Who are we, and what are we trying to find out?
Over the past 25 years, many commentators have sensed that 'fantasy' has changed beyond recognition. In book form, it has blossomed extravagantly. From 'the new weird' of the 1990s, to the increasing mixing of SF and fantasy, published fantasy has expanded and got ever more complex. And then of course there are 'wild cards' like Fifty Shades of Grey … In film, we have seen of course the huge expansions in technical capacity to make 'worlds' look real. We could each choose our own favourites and key examples, but surely The Lord of the Rings, Avatar,and The Hunger Games have transformed the public face of fantasy. In TV, series like The Vampire Diaries, Outlander, Supernatural, and True Blood, and many more. Fantasy has steadily become more present, and more varied.
What is going on? What do all these things mean to audiences and fans? The truth is, we don't yet know. Now, with Game of Thrones a new set of dimensions has been added. Not just that the book series is huge – and unfinished. More, perhaps, that this is such a doom-filled series, where the moment you form an affection for a character, s/he is likely to suffer horribly, and die. And all the time, hanging over everything is the coming Winter, the threat from the North, the White Walkers … and worse … All set in a world that is not ours, yet in a hundred ways reminds many people of ours.
This project was first conceived by three people, all of whom love the series. All three of us have experience of researching audiences of very different kinds. We pitched the idea for this project on Game of Thrones to lots of colleagues. We asked everyone to stump up a bit of money, to enable us to build this website, its questionnaire and its complicated database. Everyone involved is doing it just because this looks really, really significant – an opportunity we must not miss. This is entirely independent research. We have no connections with George RR Martin, with HBO, or with anyone in the cast (though wouldn't it be wonderful if they were interested in what we are doing!?). We have had no funding support from anyone – this is being paid for by us, and us alone.
So what do we want to find out? We are happy to be entirely open about what we hope to learn. This isn't the kind of research that hides its intentions, and asks you to take part, blindfolded. We have set ourselves several big goals. (1) To capture the range of responses that people have to the series, overall – why and how it matters to people to follow the story, and see how it unfolds, but also to understand why and how some people have been upset by particular elements. (2) To see how, for different people, this series finds its place among other modern fantasy stories. (3) To understand how people are bonding with the very different kinds of characters that GoT offers us, and who so often have awful fates ahead of them – and what sorts of pleasure you get from this. (4) To find out how people relate to the big controversies that have accompanied GoT – for example, the controversies around the changes from books to TV, the altered fates of various characters, and the series' portrayals of sex, and sexual violence. (5) And to have a go at thinking how this 'fantasy' world of Westeros and beyond is seen to relate to our world, our mucky, violent, troubled world. There are other, more detailed interests, of course, which you will spot if and when you proceed to the questionnaire.
Clearly we want our research to contribute to academic knowledge about audiences, and about fantasy, as well. But our promise is that we will find as many ways as we can to make what we learn accessible and available back to the series' audiences. We promise to post an overall summary of results back to this website, shortly after we close the questionnaire, so you can see how many responses we managed to get. We will prepare a digest of our most interesting findings to share with the key websites and fan fora around the series – especially, of course, any which help us publicise the project! And we will be available to talk to anyone who wants to learn more about the project.
Academic publishing is slower, and more difficult for outsiders to get at. One place, though, where we are pretty certain we will publish some of the key results from the project is the online journal of audience and reception studies Participations (www.participations.org). Watch that space!
With no money to support this project, we are depending on our own amateur efforts to publicise the project – and your help. Please, pass on the site's address to relatives, friends, other fans – or critics. Post it to websites and fora that you belong to, anywhere where Game of Thrones gets discussed. Many, many thanks!
We have sought and obtained ethical approval for this study from the University of Sunderland's Research Ethics Committee (Approval Number 307). If you have questions about or comments on the conduct of the project, please e-mail Clarissa Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org).