The Ethnography of Collectible Miniature Game Storyworlds

Ethan Watrall and Patrick Shaw


In many of today's popular entertainment franchises (especially speculative fiction & fantasy), stories and characters unfold across multiple media channels and products. As Jenkins notes, the strength of transmedia storytelling lies in the fact that multiple texts are integrated into an overall narrative so large that it cannot be contained within a single medium. In its ideal form, a transmedia story speaks to the strengths of each individual media platform.

The inevitable question that must be asked is whether story products (video games, novels, movies, comics, etc.) that exist within a rich and compelling storyworld provide greater enjoyment for the audience than story products that do not. Is the creation of a storyworld (a process that both time consuming to create and to manage) a wise investment for storytellers (game designers, novelists, comic writers, etc.)? It is within the context of this question that the study presented herein was designed to explore the interaction (or lack thereof) that a player/reader/user has with the meta-storyworld in which the storytelling media that they are consuming is embedded.

Over the course of the research, the authors of this paper engaged in an ethnographic study of HeroClix players, a tabletop miniature role playing game. The game itself, which is published by WizKids Games, draws its gameplay mechanic, characters/miniatures, and gameplay scenarios primarily from the Marvel and DC comic book universes. As such, it provides an excellent opportunity to explore the impact (if any) that a rich and compelling storyworld, a hallmark of comic books (especially those highlighted in the HeroClix game itself), has on a player's entertainment experience.