Digital Heroisms Conference: Panel 3 | Digital Heroism and Deviant Play

Paper One: Playing for the Legend

Matt Horrigan, Simon Fraster University


Matt Horrigan is a doctoral student at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts, living and working on unceded territories belonging to the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam first nations. Coming from a background as a musician, theatre maker and multidisciplinary artist, Matt’s developing research project examines the social infrastructure of art scenes through the lens of games studies, and games through the lens of social theory. Matt lives in one of Vancouver, BC’s many collective houses.


What makes a hero in a multiplayer environment?

T90Official, a prominent caster and streamer in the AoE2 (Age of Empires 2) community, describes some players as “legends.” A legend is not strictly a winner, but rather a player with a surprising and entertaining style, that

  1. creates humorous, unorthodox and/or strategically demanding gameplay situations; and
  2. usually achieves success toward some goal.

Playing “for the legend” is different from playing “for the win,” which latter encompasses known efficient strategies, as well as situational adaptations, and, sometimes, unsporting behavior, like choosing to play as a faction which the discourse of the community has identified as OP (overpowered).

Playing for the legend is also different from, but overlaps with, trolling—the use of “troll strats,” which are also sometimes funny, for viewers or players on the doing and/or receiving ends, but which distinguish themselves by frustrating more complex, elaborate, elegant or otherwise satisfying strategies that the trolled player would prefer to enact.

Legendary play is an aesthetic good in the AoE2 community, and an attraction for both players and spectators. Further, even though legendary players often manipulate others in multiplayer diplomacy, playing for the legend seems to promote congeniality. It thus behooves developers, casters and players to consider: how can a game support play for the legend? In addition to game mechanics, legends depend on casting, spectatorship, and the game mods supporting them. Thus this presentation aims to contribute to a discourse on ethnography-informed design.

By Gabriel Elvery

Gabe is researching the effects of Fantasy in single-player, narrative-driven video games. Their project will explore whether its effective use facilitates affective engagement with digital fantasy worlds and whether this digital affect has the potential to impact the emotional wellbeing of players in their off-screen lives. Gabe’s research will develop a new kind of reader reception theory by investigating whether literary analysis of video games has practical applications and corresponds with the experiences of players. The end result will make available a fuller understanding of the affordances, implications and impact of the Digital Fantastic.

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