Case study of French and Spanish fan reception of Game of Thrones

Mélanie Bourdaa

University of Bordeaux Montaigne, Pessac, France

Javier Lozano Delmar

Loyola University, Seville, Spain

[0.1] Abstract—The reception of the American TV show Game of Thrones (2011–) by French and Spanish fans and nonfans is addressed via a qualitative methodology, the goal of which is to understand how European viewers perceive themselves as fans and what it means for them to be fans. Analysis of characteristics of a specifically European reception helps us learn what fan studies tell us about fans and what fans really think about fandoms.

[0.2] Keywords—Europe; Fandom

Lozano Delmar, Javier, and Mélanie Bourdaa. 2015. "Case Study of French and Spanish Fan Reception of Game of Thrones." In "European Fans and European Fan Objects: Localization and Translation," edited by Anne Kustritz, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 19.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Following Jenkins's seminal works (1992, 2006) on fans, fandoms and fan activities are being newly discussed in the French and Spanish academic world as active and creative receptors who use new technologies to perform activities and gather in a virtual community. This belated acceptance in Spanish and French universities can be explained by the divide that still exists in the public's and academic's mind between high and low culture, with TV shows being perceived as low culture in the Boudieuian sense. In both countries, it remains hard to introduce TV series as legitimate objects of study and culture. Nonetheless, in France, young scholars have been analyzing fandoms from various angles, including the creation of fan fiction (François 2009) and offering a typology of fan activities (Bourdaa 2014). They also envision fans as a virtual community empowered by the use of new technologies (Martin 2011; Peyron 2013). Other scholars study a particular object, such as a TV show, to understand a shift in the reception practices and find patterns in fan reception (Combes 2010; Bourdaa 2012). In Spain, some studies have analyzed the use of fan-generated content as an advertising tool, discussing the role of fandom as producer of ad content (Lozano Delmar, Hernández-Santaolalla, and Ramos 2013).

[1.2] This case study analyzes the American TV show Game of Thrones (2011–), based on George R. R. Martin's epic book series, A Song of Ice and Fire (1996–), in order to contrast fan and nonfan reception in France and Spain. Game of Thrones is a relevant object to study fans' activities for several reasons. First, in France and in Spain, Game of Thrones was the most often illegally downloaded show in 2013, indicating that the series is a favorite among European viewers and that one fan activity, fan subbing—that is, subtitling the TV show in a local language—appears to be a fundamental activity in French and Spanish fandoms. Second, to promote the show, producers in both countries include fans in their marketing strategies. HBO, with the help of marketing company Campfire New York, created a marketing campaign that values the role of fans and that prioritizes appealing to them (Bourdaa 2014). In France, OCS, which broadcasts the episodes a day after HBO, invites fans to live tweet each episode with a special hashtag, #OCSGOT, thus creating a sense of community among viewers. OCS also launched a second-screen experience, available on tablets and smartphones, that provides complementary information, news, maps, and behind-the-scenes footage to enhance the live viewing experience. In Spain, Canal+ has developed new advertising experiences to promote Game of Thrones. The company implemented social TV strategies ("Vive Poniente"), created alternate reality games or advergames that transform social networks into social games, and performed actions that position the fan/viewer in the center of promotion strategy (Lozano Delmar 2013). The last advertising campaign for the fourth season included a TV spot filmed by hundreds of Spanish fans cosplaying members of the Night's Watch.

[1.3] Because fans "have often been categorized in terms of their modes of participation, with that participation often usually defined in terms of production" (Zubernis and Larsen 2012, 16), we look at how French and Spanish viewers of Game of Thrones watch the show and perceive themselves. What does it mean for them to be fans—or nonfans—of the series?

2. Methodology

[2.1] We collected data for a qualitative analysis (Patton 2002) from 175 online interviews (100 from French participants and 75 from Spanish participants) collected through a Google Form. Participation in this survey was voluntary. Invitations to participate were sent randomly by posting a public Google Form link via Twitter in both France and Spain. It was then shared and retweeted through various networks. Participation opened April 8, 2014, and closed April 14, 2014. The survey's questions, presented in both French and Spanish, were as follows:

  1. How do you watch Game of Thrones?
  2. Do you watch it alone or with someone else?
  3. Do you consider yourself a Game of Thrones fan? If so, why?
  4. Have you been participating in discussions about the show or its characters on the Internet?
  5. Do you participate in Game of Thrones online activities like tweeting, creating fan art, fan fiction, subtitles, mash-ups, Tumblrs…? If so, describe them.
  6. Do you think these activities are important inside the Game of Thrones fan community? If so, why?

