66.3, August 2019

The Participatory Culture of Technical Communication in Online Gaming Communities

By Carly Finseth


Purpose: Games-based technical communication is created both by and for gamers within the virtual space(s) in which most of these games (and players) exist. The lines between the real and virtual blur as gamers create documents across various modes and genres. This study looks not just at what gamers within these participatory cultures create but also how and why they create it.

Method: I used a multi-dimensional case study approach to analyze content from 10 game-related websites. I then applied content analysis and rhetorical analysis to explore what types of technical communication artifacts are created on gaming websites, how such artifacts are created, and how gamers use technical communication to rhetorically represent themselves both socially and professionally within their gaming communities.

Results: I present three major findings: (1) a list of genres of games-based technical communication; (2) an analysis of why gamers create such materials, including motivations linked to personal connections, professional connections, reputation, and rhetorical exigence; and (3) a discussion of how gamers write technical communication in the context of their affinity spaces and participatory cultures, as well as the modes and media they use.

Conclusion: Players in participatory cultures consistently create game-based materials as part of their social identities, stretching across modes and media to suit their rhetorical goals. To that end, we have much to learn by studying not just online gaming communities but, specifically, the technical communication artifacts these groups individually and collectively create.

Keywords: gaming, documentation, participatory culture, online communities, genre ecologies

Practitioner’s Takeaway:

  • Players often write technical communication as a means of performing roles within their participatory cultures and affinity groups.
  • There are 24 genres of technical communication created within games-based participatory cultures. These genres connect in different ways and are created using various forms of media.
  • Website administrators establish the framework for games-focused technical communication, but gamers create the vast majority of the content.
  • Gamers most often write technical communication because of personal connections, professional connections, and/or reputation.
  • Almost all games-based technical communication is single-authored, although it is nearly always subject to intense scrutiny from others within the author’s participatory culture.


Gamer-constructed technical communication, from mods to manuals, is abundant and necessary to the social construction of online gaming groups. In fact, gamers often write, create, construct, and research various and complex technical genres—and they do it for free, in their spare time. As Mason (2013) writes, documentation “is no longer a one-way form of communication transmitted from game developers to gamers but an activity whose analysis, composition, and distribution has been taken out of developer’s offices and college classrooms and into the third spaces of online communities” (p. 220). Thus, technical genres—including tutorials, manuals, strategy guides, and walkthroughs—are now created both by gamers and for gamers and are constructed within the virtual space(s) in which most of these games (and players) exist.

This is, perhaps, especially true for online video games, in which players enact, interact, create, and communicate across and within the bounds of virtual spaces. In massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), for example, the lines between the real and the virtual blur as gamers create, design, edit, and transform documents in both print and digital formats across various modes (e.g., audio, video, text, and graphics) and genres (e.g., tutorials, manuals, strategy guides, walkthroughs, mods, and wikis). In this way, the creation of technical content related to MMORPGs embodies transmedia participatory culture (Jenkins et al., 2006) and affinity spaces (Gee, 2005) in that it is created across traditional boundaries of genre, mode, and authorship. Knowledge is constructed collaboratively and for the common good, and is almost always created collaboratively in the spirit of improving the gaming community to which the authors belong.

In this article, I describe the results of a multidimensional case study I conducted to identify the various genres and modes of technical communication that players create. Specifically, I present 24 categories of technical communication, including guidebooks, descriptions, policies, and tutorials. I then look not just at what gamers within these participatory cultures create but also how they create it (e.g., individually vs. collaboratively, textually vs. graphically) and why (e.g., rhetorical purpose and representation, intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation). To that end, I use theories from participatory culture (Squire, 2011), genre ecologies (Spinuzzi, 2003), and affinity spaces (Gee, 2005) to explore how gamers construct technical communication both individually and collaboratively within their social groups and across virtual spaces.

Technical Communication, Transmedia, and Participatory Culture

A recent study by McNely (2017) explored multi-genre transmedia applications through the lens of storytelling and narrative. Using Spinuzzi’s (2003) concept of genre ecologies, McNely (2017) discussed how “coordinated genres intermediate one another so that small changes in one genre affect the others” (McNely, 2017, p. 459). For example, a social media post might tell one part of a person’s story, while texts to a friend and emails to colleagues would fill in some of the blanks; all three genres (social media posts, emails, and texts) would work together to tell the full narrative of a person’s experience (McNely, 2017). Any small change to the narrative in any one of those genres would affect the readers’ experiences of the other; it would change the overall story.

