The aim of this thesis is to understand how humans and software are entwined in the development of an online fan community. It is situated on the popular text- and voice-chat program Discord, which has enjoyed rising popularity with videogame-based groups since its launch in 2015. My goal with this research was to determine the affordances of the platform, analyse how they were implemented in a case study community, and then finally determine how these specific implementations allowed the community to flourish.
Engaging in a digitally-oriented ethnographic (‘netnographic’) study of how the online fandom of Failbetter Games, an independent videogame studio, manifested itself on the platform, I began observing their activities with the intent of identifying noteworthy phenomena. I came to focus on the sociotechnical processes of the community – the relationships that emerged between what actions the platform allowed, how users availed themselves of these allowances, and how users interacted with one another.
I challenge the heavily human-interactivity-focused approach taken by conventional netnographers in virtual community studies, arguing that researchers could benefit substantially from evaluating the digital ‘architecture’ that these communities build and configure around themselves. From my investigation I develop a typological model of ‘gates’ and ‘channels’ for understanding how online communities manage discussion and constitute shared social identities through a complex network of human/software actors and interactions.