Game of Thrones Fandom Studied by Academia

Questeros.org is the website that collected data for the scientific study of Game of Thrones fans via a survey.

For one year, a group of academics from around the world self-funded the study, which consists of a survey that fans of the show are asked to take. By the time I stumbled upon it, the study was almost over, but I managed to reach one of the founders of the project via email. Professor Clarissa Smith, Associate Director of the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies from the University of Sunderland (UK), teaches about the intersection of media, sex and feminism and is one of the founding editors of the Journal of Porn Studies. She’s also a huge Game of Thrones fan.

She agreed to answer some of my questions about what academics expect to learn from Game of Thrones fans.

When did the project launch?

We launched the project October 2016.

How many people have taken the survey?

and we have more than 10K completions so far.

How many academics are participating in the project? 

There are around 40 academics involved from 12 countries including Denmark, Greece, Spain, France, Germany, the UK, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Russia and South Korea.

How many disciplines are represented?

Most of our contributors are from within the broad discipline of media studies, though some are from Literary Studies and other Humanities areas.

How many academic institutions?

I can’t answer that one, I think it will be more than 30.

What does the project seek to quantify about fans of the books/show?

There are lots of things we are hoping to uncover in the research, not least to explore how the series has become so important to so many people across the world and in particular how it has parallels for many people with our own world.

For example, “Winter Is Coming” has been used as a slogan on anti-Erdogan posters in Turkey; a  banner carried by women at anti-Trump demonstrations; a  hand-written poster held up by desperate refugees held at the Greek border. and the title of a book by former chess champion Gary Kasparov warning the West about Vladimir Putin.

The widespread of the most popular slogan from the book and TV series Game of Thrones is truly remarkable.  It is being used by many to voice fears, anger and resistance to cruelty and inhumanity in many places.  Even George Martin declared ‘Winter is coming’ after Donald Trump’s victory.  But the slogan is also being used as a quick reference point for sales brochures, training sessions, and policy initiatives.

What’s going on? How is this fiction series being taken up and used by so many different groups – far beyond its ‘fantasy’ world?

Does the project differentiate between show fan and book fans?

We are interested in both so we invite respondents to tell us about where they place themselves on the broad spread of being a GoT fan. So far, we feel that there is a portrait of five distinct kinds of audience emerging in our data.

1.  The first kind (‘Series Only’) who want nothing more than to watch the series on television.  They are older, not interested in the controversies around the series, and do not follow the debates around it online.  They also give lower ratings to the series, both in terms of how much they enjoy it and in terms of its significance is for them.
2.  The second kind (‘Series Plus’) who want to go a little further, who watch the series but are also interested in the debates and controversies around it.  They are more likely to have read the books and to take them into account in their evaluations.
3.  The Third kind are the ‘Classic Fans’ – the ones for whom the series is a springboard for their own activities: writing blogs, debating online, producing fan fiction, or videos, or whatever – or playing games in association with the series.  They are younger and divided between a heavily female fan fiction group and a heavily male gaming group.  Curiously, this group is less bothered by the relations to the books.
4.  The fourth kind like watching and reading what the Classic Fans do, but have no interest in doing this themselves.  They are the ‘Fan Watchers’ (and we are consciously intending the ambiguity of watching as fans and watching the fans).  These people care a lot about the series and rate it the most highly.  They are particularly interesting because I sense that they have gone virtually unnoticed up to now (they don’t seek the visibility that Classic Fans do).
5.  Finally, there is a group who don’t do any of the ‘fannish’ things, but they do like acquiring merchandise around the series, and they are interested in visiting locations (we’ve called them ‘Tourists & Collectors’).  They don’t think of Game of Thrones as a commercial operation – or if they do, they don’t care. It’s just fun!

What is it about this particular fandom that invites study/investigation?

The fact that the series has such mainstream presence. This show crosses all kinds of audiences. There are fans but also others for whom this is a television show first and foremost. We’re really interested in seeing how the different ways of engaging with Game of Thrones leads to different ways of understanding the show. We are hopeful that this can add a whole new kind of knowledge to our understanding of the importance that ‘fantasy’ has to different kinds of audience.  And of course, we know that Game of Thrones is exceptional and unusual in many ways – not least because your favorite character can die.

Is George R.R. Martin aware of the study? Has he commented at all?

Yes, I think he knows of it and has tweeted it at least once.

To your knowledge has there ever been a similar research project surrounding the fandom of a story/film/series?

Martin Barker, who is leading this project has done a number of research projects of this kind – starting with the Judge Dredd research and moving on to the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit projects. We’ll be publishing lots of papers! Everyone involved will be able to publish with the data [we collect].

Who’s idea was the project, who originated it?

Martin Barker, Billy Proctor and I had a lot of discussions about the [Game of Thrones] series, just as conversation.  Then Martin said why don’t we do a questionnaire and then it went from there. When we started talking about the project seriously, we realised that we had no time or opportunity to go for external funding, so we crowd-funded this amongst ourselves – everyone putting in £50 to cover the costs of the website, the questionnaire, and database (all pretty complicated), and some money to support publicising the project.

 In return for their contributions, and in recognition of the way everyone took part in the debate about the design of the questionnaire over many months, people had their names put on the website. and will be given the full database to work on as they wish.

Updates and links to resulting research will be posted here as they become available.

 

 

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