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Research on fandom and status in The Imperial Library

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Hi folks,
 
My name is Dennis, I’m a master student in New Media Studies at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. I’ve been an Elder Scrolls fan for a long time and got interested in the lore last year, during a game analysis course at Leiden University that was entirely dedicated to The Elder Scrolls (yes, it was really cool). I also discovered The Imperial Library around that time, and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since—especially because of the amazing amount and quality of content you have collected here. I became really interested in this whole idea of expressing one’s fandom by creating archives about the object of their fandom, and then using those archives to write (fan-)scholarly research. At the same time, I was reading philosophical texts on archives and how they establish and reinforce power structures. The Imperial Library (and the Elder Scrolls fandom more generally) seemed a perfect place to combine these two converging interests, and so I’ve started researching the website and the way the community seems to operate.
Very broadly put, the research I’ve done so far focuses on the way the Library—as an archive, as a hypertextual database—constructs certain dynamics of status and power between itself, its users, and The Elder Scrolls as a collection of texts. Think about, for instance, the way the ‘closed’ nature of the Library’s CMS influences the relationship between the Librarians and the ‘regular’ users, as opposed to wikis like UESP where editing is pretty much a free activity for everyone. Or, how the Library’s emphasis on in-game books and lore simultaneously implicitly de-emphasises The Elder Scrolls as a video game franchise. For this, I’ve studied the way the website functionally operates (hyperlinks, tags, methods of preserving older versions of articles, etc.) and also looked at discussions between users on the forums to see what these interactions can tell me about those power dynamics I mentioned above. While doing this, I strive to represent the community as fairly and accurately as possible by, for example, stressing that the interactions on-site are generally very respectful and laid-back.
So far, none of this has been published anywhere, but I certainly intend to: in a few months I will be presenting a part of my research for the first time at a conference on video games and archaeology. That presentation will concern the Battle of Red Mountain and the disappearance of the Dwemer, and how this website/community deals with fan theories surrounding those events. I argue that certain interpretations hold more prestige in the community than others, and that these fan-scholarly endeavours provide a new entry point to broaden our understanding of how this fannish engagement negotiates the ever-ongoing discussion about which ‘official’ materials should be considered part of the Elder Scrolls universe and which should not. I looked at the following texts/forum posts for this part of my research:
https://www.imperial-library.info/content/final-report-trebonius
https://www.imperial-library.info/content/what-happened-dwemer
https://www.imperial-library.info/content/theories-where-dwemer-went
https://www.imperial-library.info/content/dwemer-and-zero-sum
https://www.imperial-library.info/content/fate-dwemer
https://www.imperial-library.info/content/possible-inconsistency-final-report-trebonius
https://www.imperial-library.info/content/dragon-break-red-mountain
https://www.imperial-library.info/content/made-word-round
I suppose the main purpose of this post is to inform you about this, but also to ask your feedback about the research I’ve been doing. Do you like the general idea of it? Do you have any concerns about my theoretical framework or methodology? Are you worried that I’m missing something or have the wrong idea about the community? Positive feedback would mean a lot to me of course, but constructive feedback and critical questions would be even better! In addition, is it OK if I use screenshots from the website and the forum in my presentation (naturally with proper crediting), or would I need to ask each individual contributor’s permission for this, in your opinion?
Alright, this has been exciting and terrifying at the same time. I hope I’ve explained myself well enough, and I look forward to hearing what you think!

Luagar's picture
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Joined: 06/28/2010

I think it's a really cool dynamic to analyze.
 
It's an issue that we've waded through and talked about as members of the community at various points over the years, and there was one point in our history when that 'power structure' you allude to caused a fair bit of discontent amongst what might be called the out-group who branded us as the Shadowy Forum Clique, a group exercising control over what the correct lore was.
 
That particular interchange/dynamic would probably provide you with a goldmine, though I'm not sure where the threads discussing it are now, and it's probably a little off-topic. Regardless, at one point it was regular to have discussions/debates - sometimes heated - about what counted as canon, and indeed whether a strict 'canon' should be adhered to at all.
 
An even deeper dynamic would have been the debates over the years regarding how much weight should be given to developer comments and texts from outside the game (developers used to post a lot on the forums). Lots of drama around how much weight to give dev's OOC comments (which, if you've read those threads you linked closely, is one of the issues at play). That route may get murky quite quickly, however.
 
It's unfortunate you didn't come around 5-10 years ago when there was much more interaction to observe (although some can still be found on the old Bethsoft forums).
 
But yea, the closed nature has always - imo - given the library a particular dynamic (which isn't bad, imo). I can recall for years wanting to be a Librarian, and having texts on the website was - I believe - part of the appeal of the Forum Scholar's Guild for many writers.
 
All that said, you're free to use my comments/text as you like.
 
