html). [View larger image.]

[2.4] It is feelies' ability to extend the game's experience that allows them to continue to function away from the game's digital components. Gray's (2010) study of media paratexts and Bogost's (2010) concept of extension provide theoretical models that illustrate how feelies function before, during, and after playing the game (note 1). Specifically, Gray's distinction between entryway paratexts, which the viewer experiences before encountering the text itself (and which are designed to control the viewer's initial reaction to the text), and in medias res paratexts, which the viewer experiences during or after experiencing the text, is of particular interest. According to Gray, toys attached to franchises, such as Star Wars, encourage children who play with them to create texts that act as points of entry into the franchise universe. The toys thus move children (and other consumers who play with them) beyond passive spectatorship while also keeping the stories alive between installments of the franchise. In the case of Star Wars, Gray argues, toys become the primary aspect of the franchise that children engage with. They not only extend the film series but also embody it. Gray argues that texts are in constant conversation with earlier texts and build on each other in our minds as we engage with them. This intertextuality means that they are continually growing and changing. For this reason, "paratexts may always work in medias res," and toys or video games "might place a text in a whole new setting, bit by bit shifting our understanding of it" (44–45). This function makes feelies more than merely value-adds and extensions of a game (Bogost 2010). It also allows them to stand apart from that game, becoming textual generators of their own through acts of play and reappropriation.

[2.5] Feelies, which are linked to specific video games and operate like toys, embody two functions over the course of the player's engagement with them: entryway and in media res. When they are included in game packaging, feelies are often the first part of the game that the player engages with, thus acting as entryways into the text (note 2). Although tie-in toys are also utilized in acts of play and serve as entryway and in medias res paratexts, including feelies with the games themselves adds a new layer to their relationship with a source text that is itself inherently linked to play. Unlike movies and television, video games rely specifically on player engagement, where their choices affect what occurs on screen. Rather than seeking out tie-in toys separately, feelies are part of the game's package and play experience from the beginning. While they are not always included in every edition of contemporary games, and they are certainly not a requirement for playing the game itself, like all paratexts, they are available for those who wish to extend the game's experience beyond its digital components. They also make it possible for players to encounter and engage with the material elements of the game before the virtual ones.

[2.6] Although collector's and special editions of games are often dismissed by scholars as "tired clichés…in today's commercial video game marketplace" (Bogost 2010, 16), they nevertheless continue the long-standing tradition of utilizing physical objects to extend the gaming experience beyond the virtual realm. They do so in various ways. However, the fact that feelies are primarily included in more expensive exclusive editions of the games does affect our conceptions of them. Csikszentmihalyi's (1995) discussion of how material objects are often used by their owners to express their identity within a physical space illustrates how our material surroundings assume meaning beyond the accumulation of things. Csikszentmihalyi argues that people often consider the objects they collect as extensions of their memory from the present into the future because they are indicative of who we are and who we were at various points in our lives. He also postulates that certain objects operate as power objects that magnify their owner's sense of power and importance. Fetishizing these objects, rather than acquiring and appreciating them for their instrumental value is, according to Csikszentmihalyi, a negative aspect of consumer society and culture. Power objects, from a Csikszentmihalyian point of view, are particularly dangerous because their rarity, expense, and lack of instrumental function means that their cost, in natural resources and labor, are unnecessary.

[2.7] However, it can be useful to see feelies packaged with the more expensive collector's editions as power objects if, as Woodward (2007) does, we consider that their social and cultural function is to be such objects. In this view, the rarity and expense of some of these feelies serve to demonstrate their owner's financial investment or accomplishments as a collector, which are seen as positive achievements, especially in fan cultures. As Fiske explains, "The accumulation of both popular and official cultural capital is signalled materially by collections of objects—artworks, books, records, memorabilia, [and] ephemera," and such collections are points "where cultural and economic capital come together" (1992, 43). Although Fiske argues that fan collecting is more inclusive than exclusive (that is, fans would rather accumulate many common goods than a few expensive ones), he also points out that there are some exceptions. Feelies are still mass-produced objects and are not as exclusive or rare as film and TV props. Yet judging by some of the more popular games' resale values after they go out of print, their relative scarcity means that they have value as economic and cultural capital in gaming communities. As is the case with all collectibles, the prices fluctuate depending on supply and demand. Consider that on September 30, 2013, a sealed, limited-edition copy of BioWare's 2007 Mass Effect was selling for between $325 and $1,022.90 on Amazon.com, and used copies were selling for between $59.99 and $369.95. The game's original list price was $39.99. Although later collector's editions often include exclusive content that can only be downloaded using a one-time-use code (thereby making a new copy desirable), this earlier example is distinguished from the standard edition only by special packaging and the inclusion of physical objects: feelies.