Similarly, games-based technical communication genres inform one another in intersectional and often interesting ways. Because of this, we cannot think of transmedia in technical communication contexts merely as media created in various forms (Jenkins, 2011). Rather, we must look at how various forms of media inform and interrelate with other forms—and especially how they work together to form a whole. In the context of games-based technical communication, transmedia is enacted across the larger gaming community; each genre works alongside the others to tell a story or solve a problem. For instance, one player might publish a text-based strategy guide while someone else might post a video walkthrough on the same topic; yet another group might host a podcast on the issue, while others might be discussing various problem-solving strategies on discussion forums. A player looking for answers to his or her problem might visit any or all of these to complete his or her understanding of the issue and help him or her move toward the game. In this way, transmedia approaches to games-based technical communication help users solve problems, collaborate with one another, and understand diverse perspectives on how to play.

This is also a popular approach when writing documentation and other instructional content. As authors more clearly define how their readers use and respond to various modes of texts, they deliver content in multiple ways. Images are added, interactivity is anticipated, and how-to videos are used as an accompaniment or even alternative to traditional, text-based documentation (Swarts, 2012). Digital documentation is now expanding to include not just static text but also multimedia content, user-generated content, and collaboratively open content such as knowledge bases and wikis (Selber, 2010). In these and other similar texts, transmedia applications go beyond merely producing technical communication in various modes; each mode also informs the other, helping form a fuller picture for the users.

Yet, in order for technical communication to successfully cross genres and media, the collaborating authors must agree about the rhetorical situation of the message. Without a shared understanding of audience, purpose, and context, the transmedia communication will fail. As McNely (2017) explained, transmedia content necessitates “a clear, collective understanding of the object of activity” (p. 457). Authors must work alongside their readers to collectively agree on the topics, problems to be solved, and possible solutions. They must provide each other with enough information so that the text—whether created with words, images, audio, or video—is successfully communicated. When creating games-based technical communication, authors must agree on the problem that needs to be solved, the questions that need to be answered, and the information that needs to be communicated. As anyone who has ever visited an online discussion forum might imagine, those participating do not always agree on specific approaches and views, but, for the dialogue, to be successful they must agree on a shared audience (e.g., who is experiencing the problem), purpose (e.g., to solve a specific problem), and context (e.g., someone has a problem with a particular area of a game). Once they have a shared understanding of the rhetorical situation, they can better communicate and work together toward a common goal.

We see issues of shared understanding occur in the technical communication workplace, as well. In fact, Maher (2011) wrote of the necessity of a “shared goal” between technical communicators and subject matter experts (p. 395). Too often, a subject matter expert values “the production of software” whereas the technical communicator values the “documentation, which is too often considered ‘secondary’ to the primary work of the programmer” (Maher, 2011, p. 395). Without a “shared goal,” the value of the technical communicator is discounted, and the communication (in Maher’s example, writing “effective documentation”) will collapse (Maher, 2011, p. 395). In gaming, this may occur when someone who deems him or herself an expert does not value the contributions of a new player (“noob”). To be successful, all authors (whether experts or noobs, technical communicators or subject matter experts) must think rhetorically. They must collaboratively and respectfully commit to a common shared purpose, a shared audience to whom they are speaking, and a shared context through which they are communicating. In other words, effective transmedia communication requires the existence of a participatory culture.

Clinton, Purushotma, Robison, and Weigel (2006) defined participatory culture as “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (p. 3). This definition most certainly describes most gaming communities I have been a part of—whether in-game or as part of a gaming, fan, or guild website—and is certainly true for MMORPGs that I have played and analyzed as well. Some of the best role-playing games I have researched allow for creativity via avatar customization, emoting, and other forms of expression; they encourage positive community and player interactions, particularly through communication channels and teams/guilds; and they allow players to create and share content with one another, such as mods, skins, and add-ons (see, for example, Finseth, 2018). The best MMORPGs are often those with the strongest sense of participatory culture both within and outside of the game.

