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Do you truly know your Game of Thrones?

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Published on 21 March 2017

Do you truly know your Game of Thrones?
Do you truly know your Game of Thrones?

Academics are taking a journey into the fantasy world of Game of Thrones to discover what makes a fan of this ground-breaking television series, and need your help.

Never before has there been such a doom and death-ridden epic series, which kills off its key characters from season to season. And this, according to the global research group of university academics, which includes the University of Sunderland’s Professor Clarissa Smith, is what makes it culturally significant and important.

The research team has devised a questionnaire for fans of the series to complete. They want to analyse the responses to understand what it is about this show that people love, and cannot let go, despite key characters being killed off each season, or what has even annoyed and upset them about the programme.

The team is entirely independent, without funding support, and with no connections to Game of Thrones author George RR Martin or programme creators HBO, and will share what they learn once the research is complete.

"This is such a doom-filled series, where the moment you form affection for a character, s/he is likely to suffer horribly, and die... all set in a world that is not ours, yet in a hundred ways reminds many people of ours"

Prof Smith said: “We’ve sensed that Game of Thrones is significant, and important, a ‘game-changer’, but we’re not yet sure how. 

“All of us have been involved in previous audience projects, of different kinds.  Some of us researched responses to the films of The Lord of the Rings (and then The Hobbit) a few years back. That taught us a great deal.  Some of us are currently researching the revived Star Wars franchise. But Game of Thrones is different, clearly.” 

Over the past 25 years, many commentators argue that 'fantasy' has changed beyond recognition, with an increasing mixing of Science Fiction with fantasy, published fantasy has also expanded and become ever more complex.

Prof Smith explained: “In film, we have seen the huge expansions in technical capacity to make 'worlds' look real. The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and The Hunger Games have transformed the public face of fantasy, as well as in TV series like The Vampire Diaries, Outlander, Supernatural, True Blood, and many more. We’re seeing worlds that have steadily become more present, and more varied.  

“What is going on and 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 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, all set in a world that is not ours, yet in a hundred ways reminds many people of ours.

“Please take 20 minutes to tell us about your thoughts and feelings about Game of Thrones, and pass on the web address; we really do need thousands of people to do this!”

The questionnaire will be open until the end of Season Seven. Once it has closed, the team will post back to the website with a report on what it achieved. There will also be a summary of the main findings, which will be freely available to anyone interested, all responses that are shared in the findings will be anonymous.

The purpose of the questionnaire is 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. 

- See how, for a cross-section of people, this series finds its place among other modern fantasy stories. 

- Understand how people are bonding with the very different kinds of characters that Game of Thrones offers, and who so often have awful fates ahead of them – and what sorts of pleasure they get from this.

 - Discover how people relate to the big controversies that have accompanied Game of Thrones – for example, the changes from books to TV, the altered fates of various characters, and the series' portrayals of sex, and sexual violence. 

 - Consider how this 'fantasy' world of Westeros and beyond is seen to relate to our own world. 

Prof Smith concluded: “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 the website, shortly after we close the questionnaire, so visitors 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.”

Questions on the survey can be emailed to Martin Barker (mib@aber.ac.uk). 

Questions or comments on the conduct of the project can be emailed to Clarissa Smith (clarissa.smith@sunderland.ac.uk).

Professor Clarissa Smith is an Associate Director of the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies and teaches on topics such as media consumption and everyday life, film and feminism, and representing sexualities. Her research focuses on sexually explicit media and includes examining identities and pleasures, censorship, class, race, gender and sexual orientation, and the development of porn studies. Clarissa is a founding member of the Onscenity Network – an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded initiative that brings together international experts on sexual cultures. She is also a founding co-editor of the Routledge journal Porn Studies and is a member of the editorial boards of Journal of Gender StudiesParticipations and Sexualities.

For more information go to: http://experts.sunderland.ac.uk/portfolio/prof-clarissa-smith/