[2.8] The designations of artifact and collectible within the genre of feelies are based on terminology frequently used in both media studies and material culture studies. They illustrate conceptual differences between objects and between their roles in off-screen play. An artifact feely is a life-size reproduction of an object within the game world that players can hold in their hands and study in the physical realm exactly as a character in the virtual realm can. These artifacts seem to have been yanked from the immaterial world into the material one, giving the player the opportunity to examine the objects at leisure and to gain a tangible link to the intangible gaming universe. The term artifact is intended to connect the interactive uses of these objects to the uses discussed in material culture and museum studies. As Prown (1982, 1) says, "The term material culture is…frequently used to refer to artifacts themselves, to the body of material" through which material culture scholars study a community. The Oxford English Dictionary (http://www.oed.com/) defines an artifact as showing "characteristic signs of human workmanship or use" and notes that in an archaeological context, it is discovered through excavation. In the context of video games, excavation corresponds to the player opening the box and discovering the artifact feelies, interacting with them as entryway paratexts before experiencing the virtual world of the game. Artifact feelies are objects that are meant to have come from another time or place; they have a history ingrained in the fictional world of their origin that is, in some cases, reflected in the objects themselves. These feelies are life-size, indicating that they serve a practical function within the game world. Holding them puts the player into a character's shoes, thereby expanding the game experience beyond the game's digital components while maintaining the potential to generate their own textual meaning.

[2.9] Playing with artifact feelies goes beyond playing with toy re-creations of artifacts from a fictional world. Playing with artifact feelies also permits discovery and exploration (figure 3). The link between play and discovery is frequently discussed in material culture studies. Perry (2012), for example, discusses how play is intrinsically linked to learning in a museum environment. According to Perry, "perceptual curiosity" is a key factor in establishing this link; museums use "a combination of senses, including sight, touch, sound, and sometimes even smell and taste" to draw visitors' attention (98). Although feelies do not necessarily register on all these senses, they do enhance the player's perceptual relationship with the digital game in relation to its contextualized surroundings (the museum here corresponds to both the digital game and the player's home). Interacting with these objects lets players learn more about these fictional worlds during all stages of game play and assign new meaning to them. It expands the game's experience into the physical world.

Post from user Syvaris (color avatar image is of the Fourth Doctor, wearing a brown coat and a colorful scarf, smiling, head cocked, hand by head): Syvaris, Sun 26th Feb '12 6:50:37 PM. Text reads: Collector's here as well...at least I can play with the feelies while I want for my GPU to come back. [paragraph break] Man now I really want some more of the Mass Effect action figures. I can make a whole MOVIE while I wait. [Signature line centered under post] You will never love a woman as much as George Lucas hates his fans.

Figure 3. In TV Trope's Mass Effect 3 (Electronic Arts, 2012) forum discussion (http://tvtrope.org), on February 26, 2012, user Syvaris draws connections to feelies and childlike applications of play while also proposing a way to merge them with other tie-in materials in an act of reappropriation. Cropped screen cap taken October 23, 2013, of TV Trope forum discussion page (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/posts.php?discussion=3lnqp1tp7dbk2bbkf4m3njre&page=1425). [View larger image.]

[2.10] Although artifacts are certainly collectible, collectible feelies differ from their artifact counterparts because they extend the game experience in different ways. Unlike artifact feelies, collectible feelies do not seem to have been pulled from the game world into our own. At the same time, the term collectible is linked to Woodward's (2007), Csikszentmihalyi's (1995), and Gray's (2010) discussions of material culture, as well as to media studies and cultural studies investigations of how fans collect merchandise and reappropriate it for their own cultural practices (Allison 2006; Fleming 1997). Collectible feelies are still frequently re-creations of objects from within that virtual space, but they are often scaled-down versions of large objects or even people. These objects, which include character busts, ships, and dioramas that re-create specific scenes, still provide a tangible link to the digital world, although without inviting players to feel that they are touching the same objects their characters are. Although the packaging frequently introduces users to these items, and in some cases gives instructions on how to interact with them, the introduction to the game does not stop there. The paratextual entryway continues to the objects within and into acts of play and cultural reappropriation. Because many of us grew up playing with toys, licensed or otherwise, our reactions to these objects are similar. The reason collectibles frequently appear as busts or statues is that these objects can be contextualized almost as zen action figures, a term I propose that indicates that we play using our eyes and minds, rather than relying primarily on our hands.

[2.11] As with artifact feelies, discovery and exploration are important when playing with collectible feelies. Although they are still material objects that can be touched, we play with these toys using our eyes and minds rather than our hands. Collectible feelies can also be soundtracks, exclusive comic book or novel tie-ins, and other items that extend the gaming experience beyond the computer but are not physical reproductions of objects from the digital realm. These feelies enhance the player's perceptual relationship with the game by stimulating other senses (such as hearing) or extend the game's narrative into the off-screen world, allowing the player to experience that portion of the story at a more leisurely pace than in the game world. As Gray (2010) makes clear in his analysis of Star Wars figures, it is through the act of play that feelies provide the opportunity for gamers to extend the game's experience beyond the screen and, in cases like the Arkham games, keep the adventure going between official installments while also generating their own texts and other reappropriated uses in the process. Whether that play consists of childlike play or discovery and exploratory interaction, it contextualizes feelies paratextually, materially, and culturally. For this reason, we need to embrace Gray's proposal for the formation of a field of off-screen studies to complement the already accepted discipline of screen studies. Such a field would permit us to understand that paratexts play a "constitutive role in creating textuality, rather than simply consigning paratexts to the also-ran category or considering their importance only in promotional and monetary terms" (7).

