Historicizing video game series through fan art discourses

Jan Švelch and Tereza Krobová

Charles University in Prague, Prague, Czech Republic

[0.1] Abstract—In this article, we argue that fannish histories should not be dismissed as mere nostalgia over past experiences of one's own media fandom. Instead they should be understood as complex narratives which combine various historical layers (personal, productional, fictional) and influence the future reception of and anticipation for sequels. They also shed light on the personal histories of fans, which are often juxtaposed with extratextual and fictional histories of a video game series. The subjective nature of these historical discourses is not to be seen as a constraint but as a feature of everyday history which points to the prominence of historicizing in fan cultures of video game series. These topics are examined in the selected multimodal material from the site DeviantArt consisting of fan art pieces, authorial captions, and respective comments inspired by two single-player video game series: Tomb Raider and Mass Effect.

[0.2] Keywords—Everyday history; Fan history; Historical discourse

Švelch, Jan, and Tereza Krobová. 2016. "Historicizing Video Game Series through Fan Art Discourses." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 22.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Video games, history, and fans regularly align in the works of scholars. However, there is still a lot left to be explored, especially regarding the division between official histories of video games and the way in which fans themselves embed history in everyday fan talk and discussions. First of all, many histories focus on the official production and deal primarily with the business side of the industry (Wolf 2008; Donovan 2010; Trammell 2013). Such histories often marginalize the role and importance of other stakeholders in video game culture other than the traditional actors—meaning the developers and the publishers. There are of course exceptions to this trend. Among recent works we can, for example, find histories of role-playing communities (Peterson 2013), female developers (Nooney 2013), or homebrew hobbyists (Švelch 2013).

[1.2] Despite the relative richness of historical topics, fans are often relegated to the roles of bystanders or footnotes, serving to confirm the groundbreaking influence that a video game or a developer had on the video game culture as a whole. Instead, we propose to refocus the debate on the fans and look more closely at the ways in which they write their own video game histories in the context of video game series. Even though Whiteman (2008) has already closely analyzed fans' nostalgia toward the previous entries of a video game series, her account of Silent Hill fans is much more interested in the reception of new games in the light of previous titles than in the importance of the historical dimension within the overall fannish relationship toward the whole Silent Hill series. Heineman (2014) proceeded to the discursive level of official and vernacular histories of video games; however, his essay is more focused on the commodification of nostalgia (Juul 2015; Sloan 2015) and on retrogaming than on the actual role that history plays in everyday fan cultures.

[1.3] We intend to look closely at everyday fan cultures to see how they interact with the historical dimension, going beyond the overstudied cognitive frames of nostalgia. While nostalgia is an important aspect of these historical discourses on video games, we would argue that it is only one of many perspectives present in the fannish histories of video game series and we aim to show how it relates to the opposite trope of progress and other possible historical narratives. The paradigm of Alltagsgeschichte—the history of everyday life—(Lüdtke 1995a) serves as a theoretical and methodological inspiration, as the focus of the article is the way in which the historical dimension is integrated into general fan cultures. However, we intend to look beyond the traditional perspective of historiography in order to include the rich tapestries of complex everyday fannish histories which are present in fan art discourses.

[1.4] In 2011, the journal Transformative Works and Cultures ran a special issue on the relationship between fans, history, and fan studies. Apart from academics mapping the history of fandoms, the special issue explored the area of fan historians, archivists, and their histories (Reagin and Rubenstein 2011). Such historical inquiries into fan histories are often oriented toward the histories written about the fandoms themselves, effectively being fandom genealogies, or toward the fan histories of the objects of a given fandom. Elaborate online wikis are a perfect example of the latter; however, these collaborative historical projects often adopt a professional encyclopedic style as opposed to everyday fan talk where history is personalized.

[1.5] Reagin and Rubenstein (2011) also point to other forms of amateur historical activities, such as rehabilitation of memorial sites or collecting and archiving of various artifacts related to a fandom. In a more recent issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, Geraghty (2014) and Hills (2014) both addressed some questions of material fandom that overlap with history; their work, however, focused on different areas of fandom—music and TV series, respectively—where practices such as fan tourism and pilgrimage seem more at home than in video game culture. Thus, we would argue that there is still much to be explored regarding the everyday history-making that takes place throughout various fan cultures of video games, especially on the discursive level.

[1.6] We propose to put aside the fan historical activities that mimic the work of professional historians and archivists and that have already been studied and instead look at the more subtle ways in which history is interwoven in fan cultures on an everyday level. Such historicizing takes place continually and does not necessarily have to begin after a set amount of time, for example with an upcoming anniversary of a video game launch. We would also argue that the historical dimension present in fan art discourses reflects the personal connections of fans toward a video game series by combining official, fictional, and subjective histories.