[2.2] For the coding procedure, we used NVivo, an online software for qualitative research. We used both deductive (Patton 2002; Berg 2001) and inductive (Hsieh and Shannon 2005) processes. This software allowed us to first analyze the participants' responses to our six questions. We were then able to identify, for example, the online sites or social networks that were most often used to talk about Game of Thrones. Once we had established the categories, we coded each respondent's response. This also allowed us to find the five most common reasons for why respondents considered themselves Game of Thrones fans:

  1. I love Game of Thrones and consider it one of the best current TV shows.
  2. I collect material related to the series.
  3. I experience the show as something that goes beyond the simple act of reception.
  4. I watch the show immediately after its release in the United States and probably more than once.
  5. I am a faithful follower of the original books.

[2.3] From the 175 online interviews, we coded a total of 539 respondent quotations, 279 in France and 260 in Spain. The following results and percentages use these values as the denominators. All translations in text are by the authors; original-language responses are provided in the notes.

3. Results and discussion

[3.1] According to the survey results, in both Spain and France, the consumption of Game of Thrones is done in an individual manner, as opposed to viewing the program with family or friends. In Spain, 62 percent of respondents noted that they watch the show individually; 58 percent of respondents in France noted this. The feeling of belonging to a Game of Thrones fandom seems more marked in Spain. Ninety-one percent of Spanish respondents claimed to be fans of the series, while in France only 69 percent openly professed to be fans. Regarding the respondents' motivations to consider themselves Game of Thrones fans, the survey's results provide five main explanations. First, most respondents declared that they were fans simply because they like Game of Thrones and consider it one of the best current TV shows because of things like plot, character, and production values. A Spanish fan declared, "I watch many, many series, but Game of Thrones has something that makes it special, something that makes you look forward to seeing the next season" (Veo muchas, muchas series pero Juego de Tronos tiene algo que la hace especial, algo que hace que esté deseando ver la siguiente temporada). A French fan wrote, "This is an immersive show; we can identify with the characters. The political plots are riveting. When GOT arrived, I finally had the feeling of watching something new compared to all those average shows with the same stories over and over. GOT is a daring show, and they are some bad-ass [English in the original] characters and it is epic!" (C'est très immersif, chacun peux se reconnaître dans un personnage, les intrigues politique, l'histoire c'est très accrochant, quand got est arrivé, j'ai eu enfin l'impression de regarder quelques chose de nouveau par rapport a toute ces series moyenne qu'on nous jette a la figure, qui finissent pas toutes se ressembler (meme shemas de personnages, d'histoire) des copier/coller de copier/coller…got ose, et puis bon, c'est quand meme une serie pleine de Badass et vachement épique!).

[3.2] It also appears that acquisition and possession of collectibles related to the series—merchandise, DVDs, Blu-rays—is important. Collecting items seems common to Game of Thrones fans: "I buy the Blu-rays as well as goodies (books, figurines, T-shirts, coffee mugs,…) as soon as they are on the market" (J'achète les BluRay dès qu'ils sortent sur le marché, ainsi que du merchandising [les livres, des figurines, des T-shirts, des mugs]). Moreover, viewers underline the importance of experiencing the show as something that goes beyond the simple act of reception. Knowing the Game of Thrones Houses, talking about the series, searching the Internet for additional information, and keeping constantly updated are some examples. A French fan noted that he "knows all the characters and their houses, their relationships and alliances. I go regularly on the official HBO Web site for the interactive maps and the behind-the-scene footage" (Je connais tous les personnages ainsi que leurs emblèmes et leurs affinités avec les autres maisons. Je consulte régulièrement le site officiel d'HBO avec le mapping et les coulisses du tournage). The Spanish fan does "more than [watch] the television series. I take a stance on the fiction. I feel as if I belong to one House and empathize with certain characters. Thus, I get involved with the show while I'm watching it and I also maintain this relationship beyond the reception time" (No solo consumo el producto televisivo sino que también este ha conseguido posicionarme frente a la ficción. Me siento de una casa u otra y empatizo con determinados personajes. De este modo, no solo me involucro con la serie durante su visionado sino que mantengo mi relación con la misma más allá del tiempo de recepció). Watching Game of Thrones episodes immediately after their release in the United States also seems to be a criterion to be considered a fan. Viewing episodes more than once and an addictive mode of consumption are among the features that define a fan of the series. As some Spanish fans stated, they are fans "because I watch the series from the beginning, always up to date and enjoying it" (Porque sigo la serie desde el principio, siempre al día y la disfruto) and "because I watch it every Monday as soon as the episode is available" (Porque la veo cada lunes en cuanto está disponible el último capítulo). A French fan wrote, "I never miss an episode (hence the downloading of episodes because I cannot wait) and I can watch them several times in a row" (Je ne rate aucun épisode [d'ou le téléchargement je ne peux pas attendre] et je suis capable de les regarder plusieurs fois).