[2.12] Although Gray (2010) does not identify material culture studies by name, this is effectively a call to incorporate that discipline into media studies, which I am endeavoring to do here. As Gray indicates through his description of off-screen studies, media and material culture studies have more in common than is frequently realized, and when combined, they lead to a better understanding of the relationship between the material objects and the media we consume. Video game feelies are an example of this relationship, providing for further insight into our perceptions of play and the intersection between the virtual and the physical. Video game feelies also demonstrate how popular culture material artifacts can be reappropriated into their own cultural practices, and they provide a fuller understanding of video games in general.

[2.13] While the examples discussed in the remainder of this paper are recent when compared to Hitchhiker's, feelies continued to appear in collectors' and special editions of games throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, frequently in games connected to larger media franchises. For example, Star Trek: The Next Generation—A Final Unity Collector's Edition (Spectrum HoloByte, 1995) came with an LCD pin of the starship Enterprise, a limited edition Trek-themed box, and a poster. Similarly, Robotech: Battlecry—Limited Edition (Vicious Cycle Software, 2002) contained the game's soundtrack, art, dog tags, a T-shirt, and a lenticular motion card. These games, like those before and since, provide various opportunities to incorporate the objects into the players' own material world.

[2.14] The following games and the feelies they contain help illustrate artifacts and collectibles in more detail. I discuss Batman: Arkham Asylum—Collector's Edition and Batman: Arkham City—Collector's Edition together, showcasing the diversity of feelies in contemporary collector's editions and fleshing out the concepts of artifacts and collectibles. These two games also show how the two types of feelies function and extend the game's experience while also leading to new cultural reappropriation through play. I also address the relation of downloadable content (DLC) to the material components of the game, as well as how some material objects are designed to simulate a fictional past that helps players immerse themselves in the fictional world and find new ways of engaging with these objects that move beyond the game itself. My discussion of Catherine—"Love Is Over" Deluxe Edition explores how certain artifact and collectible feelies can combine in single acts of play. It also illustrates how some feelies extend the game experience and can be reappropriated though role-playing and areas of play and fandom that are a bit more adult than the other examples. Catherine reflects the facts that all feelies, like other material culture objects, mean different things to different people; how we use them is ultimately a personal choice.

3. Batarangs, zen action figures, simulated pasts, and reverse feelies: Batman: Arkham Asylum—Collector's Edition and Batman: Arkham City—Collector's Edition

[3.1] The feelies found in contemporary collector's and special editions of games tend to be of higher material quality than those that accompanied earlier games like Hitchhiker's, and many games, such as Batman: Arkham Asylum—Collector's Edition, include both artifact and collectible feelies. This variety provides additional opportunities for owners to reappropriate them through play and incorporate them into their owners' material surroundings. Many contemporary feelies cosmetically depict the fictional history of the objects they represent, thereby creating a sense of reality that aids in the player's immersion in all stages of play.

[3.2] The Batman—Arkham City game is a sequel to Arkham Asylum, and the feelies incorporated in its collector's edition are exclusively of the collectible variety (figure 4). Each game also includes DLC, as many contemporary collector's editions do. Although DLC does not qualify as a feely, it does raise questions regarding how we treat digital objects in relation to material ones in contemporary culture. Examining both the games and the feelies they contain shows how contemporary feelies are tied to video games that include visual components, letting us better understand how video games function away from the screen and the diversity of ways these material objects can be played with.

Color image of objects (described in caption) laid on a brown couch.

Figure 4. Batman: Arkham Asylum—Collector's Edition (Rocksteady Studios, 2009) feelies. Top: In-game design batarang, batarang storage box, and Dr. Young's journal. Middle: The Road to Arkham comic book and Joker-modified color manual. Bottom: Batman: Arkham Asylum sticker with DLC codes on the back. Photograph by author. [View larger image.]

[3.3] Batman: Arkham Asylum—Collector's Edition comes in a custom-designed batarang-shaped storage box collectible with the game's name imprinted in black letters across the front. The shape of this box is significant: it is in the shape of an iconic object from Batman's universe, and also alludes to a major feely inside it: the batarang, Batman's signature weapon. Players opening the box find inside a variety of artifact and collectible feelies. Unlike Hitchhiker's, this game does not list their intended uses on the outside of the box, leaving such decisions up to the player. The artifact feelies include a mounted, battle-scarred batarang (a replica of those featured in the game) and the worn embossed leather journal of game character Dr. Young, which provides additional information on Batman villains who have been patients at the asylum. Also included are several collectible feelies, such as a prequel comic titled The Road to Arkham (which was also available as a bonus with preorders for the standard version of the game), a full-color game manual modified by the Joker (the game's main antagonist), an exclusive making-of DVD, and a sticker with codes on the back giving access to exclusive DLC.