[1.7] Inspired by Denson and Jahn-Sudmann's (2013) work on the importance of popular video game series in the overall video game history, we focus on two acclaimed video game properties, Tomb Raider (1996–) and Mass Effect (2007–). Tomb Raider (and its main character Lara Croft) has become a recognized cultural enterprise spanning not just the main series of video games but also feature films, comics, and spin-off games. The Mass Effect series developed by the Canadian studio BioWare has also quickly become a popular transmedia storytelling franchise, including the original trilogy of games (2007–2012) featuring Commander Shepard and various novels, comics, and one anime movie. Both franchises have over 1 million fans on their official Facebook profiles, and developers often go on record praising their dedicated fan communities (Pierse 2014).

[1.8] Fan art and surrounding discussions are scattered in different places around the Web, from forums to creative communities such as DeviantArt. However, fan art has recently caught the eye of video game developers, among them BioWare or the current developer of the Tomb Raider series, Crystal Dynamics, who run art contests and display fan art on the official social media profiles of video games (note 1). Still, this increased attention does not change the fact that most interest in fan art is short-lived. Facebook and Twitter are perfect examples of Web ephemerality (Grainge 2011) in which content is still accessible even though the chronological ordering obscures its retrieval as time passes. Periodic events such as #FanArtFriday or Dragon Age FanQuisition Spotlight are built around the repetitive nature of everyday life, which is also one of the aspects stressed by Alltagsgeschichte scholars (Lüdtke 1995a). Moreover, DeviantArt follows this daily logic with special one-day showcases of so-called Daily Deviations ("FAQ#61" 2015). Because of these aspects, we deem fan art and especially the discussions surrounding it to be suitable material for the analysis of everyday fannish history-work.

2. Embedding nostalgia into complex fannish histories

[2.1] Traditionalists would claim that history is what professional historians do. As John Tosh points out, "professional historians commonly deplore the superficiality of popular historical knowledge" (Tosh 2013, 2), even though popular histories (or popular representations of history) attract big audiences whether it is reality history TV or historical first-person shooters (de Groot 2006). The conservative approach of historicism draws a line between social memory—a set of shared ideas about the collective past—and history in order to transcend the political uses of history and focus on the autonomy of the past (Tosh 2013). The resulting drive for objective historical awareness then stands in direct opposition to the activities of fans who through discussions write their own passionate histories. Their effort might be subjective given their position as active participants within fandom, but their discourse on video game series nonetheless deals with the historical dimension and influences the collective fannish histories. Calling such efforts genealogies (Reagin and Rubenstein 2011), collective (Payne 2008), or public (Heineman 2014) memories does not change the fact that they present events in a historiographic manner and appropriate the tropes of progress and nostalgia (Whiteman 2008) that have once been part of the classical history (Tosh 2013) while remaining very personal at core (note 2).

[2.2] By associating fannish video game history first and foremost with nostalgia, scholars take into account only one potential emotion, interpret it as an obstacle that bars fan memories from becoming (f)actual history (Whiteman 2008; Payne 2008), and therefore make those memories irrelevant to historians. However, a relatively recent turn in the study of history seems to overcome similarly elitist approaches. Alltagsgeschichte has been conceived as a countermovement to classical German social history in the 1970s by refocusing historical inquiry onto everyday life and everyday people (Lüdtke 1995b). In this respect, the history of everyday life challenges the notion of an essentially unified history built around great events.

[2.3] Histories of fandoms are closely related to the ethos of Alltagsgeschichte and also to the heritage of British cultural studies in the way in which they emphasize the agency of audiences and amateurs in their relationship to professional producers and focus on the specific fan reactions rather than on authorial interpretations. In his enthusiastic chronicle of the legendary tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (Gygax and Arneson 1974), Peterson explains this mindset in the study of history rather poignantly: "while the authors create the work, the fans create the phenomenon." (2013, 20) However, the political implications of Alltagsgeschichte and fan studies differ to some extent despite the shared belief in the autonomy and agency of everyday people and fans, respectively. While Alltagsgeschichte is at its core a leftist rejection of German nationalistic historical narratives (Lüdtke 1995a), fan scholars are often more open toward negotiations between the fans and the producers regarding their power relationship and their potential symbiosis (Jenkins 2006a). Video game fandom is not devoid of occasional conflicts between players and producers, for example over the power to steer the fictional narratives (see Marino Carvalho 2015). The framework of Alltagsgeschichte then allows for inquiry into struggles over these acts of history making, which can take place on the fictional or extratextual historical layers. Personalized playing experiences can be easily neglected by developers when they decide in favor of one clear-cut narrative continuity, but they find their place in the everyday fan cultures.