[3.3] Although the survey's results provide the same conclusions in both countries, it is interesting to note how in France 29 percent of the respondents stated that they followed every episode in an addictive and compulsive way, whereas in Spain only 17 percent declared this to be the case. In this regard, it is also interesting to note that in France, the viewing is done by streaming platforms (39 percent) and by downloading episodes (55 percent), while in Spain, consumption via streaming is only 17 percent and direct downloading options are higher, at 69 percent. As indicated by a Spanish fan, "I download the series because I can get it before the official release and in better quality (HQ definition). We are a generation of spectators with little patience" (Veo descarga porque llega antes y en mejor calidad [alta definición]. Somos una generación de impacientes). Finally, being a faithful follower of the book series and knowing the work of George R. R. Martin—either by watching the TV show or by knowing about his writing before the TV show aired—seems to important. Thus, many fans considered reading the books to be a main reason to be called a Game of Thrones fan.

[3.4] The following statistics allow us to look at the difference between French and Spanish fans.

[3.5] Regarding participation and interactions, both Spanish (63 percent) and French (70 percent) viewers stated that they do not participate in online discussions about the series. However, approximately 20 percent of viewers state they participate in off-line discussions with friends and family by talking about the episodes. Fans commented, "Not in forums and Webs [sic] but in real life with friends" (No en foros ni webs, pero sí en persona con otros amigos) and "I sometimes talk about the show on the French fan site Garde de Nuit, but most of my discussions occur with my husband, who is also a fan" (Je discute de temps en temps sur le site de la Garde de Nuit, mais la plupart de mes débats ont lieu avec mon mari, aussi fan que moi).

[3.6] Regarding viewers' activities, such as live tweeting, Tumblr, creating or watching subtitled episodes, or writing or reading fan art and fan fiction, only 29 percent (Spain) and 20 percent (France) of the respondents reported engaging in online activities related to the series. In this sense, the favorite social network is Twitter, and in France, a number of fans use Tumblr to create content related to Game of Thrones. Moreover, in Spain, some viewers indicated that they work on fan subs. Despite few user-generated contents and activities, 67 percent (Spain) and 70 percent (France) of respondents considered these online activities to be important and part of the fandom. Respondents noted two key values: creating and engaging with a community, and extending the viewing experience beyond the mere reception of the series, especially during the hiatus between seasons: "These activities help to improve the imagery of the series and function in part as transmedia element, 'unofficially' complementing the story created by the author" (Ayudan a mejorar el imaginario de la serie y funcionan en parte como elemento transmedia complementando 'extraoficialmente' la historia creada por el autor). For a French fan, these activities are an integral part of the show: "It allows for an intellectual debate around the show, even during the hiatuses. This way, the show is more alive, human, and fans can be actors of their show" ("Ça permet de garder une certaine émulation autour de la série, même quand celle-ci est en 'pause.' Ça rend cette dernière vivante, humaine et ça permet aux fans de se sentir pleinement acteurs de leur série).

4. Conclusions

[4.1] This analysis of the reception of Game of Thrones in France and Spain, although limited by a self-selected respondent sample that may not be representative of all viewers, allows us to draw some conclusions about the perception of fandoms in those two countries. Contrary to what fan studies teaches us about fans, it appears that French and Spanish fans are not keen on defining themselves as fans, and when they do, they do not engage in many of the activities that are associated with the performance of fandom, such as creating fan artworks. The acceptance of fan as a term and as a role in culture is still not common in European fandoms, and fan studies needs to study these divides to better understand if fans' roles are actually related to user-generated content.

6. Works cited

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