Fiction networks: the emergence of proprietary, persistent, large-scale popular fictions

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Craft, Jason Todd

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Under multiple pressures in contemporary media – consolidated corporate oversight, facilitated audience response and re-creation, coordinated longevity of fictions, expansion of popular artifacts into new markets – many popular fictions take on aggregate forms, and present fictional worlds that are composed of the large-scale conglomeration of disparate texts. These aggregate forms, or “fiction networks,” span very different types of medium and activity, but share key characteristics: they must negotiate the dynamics of an ongoing story with the relative stasis of branding in a market; they must maintain coherence within a system of production that accommodates many different creators; and, they must sustain a fiction that is not designed to conclude. In these fictions, one can trace the effects of contextual pressures in various textual or simulative phenomena, sometimes on the level of the individual artifact, sometimes on the level of the aggregate form, and sometimes on both levels. This work explores how proprietary, persistent, large-scale, and intertextual popular fictions have evolved and are evolving, using as guideposts some specific forms – “comics universes” and persistent world games – where these pressures are particularly visible and relevant. The first chapter introduces the “fiction network” as a concept and discusses the forms and phenomena at play in a network’s creation and maintenance. Chapter 2 establishes a more detailed analytical framework for these aggregate fictions, using theories of fictional worlds and Bakhtin’s work on genre and the chronotope. Chapter 3 discusses the comics universe as an aggregate form and analyzes key points in the evolution of the universe maintained by DC Comics, Inc. The fourth chapter looks at persistent world games as “fiction networks” and analyzes the game Star Wars Galaxies, both as a popular fiction in its own right and as a component of a larger multiple-media fiction. Finally, the conclusion attempts to reconcile the proprietary ontology of these popular fictions with other, non-proprietary models of production, such as Open Source; it also discusses the issues “fiction networks” present to conventional concepts of aesthetics.