[2.4] While we are aware of the differences between traditional historiography, fannish histories, and other historicizing fan cultures, scholarly understanding of these historical forms could benefit from a more inclusive approach inspired by Alltagsgeschichte. Fans engage with the historical dimension of their fandom on a daily basis albeit in very different ways, especially considering the metalevel of historical discourses (Schöttler 1995) where strict quasi-historiographical activities, such as wikis, coexist with more personal fan cultures like fan art discourses.

3. Fannish historiography versus everyday history

[3.1] As mentioned before, the classical historical aspect of fandom is most visible in wiki Web sites which function as all-around fan encyclopedias of individual video games, including their fictional universes. It is here where the so-called great events of historicism find their place in fan cultures. The Mass Effect Wiki and Tomb Raider Wiki both feature timelines of the fictional events ("Timeline (Original)" 2015; "Timeline" 2015). This drive for historical account, albeit fictional, is especially challenging in the Tomb Raider franchise which has gone through numerous continuity changes and reboots, requiring the wiki to list different canons. Apart from fictional chronologies, wikis also tend to chronicle the official development history of a video game and occasional game events, such as weekend multiplayer challenges in Mass Effect 3. As a collective effort, wikis are structured along clear objectives of mapping the objects of fandom—in the cases of Tomb Raider and Mass Effect, this means all of the officially produced (or licensed) strands of transmedia franchise, including soundtracks or even collectible figures. This fannish dedication to collecting and organizing data about video games mirrors some of the routines of professional video game historiography which have been criticized as lacking a wider cultural framework (see Nooney 2013; Guins 2014).

[3.2] Seemingly in opposition to these rather objective historiographical efforts stand the subjective recollections present in fan art discourses. These subjective histories present the personal experiences of favorite video game moments or chronicle player choices in nonlinear games like Mass Effect. In turn, these individual recollections can inspire and incite fan discussions that also deal with the historical dimension in some way. These fan cultures and discourses are arguably more ephemeral than are organized activities such as wikis; they are much more loosely amassed in various community hubs despite the calls of various fan activists for archiving and preservation (Lothian 2011; Versaphile 2011). While the official events covered by wikis often serve as backdrops subjective histories in fan art discourses, actual fan art pieces are almost never used to illustrate video game wiki entries. Instead wiki creators use official artwork (screenshots, concept art, etc.) (note 3).

4. Methodology

[4.1] In the article, we analyze multimodal amalgams of particular fan discourses surrounding selected fan art pieces regarding their relation to the historical dimension and their role in establishing historical discourses of a video game series, making use of the framework of Alltagsgeschichte (Lüdtke 1995a). Our goal is to show that history plays an important role in fandom on an everyday basis but in much more nuanced ways than the previously identified fannish narratives of nostalgia (Whiteman 2008; Payne 2008). We focus primarily on the discursive level of historicizing, sometimes also defined as the "third level" (note 4) of history (Schöttler 1995). But we also pay close attention to the visual content of fan art as well as its context. Considering that fan art is only rarely presented on its own on the Web, we take into account the multimodal mix of fan art showcases, a mix which usually consists of the artwork, authorial caption (Brenner 2007), and comments which are semantically linked together (Van Leeuwen 2005).

[4.2] Because of the previously mentioned ephemeral aspects of DeviantArt, we chose it as the main site of the empirical work. While there are more fandom-specific venues and also arguably more ephemeral ones (for example, Tumblr or LiveJournal), previous analyses have shown that many artworks are still sourced and housed at DeviantArt although they also appear elsewhere, for example at the official sites and events of TV series producers (Bennett, Chin, and Jones 2016). DeviantArt's interface allows for the organization of the corpus of the multimodal fan art showcases by the individual fan art pieces akin to, for example, online news galleries (Caple and Knox 2012), offering thus a more rigorous approach to the material than do the participant observation methods available on discussion forums (Schott and Burn 2007).