[3.4] The collectible feelies extend the game into the physical world and have other uses beyond the game itself. The batarang-shaped case sets the tone for the game and houses the other materials; it can also be displayed prominently in the home as artwork. Because the interior of the case has a custom foam slot designed to hold the batarang, it may be seen as an equipment box that stores weaponry. It is called a "Waynetech Batarang Storage Box," indicating that it has the potential to exist within the fictional world itself. If the player chooses to ignore the game's logo printed on the front (or modifies the box so it no longer shows), then this collectible feely can transform into an artifact that can be played with in conjunction with the batarang. The comic provides information that situates the player inside the narrative leading up to the game; it can also be used as a source of ideas for other adventures of the player's creation. The modified manual, which at first glance might not mean much to players, takes on added significance after they wander the environment of Arkham and see how the Joker has altered the environment there in similar ways. The making-of disc provides additional production information, and the sticker can be applied to any surface that the player chooses, serving as a reminder of the game while also altering or augmenting the material object it is stuck on.

[3.5] Several of the artifacts included in Arkham Asylum are imbued with a sense of history and authenticity, helping players immerse themselves in the game world. Walter Benjamin (2007) famously argued that an aura is present when the uniqueness of an original object is experienced; notions of authenticity and presence are inherently linked to the history of that object. He proposed that mechanically reproduced objects could not possess such an aura because their status as reproductions removes the characteristics that make an object unique: the understanding that the object has a real history and the object's spatial and temporal proximity to the viewer. Because a mechanically reproduced object is not bound to a single location that the viewer has to travel to in order to experience its uniqueness, it loses historical and temporal trace, and it consequently lacks any auratic experience.

[3.6] When we use material culture studies to look beyond the Benjaminian limitations on the significance of these objects, focusing instead on their social and cultural use, the uniqueness of any specific object becomes less important than the ways players can either use video game feelies as they are intended to or resist those prescribed uses and incorporate the feelies into their own acts of play or material surroundings as they see fit. (Re)producing objects from the digital realm in the material one is essentially an attempt to bring players closer to the object in a Benjaminian sense, thereby enhancing their immersion into that fictional space while providing a sense of reality that helps acts of reappropriation. If we interpret Csikszentmihalyi's (1995) power object positively instead of negatively as the author suggested, the temporal and spatial restrictions on Benjamin's concept of aura may also be overcome through the high regard that players have for these feelies (figures 5 and 6). Additionally, the artificial marks of history and use on these objects imply that they have a simulated aura. Although the player knows that objects like the batarang or the journal are not real or unique in the sense that they belonged to and were used by Batman or Dr. Young, their ability to extend the act of play beyond the digital realm is reinforced by the physical scuffs and scars on the batarang's surface and the simulated stains on the journal. These details add a pseudo-authentic layer to a reproduced object.

Color image of a mounted batarang, showing apparent wear.

Figure 5. Batman: Arkham Asylum—Collector's Edition (Rocksteady Studios, 2009) batarang scuff marks. The batarang has scuffs and scratches etched into its plastic body. Some artifact feelies are constructed with a simulated past to aid in the player's immersion in the game's fiction. This also provides a greater sense of realism, which aids players in acts of reappropriation. Photograph by author. [View larger image.]

Color image of a tabletop with a white man's hand a book open to two pages describing the Riddler, with a color Polaroid image of a green suit-clad Riddler, the image apparently taped in with masking tape; a yellow sticky note that reads, He seems to be hiding some sort of secret artifacts on the asylum's grounds; and smudged page edges, perhaps indicating mold or wet damage.

Figure 6. Batman: Arkham Asylum—Collector's Edition (Rocksteady Studios, 2009) journal staining. Artifacts like Dr. Young's journal sometimes include a simulated history such as staining. Although there are no actual stains (instead they are just printed on the book's pages), simulating a history in this way adds a layer of authenticity to certain artifact feelies. Photograph by author. [View larger image.]

[3.7] Asylum's batarang also brings attention to the fluidity of the distinction between certain artifacts and collectibles, beyond the fact that all artifacts are also collectible in nature. Unlike many other artifact feelies, it is fixed to a mounted display, meaning that it cannot be thrown unless the player chooses to modify it (figure 7). In other words, it is primarily intended for display, as collectible feely statues are. The player can still hold the batarang and feel what it is like to physically interact with this artifact, as Batman does in the game, but the physical sensation of the mounting stand against the player's palm and wrist changes this experience from an active use of the object to a collectible, archived one. What makes this particular example unique is that the mounting allows the batarang to exist in that state within the game's diegesis.

