Shared Universes And Fan Creativity



Star Wars. Star Trek. Mass Effect. The Elder Scrolls. Firefly. Lord of the Rings.

What do these have in common? These are creative endeavors whose fans extend and enhance the original creations. Independent films, online video, game mods, cosplay are all creations of fans, and serve to extend and enhance the enjoyment of these shared universes, sometimes long after they’ve been abandoned by their creators.

What is it about these universes, and not others, that generate such enthusiasm and devotion among the fanbase?

Meaning

Let’s look at a few examples of enthusiastic fans doing cool stuff with their passions. First, an unknown person posted a PSA of sorts from the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office. Many more similar examples exist, which illustrates just how deeply Star Wars has embedded itself into our pop culture.

shenandoah PSA
This Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office “PSA” is only one example of many.

Other examples of fan art permeate the Internet. What accounts for the deeply embedded nature of these shared universes?

I think one reason some properties become so ingrained in our pop culture happens because the owners of the content walk a fine line between cracking down on actual copyright offenders, yet allowing stuff like this to flourish without issuing takedown notices.

Good, open-ended storytelling helps. As David Bryant points out in the podcast, many of these creative endeavors make you feel like you’re a participant — and more importantly, somehow imbue you with the feeling of participation even after you’ve seen the show or read the book.

What doesn’t work? Closed storytelling which offers no avenue for fan participation can be a factor. This Forbes article discusses how James Cameron’s Avatar made $2.7 billion, yet has almost no dedicated fan base. The author’s main thesis seems to be that the industry learned the wrong lesson: that everything must be 3D. I believe it runs deeper than that: the world of Avatar offers nothing beyond a two-world, closed universe with mostly unappealing characters.

We go deeper, also discussing why some games become popular beyond their players, plus other possibilities as to why some creative endeavors became shared universes while others didn’t.

Tools

An LED mouse pad? For $60? Why not?
An LED mouse pad? For $60? Why not?

Would you want a $60 mouse pad? Razer launched the Firefly mouse pad at CES, and David Bryant ponied up for one. Let him tell you why he loves his LED-lit mouse pad. David also discusses SATA-to-USB connectors and a new email app for mobile devices. Oh, and let’s not forget lasers for dentists!

Meanwhile, Eric follows up on his cord-cutting adventure and discovers that indoor HDTV antennas are not all that and a bag of chips. And Loyd waxes lyrical about WordPress 4.4.

Fun

Eric and David have launched something called “Drone Club). Unlike Fight Club, they are willing to talk about it. David’s finally started to watch SyFy’s The Expanse. Hear what he has to say about a show Loyd believes is the best science fiction television show in a long time. He’s also been reading Norman Mailer’s Moonfire, which is Mailer’s take on the Apollo program. Oh, and David decides to deploy an Arduino-driven moisture sensor, just for fun.

Eric, on the other hand, believes that the Wii U should be renamed, but you’ll need to listen to the podcast to hear his branding wisdom, dispensed to Nintendo free of charge. He’s about halfway through Jessica Jones, season 1, and isn’t quite sure what to make of it.

Loyd’s given up on Darkest Dungeon, which seems to combine a capricious random number generator with unforgiving, rogue-alike gameplay. He’s looking forward to the PC version of Rise of the Tomb Raider. And let’s not forget XCOM2. And Loyd makes good on his resolution to read a little more nonfiction, diving into Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements from Arsenic to Zinc by Hugh Aldersey-Williams. 

Finally, Loyd finds another cool, very intense video on the Internet: the simply titled Pre Vis Action by Gareth Evans, who brought the relentless The Raid: the Redemption in 2011. Check it out.

 

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