[4.3] The sample of empirical material consists of two parts which were both constructed using DeviantArt's built-in search tool and the key phrases "Tomb Raider" and "Mass Effect." First, we have looked at the most popular ("Popular All Time" in DeviantArt's terminology) fan art pieces for both video game series in question, Tomb Raider (TR) and Mass Effect (ME). Given the large numbers of comments on the most popular fan art pieces, only the first 10 search results have been picked for analysis, including nearly 7,000 respective comments (TR 1,913, ME 5,027) (note 5). However, considering the rather disproportionate share of the comments between the two video game series, we aimed in the second step for a more comparable sample. Keeping in mind that video game history has been previously described as "above all a history of popular series" (Denson and Jahn-Sudmann 2013, 2), we have chosen the official announcement of a new installment as the basis for the second part of the sample. Both video game series in question are regularly updated by new sequels: Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) was officially announced on June 9, 2014 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo and released on November 10, 2015, while Mass Effect: Andromeda was officially revealed roughly a year later on June 15, 2015 during the same video game exhibition and is still in development. In this step, 29 (TR) and 28 (ME) multimodal pieces of fan art and respective comments (TR 477, ME 336) were collected through a classical chronological search during a 1-week period from the date of the announcement where we expected fan art pieces directly related to the newly revealed sequels. At this stage, and also combined with the first part of the sample, we believed that we had reached a varied sample of fan art discourses for a qualitative analysis. As the main selection criterion for the fan art pieces from the second sample, we used a clear relation to history and historicizing (note 6) as there were some unrelated fan art pieces among the search results. Altogether, the sample consists of 77 pieces of fan art including all of the comments (7,753) on the respective DeviantArt pages.

[4.4] We analyze the material with the framework of discourse analysis (Fairclough 2003) appropriate to the interest in the metahistorical level (Schöttler 1995) and by the nature of our multimodal material (Norris and Maier 2014; Caple and Knox 2012). Apart from the individual discursive elements of everyday history-work present in the material, we also explore the question of historical perspectives that intertwine in fan cultures—from personal and communal to official and fictional. We support the findings with quotations that we classify as authorial captions (A), authorial comments in the discussion (B), or comments from other fans (C). We also include codes for both games (TR, ME) and the number of the fan art showcase within the respective part of the whole corpus as well as feature illustrations from the material. However, to respect the specific context of DeviantArt and the privacy of its users we anonymize the excerpts (Sveningsson 2009).

5. Memories and expectations in fan art discourses

[5.1] Fan artists and fans who comment on and discuss fan art approach the historical dimension of this fannish activity from various perspectives that are often interconnected in the fans' accounts. Compared to wikis, fan art allows for a more personal tone and thus for connections between the personal and community histories and the official production histories and fictional in-game timelines. The following paragraphs first introduce important aspects of historicizing.

[5.2] As already mentioned, fannish video game histories were previously relegated to the category of nostalgia by some scholars (Whiteman 2008; Payne 2008). Therefore, we first focus on the dichotomy of historical tropes of nostalgia and progress. Visually, many fan art pieces from the second sample were inspired by the announcement trailers for the Rise of the Tomb Raider and Mass Effect: Andromeda and depicted scenes or characters from the respective trailers (figure 1). While these fan creations (and the fan discussion incited by them) look toward the future of the series, these expectations—excitement over progress or feelings of loss and nostalgia—are usually explained through historical references. However, similar discussions also take place in the fan discourses of the 10 most popular fan art pieces.

Mass Effect fan art

Figure 1. Mass Effect fan art "New Worlds" by AvrilValleu ( shows a scene inspired by the Mass Effect: Andromeda E3 trailer (ME15). [View larger image.]

[5.3] While fans are reminiscing about their past player experiences with a hint of longing, these feelings do not bar them from appreciating the upcoming sequels. Nostalgia and progress are often presented hand in hand; they are, in consequence, not mutually exclusive within fans' historical understanding of a video game series.

[5.4] C: Part of me is mourning that we'll leave the Milky Way and its races and locales behind. The other part of me is overflowing with giddy excitement. (ME1).

[5.5] However, even those who disliked the previous games can look forward to a sequel. That is especially the case for Mass Effect 3 which has been widely criticized for its ending (note 7).

[5.6] B: Agreed. Better to just pretend ME3 didn't happen and go back to the drawing board from scratch. Too much damage has been done with ME3 (ME8).

[5.7] It would seem that previous history with a series has no clear impact on the feelings of nostalgia and progress, but if we look past basic generalizations, we see a pattern of putting a new game into the broader context of personal memories of a series. Fans justify their expectations by pointing toward the history and in consequence chronicle their reception of the series as a whole. Some remain hopeful even after a perceived letdown, while others are more cautious because they were disappointed by the previous installments or too emotionally attached to them.

[5.8] The case of Mass Effect also shows that players reference other games from the same developer. Many fans comment on the history of the fantasy RPG series Dragon Age regarding the announcement of the Mass Effect: Andromeda.