Color image of a table-mounted batarang, with wear marks evident.

Figure 7. Batman: Arkham Asylum—Collector's Edition (Rocksteady Studios, 2009) mounted batarang. An artifact feely with both collectible and artifact components within the physical and fictional worlds. Photograph by author. [View larger image.]

[3.8] Batman, unlike many superheroes, is a collector of mementos. The Batcave, his secret base of operations, is filled with mounted artifacts from many of his major cases. The physical history with which this feely is imbued implies that it has seen a lot of action. Because this batarang was specifically designed for the game, we can assume that this weapon was one of the ones that Batman used while trying to restore order to Arkham Asylum and has since been mounted by Batman himself as a memento. Together with Dr. Young's journal (which Batman recovers pages from while exploring the asylum), it has now been passed on to the player. Consequently, the batarang technically qualifies as a collectible artifact from within the game space that, even before the player starts playing the game, illustrates how much action Batman and his gadgets will see. While engaging with the digital game, players can display the artifact on a table, desk, mantle, or elsewhere, and touch it, look at it, or engage with it as they like. Afterward, if still on display, it serves as a reminder of the game and, depending on the player's relationship with it, as a reminder of the challenges overcome within that digital world. It then becomes part of the home's material landscape, and the player continues to interact with it, reappropriating it for other uses (using it, perhaps, as a prop in a Batman fan film or as an element of cosplay) or letting it decorate the domestic space.

[3.9] Batman: Arkham City—Collector's Edition, unlike the earlier game, highlights collectible feelies (note 3). They include a hardcover collectible art book and a Batman statue on a display base produced by Kotobukiya, a renowned manufacturer of collectible pop culture statues, which is featured front and center through a transparent plastic window in the game's packaging (figure 8). Like Asylum's batarang, it is capable of being displayed around the player's home before, during, and after game play. Unlike artifact feelies, the Batman statue is not a life-size reproduction; it does not enable the player to hold, grapple, or otherwise touch Batman like someone in the game world could. Instead, players engage with it as a zen action figure that can inspire feelings, sensations, and thoughts of play like the toys we played with growing up, through contemplation rather than articulation.

Color image with shades of black, gray, and red predominant, showing the Batman: Arkham City—Collector's Edition boxed up on the left, and disassembled into its components on the right and underneath. Text above reads BATMAN (inside a bat shape), ARKHAM CITY COLLECTOR'S EDITION 10.18.2011.

Figure 8. Promotional image of Batman: Arkham City—Collector's Edition (Rocksteady Studios, 2011) showing all of the material objects found in this edition of the game. Screen cap taken June 1, 2013, at Amazon.com (www.amazon.com/Batman-Arkham-City-Collectors-Xbox-360/dp/B0050SYG7A). [View larger image.]

[3.10] Although some collector's editions, such as the Tomb Raider Collector's Edition/Survival Edition (Square Enix, 2013), contain an action figure collectible feely with articulated joints that can be maneuvered like a regular toy (figure 9), many others, like Arkham City, feature static statues that cannot be repositioned or adjusted without breaking them. Although it is certainly possible to physically play with these statues, they are usually too large for this to be easy. They also intersect with another established collectible in fan communities: character busts and statues from various media franchises outside of the realm of video game feelies.

Color image of Lara Croft action figure set against a white wall, with plastic bags containing various artifacts arranged behind it, including weapons, three hands with different shapes, a bow, and an arrow. In with the bow is a black-and-white leaflet with drawings illustrating the components; the words TOMB RAIDER are discernible at the top of the page.

Figure 9. Lara Croft action figure from Tomb Raider Collector's Edition/Survival Edition (Square Enix, 2013). Some collector's editions include collectible feelies similar to traditional action figure with articulated joints, while others include static, unmoving statues. Photograph by author. [View larger image.]

[3.11] Unlike the virtual world in Arkham Asylum, the one in Arkham City is accessible after the main story line is completed, allowing players to complete side quests, finish upgrading the playable characters' skills and technology, and wander the streets of this small section of Gotham, stopping criminals as they choose. Collectible feelies like the Batman statue remind players that the world within the game is still available for free play, allowing them to engage in the more mundane daily activities that Batman probably undertakes (it can't be the end of the world all of the time, can it?). This feely provides players with the chance to not only contemplate the game away from the game, but also engage in a sort of mental planning play (figure 10). Players can imagine what other stories they could create, both within the game world and outside it, that are inspired by both the material objects they surround themselves with and the memories those objects elicit of the time spent playing in that fictional world.

Color image of black-and-white Batman model, crouching and looking ready to spring into action.

Figure 10. Kotobukiya Batman statue from Batman: Arkham City—Collector's Edition (Rocksteady Studios, 2011). This zen action figure can be touched, but players play with it primarily by using their eyes and imagination. Photograph by author. [View larger image.]