[Edited to remove rabbit-trails]

Luagar's picture
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Joined: 06/28/2010

And now you've reminded me that I forgot to update that article following the thread where it was pointed out that I used the wrong quote.

Proweler's picture
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Joined: 06/14/2010

I am a bit short on time so this response is by necessity a bit clipped.

As a general context I think it important to understand that ultimately most of us were a bunch of teenagers who bonded over a fictional world while growing up while a couple of adults looked on from the side.

> Think about, for instance, the way the ‘closed’ nature of the Library’s CMS influences the relationship between the Librarians and the ‘regular’ users, as opposed to wikis like UESP where editing is pretty much a free activity for everyone.

While in theory true. In practice the UESP has as much of a hierarchy as the Library has. It is however on the bottom a more open structure.

> Or, how the Library’s emphasis on in-game books and lore simultaneously implicitly de-emphasises The Elder Scrolls as a video game franchise.

This was done intentionally and explicitly in the Lore forum. By limiting the discussion of lore to the written materials we could avoid unsatisfying discussions about gameplay. I.e. trying to explain why each game categorizes the spells into different schools. The videos games got in the way of our imagination.

> For this, I’ve studied the way the website functionally operates (hyperlinks, tags, methods of preserving older versions of articles, etc.)

Keep in mind that the library has gone through several iterations. Tags and versioning are quite new. Actually the Library for the longest time didn't actually have a CMS. We only had pure HTML pages and a few CGI scripts to nail everything together.

> In addition, is it OK if I use screenshots from the website and the forum in my presentation (naturally with proper crediting), or would I need to ask each individual contributor’s permission for this, in your opinion?

I can neither grant nor deny you the permission to use these. I suspect you'll have to apply whatever legal framework exists in your country.

 

Luagar's picture
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Proweler wrote:
As a general context I think it important to understand that ultimately most of us were a bunch of teenagers who bonded over a fictional world while growing up while a couple of adults looked on from the side.

An excellent point.

Proweler wrote:
> Or, how the Library’s emphasis on in-game books and lore simultaneously implicitly de-emphasises The Elder Scrolls as a video game franchise.

This was done intentionally and explicitly in the Lore forum. By limiting the discussion of lore to the written materials we could avoid unsatisfying discussions about gameplay. I.e. trying to explain why each game categorizes the spells into different schools. The videos games got in the way of our imagination.

Also an excellent point.

I would expect that this is the case naturally in any discussion of fictional lore, especially one based on video-games. The point of a lore discussion is to focus on world-building, to - in a sense - step into the world and imagine it and to dissect it as if it were real, while simultaneously keeping a tension of one foot in the real world to discern those things which don't actually contribute to world-building. In this sense, the video games as a franchise are accidental (as in, non-essential); they are irrelevant to the discussion, except when the discussions have to enter the meta-realm and debate whether something should count as a piece of the world-building architecture (for instance, asking whether ideas introduced in a later game should be seen as superceding those from earlier games due to the devs changing their minds or taking the world in a different direction).

As Proweler notes, many of the gameplay elements naturally came to be seen as accidental as well in that they are elements that had no intentionality behind them in terms of world-building. Texts-based-resources, however, always had some level of intentionality behind them and therefore were naturally given primacy (even if we sometimes pretended that accidental connections between texts were intentional when they may not have been - navigating this was part of the aforementioned tension).

This process was organic, not one imposed by the structure of the library. It might be said that the library formalized this model cultivated through our interactions on the forums, it didn't invent it.

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Joined: 07/08/2018

Thanks for the responses! It's good to know I'm on the right track and that this is something the community itself has discussed in the past, because it's important to me that I represent the community as fairly and accurately as possible. I've mostly been operating with my own assumptions and guesses about how this all came to be, so it's very helpful to have some info about context etc. Especially your comments about 'texts vs. games' are wonderful right now, since that's the next thing I'll be working on :D

I also mean to, at some point, dive into the Wayback Machine properly and do more thorough archival/archaeological research into those discussions and dynamics you both mention. I'm closely watching that thread about accessing the old forums as well, that seems promising. If I have any more questions, I'll let you know (or you let me know if you have anything more to say, of course)!

Od
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Joined: 07/02/2010

I don't envy you.

Stygies VIII's picture
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Will you publish your research on the Red Mountain and the Dwemer?

Also, I can't wait to hear about your research on TIL! About the results. Personally, I think that the approach of community leaders and the way they look at the community is very, very important. One might think that all we need is posting lore everywhere and just letting people discuss, but no. That's not the whole secret. The secret of a healthy community is acknowledging that someone with a different opinion or less educated is not "dumb" or an "idiot" but a partner in discussion and another human being.

