Mediatization of Tabletop Role-Playing: The Intertwined Cases of Critical Role and D&D Beyond
The journal Convergence has just published the article Mediatization of Tabletop Role-Playing: The Intertwined Cases of Critical Role and D&D Beyond written by Jan Švelch. The article explores the impact of Critical Role (a weekly show on Twitch where voice actors, including Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, or Matthew Mercer, play Dungeons & Dragons) and digital tools like D&D Beyond on the tabletop role-playing hobby and industry.
I argue that Critical Role promotes in-person play with high-end physical accessories despite being a mediated form of tabletop role-playing. Overall, the process of mediatization of analog games, including D&D and Magic: The Gathering (see the article Mediatization of a Card game: Magic: The Gathering, Esports, and Streaming), seems to follow the logic of addition by maintaining analog modes of consumption alongside new digital and virtual ways of playing (and watching). This multitude of playstyles is marked by extensive commodification, ranging from physical accessories (miniatures, dice) to digital subscriptions and virtual goods. These findings are based on a quantitative analysis of Critical Role‘s episode sponsorships and a qualitative analysis of embodied player practices, including the use of physical accessories as well as D&D Beyond‘s digital character sheets (starting in 2018) by the cast members. Aside from advertising from TTRPG-related businesses, Critical Role is regularly sponsored by video game companies, which sometimes commission entire episodes. The show and its cast thus inhabits a unique position between analog and video game industries, further showing the complexity of the process of mediatization, which is anything but straightforward.
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