I aim to highlight two significant sociological issues within the honours level thesis:
- The social label of being a ‘fan’ often has negative connotations, being associated with deviant social behavior. However, the community that has grown around Critical Role has proven to be a unique example of how a fandom community may branch beyond these negative stereotypes to become a safe and supportive virtual community as well as one which encourages creativity and positive interaction both within their community and beyond through their participation in charity drives highlighted by the cast of Critical Role. The community, known as Critters, show there is a shift in the way online fandoms can operate, and how the aims identified by the central subject of the fandom (Critical Role and its cast) can positively influence the ethic, behaviors, and objectives of the community. This is a new area of study in the field of Sociology due to the fact that: a) tabletop games have been largely overlooked in academia; b) the technology and application of streaming tabletop games in a virtual space and allowing for interactive chat to occur between producer and viewers is only two to three years old; c) not many studies have been able to identify positive virtual fandom communities and their beneficial social outcomes. As such this study will be opening the door to further inquiry and study in this area as well as a possible rethinking of what fandoms can be and what they might create or positively affect society.
- Through watching the show, and interacting with the Critter community via virtual spaces such as the Facebook fan group and its auxiliary group the Critical Role Fans’ Mental Health Discussion Group, members of the community have expressed that the show has been of benefit to mental health issues such as social anxiety and depression. The study will interview those who have volunteered to speak on this subject to show how methods such as interaction in safe virtual spaces, which act as a form of group therapy, and a new form of active escapism that is particular to this form of streamed gaming (because of its particular form of acknowledged interaction between producer and viewer which can help viewers feel they are a part of the game/group telling the story) can be of positive benefit to mental health. This perspective is one new to academic study in that virtual interactions online have often been associated with negative mental health outcomes, suggesting that there is something specific about the Critter community which can be learned from and applied in other virtual spaces.
Up to 50 Critters who are members of the Critical Role Fans’ Mental Health Discussion group will be able to fill in an online questionnaire regarding the impact their participation in the group, the community, and watching Critical Role has had on their mental health. From this group, 8-10 participants will be chosen to be interviewed via chat exchange through Facebook’s private messenger app. These videos will be of up to 45 minutes in length and further discuss the topics raised in the questionnaire. These participants will be:
- 18 years or above at the time of the interview;
- From the United States, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.
- Those who are not selected for an interview will be asked to be the first contributors to the testimonial section that will be added to the end of the book that will be created from this dissertation which will be sent as a gift to the cast of Critical Role
One participant of the study who completes both the questionnaire will be randomly selected. The prize will be 1 Critical Role fan pack comprising of available Critical Role items from the Geek and Sundry store to the value of $50AU. Should the advertised prize become unavailable as a result of circumstances beyond our control (such as postal issues), we are free (at our sole discretion) to substitute a cash prize equivalent to the value of $50AU to be paid through PayPal. This prize will be drawn after the completion and submission of the dissertation (12 December 2018) and the winner will be notified by Facebook messenger. Should the prize be unclaimed for any reason a new random draw will take place. Should the prize remain unclaimed after the second draw, the value amount of the prize ($50AU) will be donated to one of the charities associated with Critical Role.
Artwork ©Mikandii. Used with permission.