In digital gaming environments, particularly in MMORPGs, the “players themselves become the content, making them emblematic of participatory media culture” (Squire, 2011, p. 12, emphasis in original). Without the participation of the culture of gamers, the game itself could not exist. Furthermore, this culture of participatory action extends to all facets of the game, including its technical communication.

Gamers are surrounded by walk-throughs, guides, even videos explaining and demonstrating almost every nuance of the game. If, for example, a player wants to become a good tank, he or she can find forum threads, spreadsheets, and guides explaining gear, strategy, or how to deal with annoying damage dealers who don’t do their jobs. (Squire, 2011, p. 13).

Technical communication in gaming spaces and on games-related websites is thus participatory action; it is in and of itself an example of participatory culture. The content is vast, the community is supportive, individuals share ideas and mentor one another, and groups work together toward common goals.

Gee (2005) might say this is because online gaming communities are not just participatory; they are also affinity spaces, in that gamers are not brought together merely because of shared goals or circumstances but also because of their own interests and passions. Affinity spaces are comprised of any or all of the following features: (1) a spirit of “common interests, endeavours, goals or practices”; (2) shared “common space”; (3) a generator of new content and “relationships”; (4) a vocabulary of actions and words that is “transformed by the actions and interactions” of those in the space; (5) a source of “intensive and extensive knowledge” from the group; (6) individuals who seek, “connect,” or “network” their own knowledge; (7) widely “dispersed” knowledge; (8) an acceptance of “tacit knowledge”; (9) multiple “forms and routes to participation”; (10) several ways to gain reputation or status within the space; and (11) “porous” leadership with leaders as “resources” (Gee, 2005, pp. 225–228). Within the space, then, there is a participatory culture comprised of individuals working toward shared rhetorical goals and contexts. Gamers participate in transmedia communication by choosing to participate (as part of a participatory culture) in an affinity space (brought together by common passions, problems, and interests).

When gamers write technical communication artifacts, they are often doing so as a response to acting and performing roles within their affinity spaces and participatory cultures. Gaming is a performance-based activity (see, e.g., Nardi, 2010). When gamers play within virtual worlds—particularly MMORPGs—they are performing a particular role for themselves and for the larger affinity spaces of which they are a part. Such groups may be friends they play with, guilds or teams they join, or random partnerships with strangers whom they meet in-game and with whom they have common goals. Regardless, we cannot discount this element of performance when considering the technical communication genres that players create and why.

If a gamer is a role-player, that gamer might also perform in the literal sense of the word by taking on the speech patterns, manner of dress, and other attributes of the character the gamer is playing. Serious role-players are often judged on their performance by others in the affinity space. Is the speech authentic? Does the player’s character have a believable backstory? Does the player behave appropriately in the group? Can the player respond well to shifting circumstances? In my experience, serious role-playing affinity spaces are built upon discipline and skill; as such, much of the technical communication genres created within such groups are built upon rules, policies, procedures, and guides. Role-playing groups cannot afford for someone who is not serious about role-playing to ruin it for the rest of the players; they cannot allow someone to break character, and, often, offending players will be kicked out of the group. Thus, such affinity spaces often have many rules that must be followed even to join in the role-playing. They may even hold auditions for players to ensure that they have done their research and are taking it seriously. The technical communication genres created in these groups are therefore done out of a necessity of protecting the affinity space and helping players succeed and have fun.

If a player participates in group-based gaming activities such as raiding or running dungeons, the player often will be judged by others in the group based on his or her skill, attributes, talents, and gear; the player’s performance will be judged. As Nardi (2010) explained from her research of World of Warcraft (WoW), gamers’ “obsession with gear derived from their interest in performance. WoW required skill, but if two players of equal skill competed the better geared player won” (p. 58). Therefore, players began to figure out how to get the best gear—and what the best gear was—so they could enhance their performance. The same is true for talents, attributes, and other aspects of gameplay. As players master these areas of gameplay, they also start to brag, share, and help others by posting their discoveries online by way of tools, calculators, and shareable content to help one another do better within the game. They write manuals, film video walkthroughs, and pen elaborate strategy guides. In short, they write technical communication as a part of their performance within their affinity spaces.