[5.9] B: I had the same feelings about Dragon Age: Inquisition. Luckily though, the game turned out alright. Only the story part was way too small. (ME18)

[5.10] Fans are aware of the historical dimension of their favorite video game series. Their creations and discussion go beyond simple feelings of nostalgia and progress. While these two emotional stances are often present, even both at the same time, they are just one part of a complex of interconnected historical perspectives.

6. Interconnected histories

[6.1] What is most evident from the analysis is that the everyday histories combine various viewpoints and topics. Fans often connect official histories with their own personal histories, whether it be their personal milestones or their particular player experiences, thus creating a rich historical amalgam that puts formal production histories in the light of individual and, subsequently, shared stories. The act of connecting different historical layers and perspectives takes many forms and usually happens at the intersection of fan art, its caption, and the comments. However, we focus particularly on two aspects of these relationships: (1) personalization and (2) fictionalization of complex video game histories.

[6.2] The personal character of fannish video game history is established through a variety of connections between the fans and the video game. From an artist's standpoint, the most practical connection to history is through a record of creation of a fan art piece, as we can see in the following quote from a fan artist who explicates her relationship with the Mass Effect series:

[6.3] B: I'm happy so many people are enjoying this piece. I think I put 50 solid hours of work into it, if not more. At times I thought I'd never be done with it, but seriously, I haven't fangirled a couple this much in 12 years or more. (ME37)

[6.4] Such historical accounts of a process of fan art creation clearly establish the artist's personal connection to a series and serve as evidence of a fannish dedication and faithfulness to a fandom. Fans use jargon inspired by the official discourse of the game to describe the major events of the fictional narrative. However, the juxtaposition of objective milestones, which could as easily have found their place in strictly historiographical wikis, with a subjective experience creates instances of Alltagsgeschichte where a personal perspective is suddenly made relevant in the context of shared fan art discourses. Both artists and commenters reminisce about their past playthroughs of a series, often adding details about a gaming platform and other technical information.

[6.5] A: Garrus Vakarian and my custom build female Shepard from the game Mass Effect 2, for those of you coming in who don't know the source. Colonist, sole survivor, vanguard, full paragon… (All on PC I haven't dusted off the 360 in months.) After not having played the first game when it came out, when ME2 came out, I played both back to back for about 70 hours of great times. I think my proudest moment was bum-rushing Harbinger. (ME37)

[6.6] Closely connected to the question of personalization of history is the aforementioned dichotomy of factual accuracy and fan creativity. Previous works have suggested that fan art is based on the ideas of reconstruction and reproduction and rarely becomes transgressive (Schott and Burn 2007). Visual details of fan art, such as eye, hair, and skin colors or Lara Croft's shorts, are disseminated with references to historical evolution of a series. Such discussions often result in complaints about factual inaccuracy of a given piece of fan art. Personalization in the sense of fan creativity is accepted when it is allowed by the game itself; for example, Commander Shepard is highly customizable including gender, face proportions, and skin and eye colors. Different versions of Shepard are accepted by the community as the rightful personalization of a game experience and constitute the theme of many fan art pieces.

[6.7] C: I never know which color are Lara's eyes? (TR36)

[6.8] C: Nice colors, your Shepard reminds me of one of my cousin's ME characters! (ME32)

[6.9] An important part of one's fannish dedication is an origin story about the discovery of the series. Longtime fans and even recent converts often explicate the history of their relationship to a game series:

[6.10] C: I've been a TR fan since 1996. I bought Tomb Raider 1 & 2 then Angel of Darkness, Legend, Anniversary, Underworld and Tomb Raider Reboot. (TR1)

[6.11] A: I must say that I'm kind of glad I didn't play it before, because now I can finish the whole trilogy without waiting for the next chapter to come out. (ME31)

[6.12] Fandom easily becomes an everyday activity and serves as both a backdrop to personal life and its milestones and as a measure of history keeping. For many fans, the origin of their fandom can be traced back to their childhood; however, that does not apply to everyone. In this context, some players feel the need to point out that they encountered the game much later in their lives and that they form an exceptional subgroup of fans.

[6.13] C: My childhood heroine, I spent ten years wanting to be an adventurous archaeologist, I almost ended up going to college for it. (TR32)

[6.14] C: It's funny for me to think of her being someone's childhood heroine. I think I was 30 when the game came out. Not that I didn't love it. It was ground-breaking. (TR32)

[6.15] The personalization effect is not limited to an individual artist or commenter; fandom is often shared with romantic partners, friends, and family. Such shared memories, which are in some cases visualized in fan art, also often have a historical dimension.