[3.12] Although artifact and collectible feelies are both key features in these collector's editions of games, they are not the only components that make them desirable to players. Collector's editions often also include exclusive DLC. However, DLC does not qualify as a feely because it has no physical form and does not extend the game experience into the material realm from the material one. DLC does indicate another area where the virtual and the material intersect from a material culture standpoint. Exclusive DLC might be considered a reverse feely: it magnifies the player's sense of power from a Csikszentmihalyian point of view, yet it only exists in the player's virtual collection inside of a virtual space. It also acts as an entryway paratext for many players, who will download it before playing the game, thus ensuring that the content is included in the game when they first log in. The inclusion of DLC is further evidence of the merging of the material and the immaterial in contemporary video games as wells as in contemporary collecting culture in the digital age. Collectors are interested in obtaining not only exclusive material items to add to their physical surroundings but also exclusive immaterial items to augment their virtual ones. When considered in conjunction with artifact and collectible feelies in contemporary collector's editions, nonfeely DLC helps provide a more complete picture of contemporary video game material culture that includes both the physical and the digital, and contextualizes them in similar ways.

4. Vincent's boxers, role-playing, and personal choice in Catherine—"Love Is Over" Deluxe Edition

[4.1] Unlike the two Batman games discussed, Catherine—"Love Is Over" Deluxe Edition features a combination of artifact and collectible feelies (figure 11) that are capable of being used together and that are also capable of generating the player's own textual content. Although the practice is not as common as it was in the 1980s, some contemporary collector's editions list possible uses for the feelies they contain on their packaging, just as Hitchhiker's did, indicating that the gaming industry still contextualizes artifact and collectible feelies in similar ways. However, Catherine—"Love Is Over" Deluxe Edition also provides players with an opportunity to think outside the box and find new and sometimes more adult ways of using feelies as extensions of the game experience and generators of their own texts through acts of play.

Color image of objects (described in caption) laid on a brown couch.

Figure 11. Catherine—"Love Is Over" Deluxe Edition feelies. Top: Catherine pillowcase and "Empty Hearts" T-shirt. Middle: Stray Sheep pizza box, Catherine box cover, art book, and sound disc. Bottom: Vincent's boxers. Photograph by author. [View larger image.]

[4.2] This special edition of the sexually charged Japanese RPG/puzzle game includes a mix of artifacts and collectibles that can be used in a variety of ways, several of which are both collectible and artifact. They include undergarments worn by male and female characters within the game, such as Vincent's "Empty Hearts" T-shirt and polka-dot boxers. According to the game's packaging, players can "face [their] own inner fears while wearing this iconic pair of pink polka-dot boxer shorts, as worn by Vincent as he climbs the tower of his nightmares." Players (or their partners in sexualized play) can wear these while role-playing scenes from the game or creating their own narratives. Although the packaging does not explicitly suggest this use, it does remind the player that "while it technically belongs to Vincent, Catherine makes this oversized 100% cotton tee all her own." This potential use illustrates how gamers can redefine the notion of play and how feelies can serve a variety of functions that extend beyond the objects themselves (figure 12).

Color image of back cover of Catherine—'Love Is Over' Deluxe Edition, with colors of black, white, red, and pink predominant. Text is white over a dark background and appears first in English, then in French (not transcribed) immediately below. [row 1, with CATHERINE logo to left] Vincent has a hard choice to make: marry his longtime girlfriend Katherine or move on to the incredible blonde he just woke up next to—named Catherine! The worst part is, if he makes the wrong choice, he could end up dead. Take the sheep by the horns and declare your love for Catherine (the game) with the 'Love Is Over' Deluxe Edition containing not only the incredible game, but a collection of bonus items that can only be found in this package! [row 2] [Image of anime-style blonde woman with the word CATHERINE across the front] Catherine—The Game [descriptive text] Vincent's story of love, lust, and self-determination is revealed in the addictive puzzle action game from the makers of the Persona series! [Image of pizza box] Stray Sheep Pizza Box [graphic image reading LOVE IS OVER DELUXE EDITION to right] [descriptive text centered under the 2 images] As you enjoy Vincent's conversations with his friends in the famous Stray Sheep bar, you too can soak in the ambience with this pizza box–style container for all the items of the 'Love Is Over' Deluxe Edition! [row 3] [Drawn image of pink-polka-dotted white men's boxers] Vincent's Boxers [descriptive text] Face your own inner fears while wearing this iconic pair of pink polka-dot boxer shorts, as worn by Vincent as he climbs the tower of his nightmares. [Drawn image of white T-shirt with several heart shapes, one and a half of them filled in with red and the rest blank, over the word EMPTY in red] 'Empty Hearts' T-Shirt [descriptive text] While it technically belongs to Vincent, Catherine makes this oversized 100% cotton tee all her own. Men's Large. [Drawn image of pillowcase with anime-style blonde woman wearing a revealing white outfit and a red sash reclining; logo of word CATHERINE over graphic in upper left] Catherine Pillow Case [descriptive text] Escape into your own fantasies when you rest your head on this exclusive standard-sized pillow case. [across very bottom] UPC codes, a disclaimer about terms of service, and an M (Mature 17+) rating, flagged with Violence, Blood, Sexual Themes, Partial Nudity, and Strong Language.