Research Approach and Method

Much has been written with regard to the links between technical communication and game documentation (see, for instance, how this discussion evolves via Eyman, 2008; Greene & Palmer, 2011; and Mason, 2013). In 2016, Jennifer deWinter and Stephanie Vie co-edited a special issue of Technical Communication Quarterly that spoke to the relevance of games in our field. As the co-editors pointed out, games and technical communication are natural partners in research “because the field already works at the intersection of the technical and symbolic—and games are both” (deWinter & Vie, 2016, p. 151). However, little has been explored when considering transmedia, games, and technical communication genres. For this study, I was therefore motivated to explore a more robust span of genres, modes, and rhetorical purposes of games-based technical communication.

Because I was most interested in qualitatively exploring genres of technical communication and modes of communication created amongst gaming communities, I conducted a multi-dimensional case study wherein I analyzed the content from 10 game-related websites. (See Appendix for a complete list of gaming sites.) As I (Finseth, 2018) have previously explained, case studies “focused on discovering, evaluating, and describing” can be approached from various points of view and then applied effectively in research related to games and technical communication (p. 35). Such approaches are multi-dimensional, in that the case study analysis accounts for various genres and modes (see, also, Creswell & Plano Clark, 2006; Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2007; Yin, 2008).

I then applied content analysis to the case study data to explore what types of technical communication artifacts are created on gaming websites, how such artifacts are created, and how gamers use technical communication to rhetorically represent themselves both socially and professionally within their gaming communities.

Specifically, the research questions I explored were:

  • What types of technical communication artifacts do administrators of game websites, players, and members of games-based affinity spaces create?
  • How are such artifacts authored (e.g., individually vs. collaboratively, textually vs. graphically)?
  • How do gamer-authors use the creation of technical communication content as a means of positioning themselves socially and/or rhetorically within a participatory culture or affinity space?

To code the technical communication genres that exist within gaming communities, I relied upon Mason’s (2013) list of genres, which included: (1) guidebooks, (2) technical descriptions, (3) policies, (4) tutorials, (5) FAQs, (6) maps, (7) reviews, and (8) end-user licensing agreements (EULAs) (p. 221). I then categorized those which existed but fell outside of these boundaries, as well as coded for those that were multimedia in nature and/or transmedia in delivery and use.

As I coded for authorship, I noted, in particular, when an artifact was created by a user (one person) or a community (two or more people). If a particular page did not have an author listed—such as on a page of rules and policies about a website—I listed the author as the site. I created additional codes to track for mode(s) of communication, including audio, video, text, and graphics. (Because all of the cases I studied were websites, I didn’t use a separate category for print-based artifacts.)

I also analyzed the authors’ stated intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for posting such content. For example, authors would often explain why they were posting the technical communication artifact(s). Such insights led me to rhetorically analyze the ways in which the authors were not just writing content but were also performing it—often across boundaries of both form (media) and content (genre).

Finally, I also wanted to explore the rhetorical exigencies for creating each of the genres. As a starting point, I considered Mason’s (2013) eight rhetorical purposes within game genres, which follow these patterns of genre and purpose:

  1. Guidebooks Describe
  2. Descriptions Detail
  3. Policies Manage
  4. Tutorials Instruct
  5. FAQs Answer
  6. Maps Navigate
  7. Reviews Evaluate
  8. EULAs Define

I also took the opportunity to expand on this list and uncover additional rhetorical purposes for authoring games-based technical communication. Through the lens of Killingsworth (2005), I looked at the author, audience, and value of each genre of games-based technical communication to look specifically at the following areas:

  • Author: What is revealed through the author’s persona?
  • Audience: The opportunities to appeal directly to the reader.
  • Value: What is accepted by both author and reader?

By triangulating these findings, I could get closer to answering my questions about why and how gamers create technical documentation.


The results from this study fell into three distinct categories: (1) To what genre did the technical communication artifact belong? (2) Who authored it? and (3) How did the author use technical communication to create or reinforce rhetorical, social, and/or online identities among the group? In the following sections, I review my results through the lenses of genre, authorship, and identity/meaning.