[6.16] C: My ex-girlfriend did the same thing (note 8) to me when the Mass Effect games came out. (ME35)

[6.17] A: I don't play the game, I drew this for father's day, my father being a diehard fan of Lara Croft. (TR14).

[6.18] The second specific aspect of the interconnected histories is the personal interpretation of the fictional (in-game) histories. Fan creations often depict memorable game events and present them in historical context of other deeds performed by fictional characters. Such recollections often interact with personal and official production histories.

[6.19] For example, the scenes from the Mass Effect: Andromeda trailer are shared, remixed, and appropriated, and in turn they inspire discussions about the place of the upcoming sequel within the fictional timeline. Commenters explore the implications of a substantial time jump between Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda, arguing about whether there would be any returning characters and how it would affect the technology available to the in-game characters. While Rise of the Tomb Raider is arguably much easier to locate within the fictional timeline, as it is supposed to continue roughly where the previous installment ended, fans are still exploring the gap between the last entry and the announcement trailer. It is at these points, when one fan recommends the Tomb Raider comics series that bridges the events between the two games, that the various historical perspectives become connected.

[6.20] Another example is the question of the impact of previous player choices on the events portrayed in the sequel. While Tomb Raider is a linear game and leaves minimal space for such discussions, Mass Effect implemented player choices through save file imports. Such an option now seems unlikely to some fans because of a shift to a new generation of game consoles. These discussions connect production, fictional, and personal histories and often reference other historical precedents of video game development, in this case the series Dragon Age from the same developer:

[6.21] B: People are not only glad about a different storyline and are looking forward to it, most people don't even want the old characters in the new game anymore. Mass Effect Andromeda obviously won't be able to import save games, just like DA: I, after BioWare's transition to the Frostbite engine. (ME18)

[6.22] Such discussions about continuity also raise the question whether the personalized history does get lost in the transition to a new sequel and to a new technology. This tension between the official and subjective parts of the everyday history (see [6.4] and [6.5]) is made tangible exactly in this context where the latter seems to find refuge in fan art pieces and discourses despite getting forgotten in the production side of video game series development. Some player choices not only get lost but are also sometimes completely overridden by the official canon (note 9). While fannish everyday histories may be below the attention threshold of the developers, they are preserved through fan art discourses where they create subjective but shared monuments to individual fannish history and experience.

7. The role of poster heroes

[7.1] Although we have already addressed some specific issues of the individual series in question, arguably the most divisive aspect—the role of the main character—has to be explored separately. While Lara Croft is a mainstay of the franchise despite various reboots, Commander Shepard's story has concluded with Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda will feature the new protagonist Ryder.

[7.2] Lara Croft is the embodiment of the Tomb Raider series. However, it is important to realize that there are at least two different canons of Lara Croft: the original version of Lara who appeared in the main titles made from 1996 to 2008 (note 10), and the one which started with the 2013 reboot of the series. Both Laras are framed differently—while the first one can be defined as a (self-)ironic and tough sex symbol (Kennedy 2002), new Lara is much more realistic, both visually and emotionally (MacCallum-Stewart 2014). This discursive shift is logically transferred into fan art. Therefore, one can observe disputes over which of these two rather different Lara Crofts is the right one and how the new Lara fits into the fictional world of Tomb Raider. Interestingly, several fan art pieces show both Laras depicted together, but separate.

[7.3] A: This is old-school Lara Croft from the original Tomb Raider universe looking at survivor Lara Croft from the reboot Tomb Raider universe that the original Lara is about 25 to 30 years old (…) Young Lara Croft is this sturdy reckless frightened young woman with so little experience with tomb raiding and has a whole lot to learn to become an expert Tomb Raider. (TR9)

[7.4] There are not just two Laras but many versions or variations, including the recent official facelifts made in the definitive edition of Tomb Raider (2013) and in the sequel. One of them refers to the movie version of Lara Croft embodied by Angelina Jolie; newer versions of rebooted Lara are considered to be well made if Lara looks like the film heroine Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games). Other images show versions of Lara from particular sequels. One such artwork shows nine Laras in a bar (figure 2).

[7.5] C: This is basically showing how much Lara has grown up over the years. (TR1)

Tomb Raider fan art

Figure 2. Tomb Raider fan art "1996 to 2013" by JamesC ( shows different historical versions of Lara Croft (TR1). [View larger image.]

[7.6] Although fans are aware of the discursive shift and depict it in the fan art, they often talk about the new face, new look, or the different design of one single Lara. They not only incorporate the different versions into one continuous timeline, but they also rediscover the old Lara through the new one and vice versa. One artist, for example, suits the new Lara into the costumes, poses, and environments of the old one. Despite various formal and thematic inconsistencies, for many fans there is still just one Lara, and throughout fan art discourses they negotiate the official established histories and appropriate them into one, arguably personalized, historical narrative.