Figure 12. Catherine—"Love Is Over" Deluxe Edition (Atlus, 2011) back cover. As with Infocom's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Catherine lists uses for feelies on the box's back cover, which the player can either choose to follow, deviate from, or ignore. Photograph by author. [View larger image.]

[4.3] There is also a Catherine pillowcase collectible. The packaging invites players to "escape into your own fantasies when you rest your head on this exclusive standard-sized pillow case." Throughout the game, Vincent is clutching a pillow as he navigates the hazardous landscape of his nightmares. The pillowcase feely is not an exact reproduction of Vincent's; it features a color image of Catherine and the game's logo, which makes it a collectible rather than an artifact. The collector's edition also includes an art book and sound disc (preorder bonuses for the standard edition) as additional collectibles that are not listed on the box but that still extend the experience of the game into the physical world. All of these items are held within an artifact re-creation of a pizza box from Vincent's favorite hangout, the Stray Sheep. The packaging contextualizes this feely in a way that encourages players to display it around their home: "As you enjoy Vincent's conversations with his friends in the famous Stray Sheep bar, you too can soak in the ambience with this pizza box-style container for all the items of the 'Love Is Over' Deluxe Edition!"

[4.4] As has already been indicated, artifact and collectible feelies function beyond what the game's packaging suggests. This allows players, and possibly their partners, to engage in either standard cosplay or, if they choose, live-action role-playing (LARPing) (figure 13) that moves beyond the bodily reaction of viewing a game that in many ways fits into Williams's (1991, 4) notion of body genre—that is, a genre of film that privileges "the spectacle of a body," usually a woman's, "caught in the grip of intense sensation or emotion" to the point of "uncontrollable convulsion or spasm." Such films have a physiological effect on the viewer's body as well, which they achieve by developing a temporally dependent fantasy scenario on screen that physically affects the viewer. The body genre that Catherine best fits is the jerk-off pornography genre (Williams 1991). The game itself is full of sadomasochistic and nonsadomasochistic representations of sex in literal and abstract forms and in real and dream worlds that Vincent finds himself in. Players can use several of the feelies included in this game—the boxers, T-shirt, and pillowcase—in a form of bodily engagement that moves beyond the viewing experience and the bodily reactions associated with it and into reappropriated acts away from the screen (figure 14). From the standpoint of material culture, this illustrates the ways that feelies can initiate a wide variety of cultural uses. Play is an act very much open to interpretation by the player.

Color image of 2 white people wearing the Catherine feelies while sitting on a red couch. Both of them wear red bracelets on their right wrists. Seated to the left is a woman with elaborately styled blonde hair wearing a revealing white outfit with a red sash, a white lace garter, and a white lace choker. Her right hand is on the right thigh of her companion, a bare-chested man with stubble and a colorful tattoo on his left arm, wearing white boxers with pink polka dots.

Figure 13. "Silicon, Saline, Poison, Inject Me Baby." Players can utilize some game feelies in cosplay. In this instance, the male cosplayer is wearing Vincent's boxers from the Catherine—"Love Is Over" Deluxe Edition (Atlus, 2011), while the female cosplayer is dressed in a custom-designed costume. Photograph by ladyhearthergaga (http://ladyheathergaga.tumblr.com/). [View larger image.]

Color image of a black man and a long-haired blonde white woman playing tug-of-war with a Catherine pillow on a sidewalk in front of a green metal park bench. Both are wearing 'Empty Hearts' T-shirts and pink polka-dot boxers.

Figure 14. Catherine—"Love Is Over" Deluxe Edition (Atlus, 2011) feelies at play. Although this image came from a post on the official Playstation.com blog (http://blog.us.playstation.com/2011/07/11/wary-of-long-term-commitment-to-catherine-try-the-demo-first/; July 11, 2011) and was most likely posed and used for marketing purposes, it still indicates the ways that players can use these feelies in the physical world. [View larger image.]

[4.5] Although the concept of play still allows these objects to function as extensions of a game's digital components and as generators of their own texts, it is important to understand that feelies, like all material objects and paratexts, serve nonplay functions as well. Players decide how to use them and how feelies affect their perceptions of the overall gaming experience. To quote Woodward, "If we think of the material culture of consumer societies, they are in fact the point where mass-produced consumer objects are encountered and used by individuals, who must establish and negotiate their own meanings and incorporate such objects into their personal cultural and behavioural repertoires, sometimes challenging and sometimes reproducing social structure" (2007, 4). For some, Vincent's boxers are just an article of clothing that sits in a box, untouched and forgotten after the game has been played. From a Csikszentmihalyian/Fiskean standpoint, they magnify the player's sense of power and can be shown off to friends, however strange they may seem as a choice of object. For others, they may inspire new adventures that go far beyond the game itself, yet are still linked to it materially. Video game feelies, whether artifacts or collectibles, always extend the game experience beyond the digital into the material. What Vincent's boxers—what all feelies—mean to each of us is ultimately a personal choice.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] The ways that material culture studies and media studies intersect and complement one another need to be embraced further in both these academic fields. As material objects—sound recordings, video recordings, games—are increasingly being transformed into digital components, it is more important than ever that scholars seek out the moments when the material and the digital intersect, historicize them, and provide the necessary context that links those components together through the ways that they are used in cultural practices. Video game feelies are only one kind of such objects.