The fact that I am an Assistiant Librarian is not proof that I'm the smartest person in the world. Always, there is more to learn and find. I'm assembling a new guide to Dwemer and researching Shalidor's Insights - these and any other TIL projects constantly remind me of that there is never the end of studying and learning lore. Never ever. Also, you are never too important to be nice to people.

As forum members, and most importantly Librarians and Assistant Librarians, we give the example. I think that any leader, like Lady N or Proweler, or any other "admin" figure should behave in a way they expect from others and it's much more effective than being not such a role model and enforcing behaviour on people. I mean, just look at TIL forums, right? However, surprisingly, it's not the only reason. We are very lucky to have nice people here who contribute to this effect, too.

Personally, I think that using screenshots from here will serve a greater good and it will not be wrong to use them. I don't think anyone can just give a full permission to do so, but I think such research is a great idea and a good reason to use screenshots.

I have to say that I contribute to Wikia (now often called Fandom) and I'm in various projects about translating and modding and that I have never encountered a community as good as this one. I think it's a blessing that I got to be an Assistant Librarian here. Talking to other staff members and users is just the best. It's like coming to a silent library. Honestly, if I would have to choose the most calm and healthy community in the world, not only the TES fandom, I would pick this one.

What's more, I find it sad that many facebook group or forums admins (or some Wikia admins, not talking about TES Wiki here, but Wikia in general) view their role as a purely technical one or that they feel like they can do anything and not be punished. An admin is not a king. An admin is a caretaker. It's a service, not a power.

Eh, I wrote a lot and I'm sorry xD I just like social stuff, I guess. I like communities, I like how people have their places to interact with eachother and have fun and I just love being there with them. And I can't wait to hear more from you.

Od
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Probably the worst failing of the community is caring a bit too much about the lore. Really. There is no Mike Pondsmith, George Miller, or "estate" to curate and drive the lore creatively, for better or worse, just a long procession of people whose contributions are going to replaced one after the other over the years.

If video gaming doesn't crash, long after we're dead or moved on, TES lore is going to have undergone so many alterations, none of the shit any of us have puzzled over or argued about will even be pertinent to the canon of the day. Hopefully, TIL will stick around to inspire new gamemakers and writers, either at Bethesda or people we've never heard of, so the site remains a library and less a quaint graveyard.

Proweler's picture
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Luagar wrote:

This process was organic, not one imposed by the structure of the library. It might be said that the library formalized this model cultivated through our interactions on the forums, it didn't invent it.

Just to empathizes this a even further.

The Library and the UESP have the same origins and about the same age. They were both highly personal websites that collected information about a game. Where Xanathars Library focused on books and dialogue with a smattering of stats and figures, the UESP initially collected factoids and stats and only little bits of lore. They had their biases but both were serving up similar content.

Over time however both of them specialized into their respective niches because these way-back-when websites were very labour intensive. I imagine neither Xan nor Davah saw any point in duplicating each others effort. And I guess some personal interests also matter.

As such all the information was available to all participants. I imagine that unlike the knowledge repositories from history The Imperial Library didn't exist in isolation. Rather it was a tool that facilitated a particular need.

So as much as the tools might have shaped the community, the community also shaped their tools to meet their needs. I think the latter process was actually more influential.

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Lena D. wrote:

I've mostly been operating with my own assumptions and guesses about how this all came to be, so it's very helpful to have some info about context etc.

That is the treats to validity section of your paper right there. You should at least try to corroborate these assumptions. :D

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Stygies VIII wrote:
 Will you publish your research on the Red Mountain and the Dwemer? 

I've got a conference presentation about this topic lined up in early October, I'll see what I can do to make that accessible to you guys in some way. Glad to see you're enthusiastic and thanks for your input, that's really motivating!

Proweler wrote:
 So as much as the tools might have shaped the community, the community also shaped their tools to meet their needs. I think the latter process was actually more influential.

Yeah, this is something I have not given as much thought yet--partially because I was really focused on the structure of the archive itself, but certainly also because until now I hadn't contacted you. That focus most definitely will shift now, to do proper justice to the role of the actual people and history behind that structure. It's really good that you emphasise this so strongly, and I'm gonna make sure to take it into account, so thank you!

Od
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I think you missed a real breakthrough studying us and not loverlab. We're just nerds.

Stygies VIII's picture
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We also have a discord server

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Two Sought Adventure wrote:
 I think you missed a real breakthrough studying us and not loverlab. We're just nerds.
 

Somehow, it had never occurred to me that there would be a website dedicated to the community that makes/loves sex mods for Bethesda games. Shame on me.

Stygies VIII wrote:
 We also have a discord sever

Thanks for the link, I'll be having a look-see over there too!

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I'm linking the follow-up post about this research here for potential future reference: https://www.imperial-library.info/content/re-research-fandom-and-status-imperial-library