[7.7] A: The goal of the project is to both reenvision and recreate Lara's greatest moments. (TR23)

[7.8] The interconnectedness and unification of history is often accompanied by a quote that appeared in the announcement trailer for the Rise of the Tomb Raider: "We Become Who We're Meant to Be" (2014). In the selected fan art pieces and discourses, new Lara is then defined as the precursor and younger version of the original who is older both in the fictional and the social reality. Such fan interpretations are encouraged by the implicit fact that this younger Lara gradually becomes the older one in the official promotional materials (note the title of Rise of the Tomb Raider or "Discover the Legend Within" taglines). In the unified fannish history of Lara Croft, the reboot games can be understood as the beginning of a journey whose subsequent course fans already know.

[7.9] A: You know how with every Tomb Raider reboot Lara has become smaller and less busty? Hopefully with the next reboot the series will go full circle and make her bigger than ever. (TR7)

[7.10] Commander Shepard—or more precisely MaleShep and FemShep (note 11)—was for many fans a defining factor of the Mass Effect series. Their departure at the end of Mass Effect 3 has led to discussions about whether Andromeda is really a continuation of the franchise or just a way to cash in on an established name. However, the idea of discontinued seriality is contested by Andromeda's game play similarities to previous games, including the reintroduction of some mechanics from the first Mass Effect (2007), such as the Mako vehicle and open-world exploration. Therefore, one could say that while Andromeda maintains the ludic seriality (Denson and Jahn-Sudmann 2013), at least according to prerelease promotional materials, the narrative seriality is disrupted by the great time jump and loss of the main character. This tension is reflected in fans' historical interpretations of the evolution of the Mass Effect series, which are present in the fan art pieces, authorial captions, and comments.

[7.11] The problematic seriality is most evident in discussions about the name of the sequel. Until the official reveal, fans usually referred to Andromeda as Mass Effect 4 despite BioWare's claims that the new game would tell a separate story (Phillips 2014). The numeration is, in this case, closely related to the character of Commander Shepard who is now missing from the series and also missing from the fan art.

[7.12] C: It's not ME 4, the dev team has made it very clear that adding a 4 after ME makes it feel like it's connected to Shepard and Andromeda has nothing to do with the first story, it's just set in the same reality. (ME2)

[7.13] On the other hand, the aesthetics and their reproductions through fan art remain very similar, although updated as a result of a time jump between the games. These visuals together with aforementioned shared game mechanics support feelings that Andromeda is indeed a rightful continuation of the Mass Effect series. The Mako vehicle also recreates a lost piece of seriality and becomes an easily identifiable visual cue of the first game's influence on the new game which is then reinforced through fan art.

[7.14] C: Seems to have all the good things of ME1 plus the combat of 2 and 3. (ME1)

[7.15] However, not all fans are convinced by these traces of video game seriality. The recurrent character of the previous three games embodied in Commander Shepard was, after all, suddenly disrupted, effectively shaking the everyday fan relationship with the series. It then makes perfect sense for some fans to feel detached from the future of the series and to record their disappointment in the sense of history of everyday life.

[7.16] C: No Shepard = No Mass Effect. (ME25)

[7.17] It seems that for many fans, their own personal histories are very closely connected to the customizable histories of Commander Shepard, suggesting that the connection between a player and an avatar for whom they might feel responsible (Banks and Bowman 2014) is qualitatively different from a relationship with the rather static heroine of the Tomb Raider series. The added layer of personalization available in the Mass Effect series allows for more subjective histories, which however seem to be somewhat disregarded by the new sequel that moves past the events and the cast of the original trilogy. While the Tomb Raider series in a way motivates fans to engage in the unification of various histories and timelines of Lara Croft, many Mass Effect fans feel that their everyday histories were disconnected by the departure of their avatar.

8. Conclusion

[8.1] The everyday history-work present in the fan art discourses is first and foremost characterized by the interconnectedness of various historical perspectives. Unlike more quasi-professional historiographies (such as those present in fan video game wikis), fan art pieces and their respective discourses inspire and incite personalization of video game history. Through this fannish scope, the history of a video game series is not just a mere chronicle of officially recognized great events but becomes a more complex narrative where personal experiences are juxtaposed with in-game events and bits from the history of video game production. Without the need to adhere to the strict and formal style of traditional historiography, fan art discourses engage with history as an organic constituent of fannish relationships with a video game series. On the level of everyday life of fandom, the historical dimension and its interpretations go beyond the simple tropes of nostalgia suggested in some previous works (Whiteman 2008; Payne 2008; Heineman 2014) and create much more nuanced historical vignettes of fandom where previous disappointment, origin stories of fandom, hopeful expectations, nostalgia, and many more seemingly contradictory feelings and narratives coexist. Memories of previous game experiences serve as contextualization for anticipation of future installments. However, there is no evident causality between the past reception of a video game series and the tone of expectations—for example, past disappointment can be linked to either pessimism or excitement.

