Content Behind the Game

I always find it interesting when there is more to a video than just the game itself. I like it when fans of a game spend time thinking about questions the game left unanswered or did not even ask, and I like it even more when a game’s developers encourage this kind of participation outside of actual game play.

The amount of fan culture behind the Pokémon series is tremendous, and understandably so. The game has been around for well over a decade, and has expanded beyond just video games into television, cards, movies, and more. The “content behind the game” I’m referring to in this post’s title is the fiction and theories that fans come up with, which in some cases even seems plausible enough to be true. I won’t go into detail about these theories (you can find a few of them here, and plenty more with a quick Google search), but one of my favorite examples from Pokémon is the notion that developers for some reason switched the sprites for Venomoth and Butterfree. In the game, Venonat evolves into Venomoth, and Metapod into Butterfree. However, the following image offers a pretty convincing argument that somewhere along the line sprites were swapped:

Another fun example of “content behind the game” relates to Valve’s marketing campaign for Portal 2. This unique campaign, called the Valve ARG (alternate reality game), began with a message on the Portal 2 website from the antagonist of the first game, GLaDOS, asking gamers to purchase and play games from Valve’s bundle of games dubbed the “Potato Sack.” GLaDOS claimed that playing these games would “provide the raw computational power” to “speed up the reboot process” (

What does this all mean? Basically, Valve was encouraging gamers to buy certain games and play them, and the incentive they were providing was an earlier launch date for Portal 2. People who played these suggested games “began noticing strange symbols and coded messages appearing in the games. Savvy users began to connect these ‘glyphs’ to other games — which were receiving new content from Steam — as well as to external websites and real-world locations” ( The interesting part of all this was that these external websites and real-world locations often contained clues of various sorts that could be decoded in some way, revealing Portal 2 related messages and content. In fact, an entire wiki page was dedicated to the discovery and interpretation of these clues.

What I find fascinating is the culture and content built up around certain games. The amount of detailed thought behind these games, from both players and developers, shows the complexity of their relevant semiotic domains.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 23:26:48

    I agree that the content behind the game adds a whole new level to the experience. I played a lot of Pokémon too. I remember my world being rocked when I was at a bookstore and I found a game play guide for Pokémon Blue with a floor plan of the Silph Co. building, which I’d been stuck on for a while. Not long after, I discovered the online communities and the rest is history.

    The game designers that make great games often do expand the fantasy of the game’s world to its limits, allowing the players to explore that fantasy for hours on end. A really great game, story, or world that gives the player both material and freedom to explore the possibilities can keep a player entertained for years.

    I’m really amused and intrigued by the Portal 2 hints in those other games. It reminds me of how Pixar has several hidden easter eggs in their movies, like references to past and future movies. It’s a nice way for gamers to get an extra challenge, as well as reward the dedicated fans willing to comb through all those games.

    Thanks for sharing the theories. It’s what keeps these discussions going!


  2. bricejurban
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 23:42:43

    Ryan’s post reminded me of the massive amounts of LOR that is included within games like World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim (which most of the class should be acquainted with by now). This part of the creative process in game development is usually overlooked. When we grind through quests, choose to skip cutscenes, or avoid reading the books that line the bookshelves in the College of Winterhold we are missing an essential part of the game. This is the creative/imaginative aspect that finds its way into user-based wikis or crazy theories about plot-holes in the game e.g. Pokemon.


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