Genres of Games-Based Technical Communication

First, I identified 24 genres of technical communication that appeared across all of the gaming communities I studied. See Table 1 for a complete list. The genres, of course, are not forever fixed. Particularly with those genres that are constructed communally, such works are continually in flux, and some of the content created by gamers and gaming communities cannot be labeled within one set category. Just as technical communication shifts as a mode and means of expression, so do the types of technical communication that are created by and amongst gamers. Technical communication genres are part of a greater ecology in which the genres “co-evolve: changes in one lead to changes in others” (Spinuzzi, 2003, p. 100). A good example of this in games-based technical communication is the manual, which, in some contexts, may stand alone as its own (often developer-created) genre but, in other contexts, may be a part of the instructions genre (created by either developers or users) that is read alongside tutorials, walkthroughs, and guides. Likewise, maps often shift in and out of genres, sometimes authored and used alone and other times embedded within another genre or document, such as a tutorial or walkthrough. Therefore, the categories I established are meant to be ecological; they should be taken as shifting and in flux, depending on the authors, readers, and context.

Looking closely, patterns emerge as to how and where content becomes created and distributed amongst lines of responsibility and power. For example, site owners understandably tend to focus their content in the areas of legal protection (including legalese, policies, and informational website copy) and profit generation (advertising and recruiting). Gamers, on the other hand, tend to focus their contributions on social aspects (chats, comments, and forums) and instructional guidance (guidebooks, tutorials, walkthroughs, and shareables). The areas that meet in the middle include rules for behavior (which are written by website administrators, as well as by leadership within various affinity spaces), as well as those that cross rhetorical and transmedia lines; such as maps, technical descriptions, and multimedia content; which are often both created by site users and gamers as a means of communicating complex information using multiple of modes of communication. Power dynamics are thus formed, often creating complex boundaries of who “owns” what content and how ownership is determined.

Website administrators set the framework—by designing and hosting the website, creating the rules, recruiting employees, ensuring legalities are met, promoting advertising, and providing customer service. Gamers work within that framework to design, create, write, edit, and publish the vast majority of the usable content that is published on those websites, sometimes without the financial reward that the site administrators receive in the form of advertising dollars and other revenue. It was therefore interesting to explore why exactly these gamers were sharing content with one another—and with profit-receiving website administrators. I wondered, then: What, exactly, were they getting out of it?

Who Are the Gamers Who Write Technical Communication and Why Do They Write It?

The results of my study showed three specific categories of motivation that authors cited for posting games-related technical communication online:

  1. Personal Connections: The satisfaction of helping others and answering questions; making friends and building communities; guild marketing and recruiting; doing it because it’s “fun.”
  2. Professional Connections: Possibilities of networking with game developers; a chance to build a professional portfolio.
  3. Reputation: Bragging rights and increased visibility for achievements; earning badges, levels, rewards, ranks, titles, or points within the structure of the website; showing support for a game or a playable class or race.

Sometimes, motivations overlapped—such as when a gamer would say he or she enjoyed providing answers to questions about theorycrafting (the methodological approach to determining the best way to improve performance in a game) as both a way to connect with other people and a means of bragging about his or her own achievements, gear, and skill.

Here, we begin to see the role that participatory culture plays in the construction of games-based technical communication artifacts: players helping one another, bragging to one another, and making personal and meaningful connections. As Clinton et al. (2006) described this phenomenon, “Participatory culture is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways” (p. 8). As website developers allow gamers to annotate, create, reimagine, and publish technical communication with and on their platforms, they are also providing a platform within which a games-based participatory culture can thrive.

Table 1. Genres and authorship of technical communication artifacts in gaming communities

Genre Site- Constructed User- Constructed Community- Constructed
Advertising (Ads / Sales Copy / Merchandising / Donation Links) x
Chat x x x
Cheats and Code x x
Commentary (Blogs / Comments / Lists / Podcasts / Ratings / Reviews / Vlogs) x x x
Customer Support (Help / Feedback) x
Forum Posts x x x
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) x x x
Graphics (Logos / Images / Designs) x x x
Instructions (Guidebooks / Manuals / Strategy Guides / Tutorials / Walkthroughs) x x
Job Postings / Recruitment Copy x
Legalese (Disclaimers / End-User License Agreements / Permissions) x
Maps x x x
News and Newsletters x x
Rules and Policies x x
Screenshots x x x
Shareables (Mods / Addons / Plugins / Skins / Textures) x x
Social Media (Links / Feeds / Posts) x x x
Streaming (Live and Recorded) x x x
Technical Descriptions x x x
Tools (Character Profiles / Planners / Theorycrafting / Calculators / Transmog / Spreadsheets) x x x
Trivia x x x
Wallpapers / Multimedia Downloads x x x
Website Copy x
Wikis x x x