[8.2] Fan art discourses become a space where disjointed official histories and different fictional timelines are brought together and discussed as a whole. This effort to unify and appropriate disparate historical threads into one complex history is best seen in the case of the Tomb Raider series which is also held together by the character of Lara Croft, who embodies the whole series for most fans. Despite multiple timelines and reboots, players often talk about a single heroine whose presence provides a continuous historical link between them and the video game series. However, fan art discourses also provide a place for bridging the time jump between the original Mass Effect trilogy and Mass Effect: Andromeda by allowing for speculations and fan fiction pieces dealing with the legacy of Commander Shepard.

[8.3] The aforementioned findings show that everyday fan cultures such as the selected fan art discourses interact with the historical dimension in nontrivial ways that can be explored and analyzed precisely with the more inclusive framework of Alltagsgeschichte. Still, the personalization of history has its boundaries when it comes to the continuity of a video game series. In these situations, everyday fan cultures provide a refuge for individual historical accounts as a series moves on to new themes, locales, and characters and forgets the old. The power of fans to influence the dominant historical narratives might be limited, but through everyday fan cultures and discourses they nonetheless participate in the history-making processes by sharing their own histories with other members of fandom.

[8.4] The various historical layers that are interconnected in everyday fan cultures are relevant constituents of an overall fannish relationship to a video game series. By understanding the historical links between personal experiences, official production history, and fictional timelines, one can shed more light on particular fan activities, such as active anticipation of new sequels or the declarations of dedication to a given video game series. By continuing in this line of scholarly inquiry, future works can explore how the life of a video game series intersects and influences the life of its fans and vice versa. While the object of the article is not historiography in its strict sense, we argue that challenging the pseudo-objective and elitist narratives of great events allows one to see how actively fans interact with the historical dimension of their favorite video game series and their own fandom.

9. Acknowledgment

[9.1] We thank fan artists AvrilValleau and JamesC for permission to use their artworks as illustrations for the article.

10. Notes

1. Mortal Kombat X (2015) even featured selected fan art pieces as an unlockable bonus.

2. Nostalgia and progress can be understood as two opposite historical tropes—while nostalgia stresses the loss of what has been before and cherishes the past, progress expects future improvement (Tosh 2013).

3. However, fan wikis with limited access to official visual materials, such as book fandoms, often use fan art pieces to illustrate their entries.

4. The first two levels of social history are economy and society (Schöttler 1995).

5. Jenkins (2006b) has already pointed out the necessity to scale down the amount of data when doing qualitative Internet research to avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer number of potential texts.

6. By this relation we mean that a fan art piece, an authorial caption, or a comment explicated the historical aspect of a given video game series, for example by commenting on previous installments or on a release date of a new sequel. We have excluded multimodal mixes without any connections to the announcement of a sequel or to a history of the series, fandom, or a member of fandom.

7. The ending of the original Mass Effect trilogy was criticized for ignoring player choices made throughout the three games. BioWare has released a free ending DLC to deal with the uproar: "Whatever the developers' intention was, what the public whose desires were fulfilled by the ending DLC felt they were doing was not passive (i.e., spectator's) storytelling, but creative (i.e., author's) world building." (Marino Carvalho 2015, 136).

8. The fan art piece discussed in this comment depicts a woman distracting her male romantic partner with her breasts while playing a new installment of the Mass Effect series. However, more important than the actual content of the picture are the shared personal histories found in the respective fan art discussion.

9. So-called retcons (acts of retroactive continuity) are often criticized by players who feel affected by them (see The Milkman 2012); however, some game writers seem to be aware of the potential negative reception of such narrative decisions (Heussner et al. 2015).

10. Tomb Raider was already rebooted once during this era. However, the version of Lara Croft that was introduced in Tomb Raider: Legend (2006) was rather an update and kept the heroine's original characteristics. This Lara is also featured in the spin-off Lara Croft game series.

11. Players can choose the gender of Commander Shepard. The female version, so-called FemShep, quickly became a fan phenomenon (Patterson 2015). In order to equalize both gender versions, male Commander Shepard is often called MaleShep or BroShep.

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