[5.2] By exploring artifact and collectible video game feelies, we may understand how the material and the immaterial connect by extending texts and potentially generating new ones through the act of play. Through these objects and their paratextual connection to the games that they are included with, video game feelies illustrate how an interdisciplinary approach toward the intersection between the physical and the virtual leads to further insight into how video games operate away from the screen, expand our understanding of play in an era when the consumption and collection of material and immaterial objects are continually changing, and indicate how these objects can be reappropriated in ways that extend the intended narrative and lead to new cultural uses. Artifact and collectible feelies, like other media paratexts, are capable of generating their own texts through play as well as having a continued life and use away from the media that inspired them.

[5.3] This last point is even more crucial at a time when technological obsolescence threatens to block access to these games and the virtual worlds contained within them. Although the games can be emulated, emulations never quite capture the experience of the original. Technological obsolescence has been an issue for many years already. Nearly three decades after The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was released, it is rare to find a functioning computer capable of reading the game's 5.25-inch floppy diskettes. Although it has been emulated and even rereleased online as a free, fully illustrated, official, and updated 20th anniversary edition (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hitchhikers/game.shtml), the game in its original form is inaccessible to most. However, even this version is not impervious to technical issues or obsolescence (figure 15). The game's continual functionality depends on maintaining the hosting servers and providing updates so it remains compatible with contemporary browsers. Collectors seeking to obtain complete copies of these early video games flock to auction sites like eBay. Although the digital portion of the games may not be compatible with modern computers, the feelies remain a lasting link to the adventures contained within. These feelies may ultimately be all that remain of these digital worlds. As Csikszentmihalyi (1995) notes, they continue to serve as material reminders of our past adventures and to inspire new ones.

Color image of BBC's Web page at BBC Radio 4. To the left is a column of navigational links. The page is headed THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Underneath reads THE HITCHHIKER ADVENTURE GAME by Douglas Adams - 20th Anniversary Edition. A green, purple, gray and blue image of the Book is underneath, filling most of the page. It says DON'T PANIC twice. The text in the command line reads, 'zmachine xml invalid.'

Figure 15. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 20th anniversary edition (BBC, 2004) death screen. This BBC-licensed, fully illustrated rerelease of the 1984 Infocom game was, as of June 1, 2013, completely unplayable. Instead of the usual text, the message "zmachine xml invalid" appears where the player types in and receives commands. The Guide still reminds the player not to panic despite the technical difficulties. (The technical issues have since been addressed.) Screen cap taken June 1, 2013, from the BBC's Radio 4 page (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hitchhikers/game_nolan.shtml). [View larger image.]

[5.4] My primary purpose here has been to expand on existing theoretical discourse surrounding feelies and to establish a way to better understand these objects, their function, and their relationship to digital games. Further research needs to be performed on artifact and collectible feelies that helps situate them in the contemporary video game industry. The best way to accomplish this is through detailed survey work among gaming communities. Because everyone's experience playing a game is unique, but not all players need feelies in order to enjoy the game, a diverse range of uses and opinions exist. Learning more about who buys collector's and special editions of games and looking for what might link them—for example, economic status, geographic location, ethnicity, age, and level of education—will help further situate feelies within contemporary gaming culture and within off-screen media studies scholarship.

6. Notes

1. Gray's analysis expands on the work of literary theorist Gérard Genette (2007), who described paratexts as texts that prepare us for the consumption of other texts. According to Gray (2010), Genette argues that we can approach a text only through an understanding of its paratexts, as we have already consumed a variety of them before reading the book itself.

2. Karhulahti differentiates between a game's packaging and the feelies contained within it when discussing paratexts. Karhulahti, applying Genette's (1997) definition of paratext, argues that packaging serves as the paratext of games, while feelies are "materializations of their story worlds" (2012, 4). Although the packaging does act as a paratext, introducing players to the game before their playing it, I argue that the feelies themselves also operate as paratexts as Gray (2010) defines the term.

3. Other objects are included with Arkham City that do not qualify as feelies, as they do not act as extensions of the game, nor can they effectively be reappropriated. For example, a DVD copy of the anime film Batman: Gotham Knight is not specifically linked to the game and therefore cannot function in the same way that feelies do.

7. Works cited

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