It’s (not only) in the game: Behind-the-scenes paratexts and formal appreciation of video games



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Although video games are usually treated as the central object or target text of interest, they do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, video games are situated in relation to several types of paratexts, or external media (e.g., gameplay trailers, developer interviews, gameplay guides). Paratexts contribute to players’ mental models (MMs; cognitive representations of objects and/or events) for video games, however both those MM contributions and their potential effects on gameplay experiences are not well understood. In this study, one such effect was explored: The experience of appreciation, defined as feelings of poignancy and contemplation. Here, I considered how these feelings may arise for video games as crafted objects, through formal appreciation. Specifically, I examined the potential for one specific paratext type (behind-the-scenes [BTS] content) to impact formal appreciation of video games by becoming entangled with our MMs for video games, testing (H1) whether BTS content is indexed into participants’ MMs and (H2) whether any such indexing is associated with formal appreciation. Additionally, I explored (H3) the relationship between formal appreciation and anticipations of appreciating the game content itself. Participants (N = 225) viewed a BTS video and their subsequent, open-ended responses to game-perception elicitations were subjected to a semantic network analysis to identify clusters of internalized concepts; the presence/absence of those paratext elements was then evaluated for relationships with formal/anticipated appreciation for the game. Results indicate that after viewing a BTS paratext, people index paratextual content into mental models for the game (H1), but that indexing appears to have no relationship with formal appreciation (H2). However, a positive association between formal appreciation and anticipated content appreciation (H3) was observed. These findings illuminate the influence of external content on our perceptions of video games and their entertainment outcomes, demonstrating that paratexts can be part of our video game experiences.

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Video Games, Mental Models, Paratexts, Behind-the-Scenes, Entertainment