Rhetorical Lenses: Author, Audience, and Value

When I applied Killingsworth’s (2005) rhetorical lenses to look at the author, audience, and value of each genre of games-based technical communication, I found that the rhetoric of games-based technical communication is directly linked to performances within the affinity spaces. That is, the rhetoric of the text is performed; the author, audience, and value are negotiated based on the shared performances that occur within the participatory culture and affinity space.

For instance, the author reveals him or herself the most when authoring technical communication genres, such as instructions, tools, and commentary. Here, writers are most likely to reveal their personalities and the personalities of their avatars through posturing, bragging, description, illustration, or discussion. As Killingsworth (2005) pointed out, the writer “is a complex individual who selectively reveals (or invents) aspects of character pertinent to the rhetorical work required at the moment” (p. 252). In that way, what is posted online is what the author wishes us to see—and you can often see the authors’ performances within the technical communication pieces they write; they are playing roles for their audience. In this way, the “truth” shifts based on what the affinity group collectively accepts. Usually, authors (and/or their avatars) are accepted within the group for exactly who they say they are, without question; however, that depends on the quality of performance by the authors. Therefore, the majority of games-related technical communication content hinges upon this rhetorical representation of author perhaps even above all else, as the success of it depends largely on the author’s ethos.

When an author appeals directly to the reader, the appeal happens most commonly in forum posts, comments, and wikis. This is the context in which the authors are often explicit in responding directly to a reader (or group of readers) and often in response to a specific problem or question. Here, too, is where we unsurprisingly also see most of the emotional appeals to the readers (pathos). Narrative, examples, and metaphors are used to evoke emotional responses from the readers as authors describe, often in vast detail, their issues, problems, and emotional responses as a way to evoke emotion (positive or negative) from their readers.

Finally, the value of a particular technical communication is established when both the writer and the reader agree upon shared realities. This appears the most in genres such as technical descriptions, maps, news, rules and policies, and legalese—those genres which require that the author and the reader are on the same page (logos). Often, such genres are used as a way of establishing that common ground before issues could exist; other times, they are used as a way of pointing to established expectations for behavior within the group or as a justification for excluding a certain person or for punishing a certain behavior.

Value in this context is also about establishing a shared purpose or motivation for creating the technical communication. In games-based affinity spaces, this is often about establishing a shared problem that needs to be solved, a question that needs to be answered, or a concern that needs to be addressed. As part of the negotiation that players enact both within and outside of virtual games, they agree upon the contributing value of the work. (And if they do not agree, this is where comments, blogs, reviews, and other forms of commentary or criticism are introduced.) Specifically, I found there are nine contributing rhetorical purposes—or shared values—of games-based technical communication. These reasons are:

  1. To instruct or help others; solve problems (e.g., tutorials, guides, manuals)
  2. To provide information (e.g., databases, tools)
  3. To ask or answer a question (e.g., forums)
  4. To give updates, news, or commentary (e.g., blogs)
  5. To improve usability (e.g., mods, addons, plugins)
  6. To start or prevent discussion/debate (e.g., questions, posts, social media)
  7. To post bragging rights (e.g., achievements, raids, gear)
  8. To meet legal or business requirements (e.g., website copy, sales copy, EULAs)
  9. To increase reputation; to get the authors and/or their guild more publicity or exposure

As players move amongst and between affinity spaces and participate as part of a collective culture, they discover they have shared values with other gamers and those values include at least one of the above motivations.

