Shared Play with the Push of a Button: a Mixed-Method Analysis of Sony PlayStation 4’s Share-Platform
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With the incorporation of the Share-button and its underlying platform on the PlayStation 4, Sony has decided to bring social connectivity and the sharing of gameplay to the masses. Video game play streaming and sharing have their roots in early user-generated content, performing, and spectating practices. Examples from the nineties are machinima, speedrunning, and online multiplayer gaming in that period. Users with a high level of technical proficiency created content that was creative, subversive, and initiated new forms of interactions between players and spectators. The creation of user-generated content came under stricter corporate control when it was integrated as a part of well-designed and well-marketed video game platforms. While the construction of this material became more accessible to general players, creativity and subversiveness became more limited. Sony PlayStation 4’s Share-button can be seen as a culmination of this development. As a form of controlled participation, the button and its proprietary platform facilitate remarkably quick production of this content with a limited toolset of creative possibilities. It is the material representation of a streamlined process of integrated platforms that clearly delineates and regulates the user’s input. This raises the question what the implications are of simplification and technical embedding of sharing gameplay performance on the culture of play. Three aspects are central to this question: creativity, subversiveness, and corporate control. This thesis explores the role of the Share-button in historical and contemporary video game culture and defines the practice of shared play. Shared play is a new form of play where a social platform facilitates gameplay that redefines the relationship between players and spectators. With its accessible features and community-driven focus, shared play provides corporate (controlled) opportunities, but at the same time limits creativity and subversiveness. Research from the cultural and game study fields form the theoretical framework for thesis. Inspired by the upcoming field of platform studies, I examined and critically reflected on my research object in narrowly defined technical, historical, cultural and social contexts. To study the Share-button and define the concept of shared play, it was necessary to employ a mixed-methodological approach that involved very specific analyses. This approach consists of historical overviews of the origins of the button and user-generated content, a combination of a clearly defined, specific discourse analysis (focusing on marketing material and press reception) and an analysis of the button as an object and platform, a hands-on approach (by play as a method), and a case study. This combination allowed me to analyze my research object from different perspectives and led to defining the practice of shared play. The concept of shared play as a result of my research can help us understand corporate motives and the roles of creativity and subversiveness in (the use of) the Share-button and its accompanying platform, as well as provide a starting point for further research into comparable platforms. I regard shared play as one of the most fascinating new forms of play of recent years. Social connectivity seems to be one of the industry’s driving forces for new video game development. Therefore, this thesis is a first step into analyzing and critically reflecting on this movement and what the video game industry and community will share with us this decade.