How Gamers Write Technical Communication: A Look at Identity and Authorship

Almost all the content from the websites I studied is single authored. At the same time, most of the content is also socially constructed either through comments or discussions. Much in the same way that Wikipedia content is policed by its users, it is rare for games-based content to exist that has not been confirmed or contested by other players. In fact, the site developers almost always seem to allow for this. Every site I studied allows users to discuss or refute the information that has been posted—even the static, text-based content—whether via a commenting feature, forum post, wiki interface, feedback form, or email address. Some authors even give special thanks to outside editors or other gamers for their input.

Specifically, individual authors create almost all of the guidebooks, tutorials, technical descriptions, policies, maps, shareables, screenshots, FAQs, character profiles, theorycrafting, and other content posted on these websites—at least at first. After the content is published, others often respond with comments, feedback, Q&A, alternative means of looking at the same problem (such as providing a different guidebook or tutorial), and supporting tools or shareables. The end result is content that has usually been written and rewritten by more than one person, sometimes several times, even if only one author is attributed. The exception is gaming sites that publish works by undisputed experts on a particular topic. Usually, such expertise is demonstrated through talent and seniority; the players with the highest stats, the best gear, the proven skill, and the longevity to both the game itself and its overall game genre can sometimes simply post their writing as sole authors. (Even then, though, others often leave comments, if the genre allows.)

Games-based technical communication artifacts are almost always open to commentary, scrutiny, feedback, and the social construction of the group. It was interesting to note how often another member of the participatory culture would respond to or edit someone else’s work by recreating a solution using a different form of media. For instance, if a text-based walkthrough was unclear, a commenter may provide a link to a video he or she uploaded or add some screenshots of his or her own experiences to further detail the instructions for users of various learning types. This provides additional insights into transmedia creation and use of technical communication artifacts, in that players often respond to one another’s questions and problems by jumping in and out of various modes (e.g., text-based vs. video instructions) and media (e.g., answering a discussion forum post on their laptop while watching a YouTube video on their phone).

As I coded for the various ways in which games-based technical communication genres are expressed in online spaces, I noted several genres that often utilize one or more ways of communicating, whether through audio, video, text, and/or graphics. Table 2 shows which genres utilize which modes of media and in what ways they often overlap. In almost all technical communication genres created by gamers or games-based communities, there is significant overlap among modes of media. In fact, the only forms of technical communication that did not specifically include two or more areas were Legalese, Rules and Policies, Customer Support, and Job Postings, as the site authors did not choose to include graphics as an explicit part of that content (separate from the site logo or other website design elements that exist outside of the written content).


As we consider what, why, and how games-based technical communication is created, it is important to remember that such definitions and categorizations cannot be seen as static and permanent. Rather, as technologies evolve, so will the ways in which participatory cultures and online communities will use them as a means of communicating and connecting with one another.

Players who are immersed in games-based participatory cultures are consistently creating and archiving game-based materials as part of their social identities; these technical, “genres are the means through which individuals learn to be active members of a specific community, being shaped by the genre even as they use it to reshape their environment” (Mason, 2013, p. 220). They create to help, to inspire, to start dialogues, to connect, to imagine, and to make games easier to play and game-related technical communication easier to understand. To that end, we have much to learn by studying not just online gaming communities but, specifically, the technical communication artifacts that these groups individually and collectively create.

I have attempted, in this study, to categorize the various modes and methods that novice technical communicators employ when writing within and for games-related spaces. Although this is just the start, I hope it pushes other technical communicators to further explore and discover what technical communication artifacts gamers create and why. After all, there is much to be explored by uncovering the motivations behind those who enjoy writing documentation and who do so—in vast quantities—as hobbies in their spare time. “As a teacher of technical writing,” Mason (2013) wrote, “I am intrigued by this expression of love for a technical genre. I imagine that literature teachers often have students claim to love poetry or novels, but I have never had a student claim to love a process description or white paper” (p. 219). I, too, am intrigued, but now that I incorporate game writing into my technical communication courses, I have students declare that they “love” technical writing. Perhaps it is not the medium, then, but the message.

Table 2. Genres and transmedia modes of technical communication in gaming communities

Genre Audio Video Text Graphics
Advertising (Ads / Sales Copy / Merchandising / Donation Links) x x x x
Chat x x x
Cheats and Code x x x x
Commentary (Blogs / Comments / Lists / Podcasts / Ratings / Reviews / Vlogs) x x x x
Customer Support (Help / Feedback) x
Forum Posts x x
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) x x
Graphics (Logos / Images / Designs) x x
Instructions (Guidebooks / Manuals / Strategy Guides / Tutorials / Walkthroughs) x x x x
Job Postings / Recruitment Copy x
Legalese (Disclaimers / End-User License Agreements / Permissions) x
Maps x x x x
News and Newsletters x x x x
Rules and Policies x
Screenshots x x
Shareables (Mods / Addons / Plugins / Skins / Textures) x x x x
Social Media (Links / Feeds / Posts) x x x x
Streaming (Live and Recorded) x x
Technical Descriptions x x
Tools (Character Profiles / Planners / Theorycrafting / Calculators / Transmog / Spreadsheets) x x
Trivia x x x x
Wallpapers / Multimedia Downloads x x x x
Website Copy x x
Wikis x x


Bazerman, C., & Prior, P. (Eds.) (2004). What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Chicago, IL: MacArthur Foundation.

Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2006). Designing and conducting mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SagePublications.

deWinter, J., & Vie, S. (2016). Games in technical communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 25(3), 151–154.

Eyman, D. (2008). Computer gaming and technical communication: An ecological framework. Technical Communication, 55(3), 242–250.

Finseth, C. (2018). Teach like a gamer: Adapting the instructional design of digital role-playing games. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2007). Educational research: An introduction (8th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education.

Gee, J. P. (2005). Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces: From The age of mythology to today’s schools. In D. Barton & K. Tusting (Eds.), Beyond communities of practice: Language, power and social context (pp. 214–232). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Greene, J., & Palmer, L. (2011). It’s all in the game: Technical communication’s role in game documentation. Intercom, 58(10), 6–9.

Jenkins, H. (2011). Transmedia 202: Further reflections. Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Retrieved from http://henryjenkins.org/2011/08/defining_transmedia_further_re.html

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. J., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. The MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.macfound.org/media/article_pdfs/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Killingsworth, M. J. (2005). Rhetorical appeals: A revision. Rhetoric Review, 24(3), 249–263.

Maher, J. H. (2011). The technical communicator as evangelist: Toward critical and rhetorical literacies of software documentation. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 41(4), 367-401.

Mason, J. (2013). Video games as technical communication ecology. Technical Communication Quarterly, 22(3), 219–236.

McNely, B. (2017). Moments and metagenres: Coordinating complex, multigenre narratives. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 31(4), 443–480.

Nardi, B. (2010). My life as a night elf priest: An anthropological account of World of Warcraft. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.

Selber, S. (2010). A rhetoric of electronic instruction sets. Technical Communication Quarterly, 19(2), 95–117.

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Compound mediation in software development: Using genre ecologies to study textual artifacts. In C. Bazerman & D. Russell (Eds.), Writing selves writing societies: Research from activity perspectives. Fort Collins, CO: The WAC Clearinghouse.

Squire, K. (2011). Video games and learning: Teaching and participatory culture in the digital age. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Swarts, J. (2012). New modes of help: Best practices for instructional video. Technical Communication, 59(3), 195–206.

Yin, R. K. (2008). Case study research: Design and methods (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

About the Author

Carly Finseth is the Senior Vice President of Education at Northwest Lineman College. Her research areas include workplace training, technical communication, user experience, and instructional design. Finseth is author of the book Teach Like a Gamer: Adapting the Instructional Design of Digital Role-Playing Games, as well as several peer-reviewed academic journal articles. Her experience includes 17 years in industry, including project management for the trade utilities. Finseth holds a B.S. from Oregon State University, an M.A. from Clemson University, and a Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric from Texas Tech University. She is available at carly@carlyfinseth.com.

Manuscript received 30 August 2018, revised 12 April 2019; accepted 1 June 2019.


Cases Used in this Study

CurseForge (curseforge.com)
GameFAQs (gamefaqs.gamespot.com)
Gamepedia (gamepedia.com)
Icy Veins (icy-veins.com)
Mixer (mixer.com)
Noxxic (noxxic.com)
The Tech Game (thetechgame.com)
Twitch (twitch.tv)
Wowhead (wowhead.com)
YouTube Games (gaming.youtube.com)