In a previous blog post, we mentioned the subcultures originated around the consumption of a particular product or brand. We also mentioned how some events or activities can generate in the participants what in anthropology has been classified as communitas: the feeling of being part of a group or community.
In this text, I will delve into the meaning of this term and its link with rituals, in order to explore the rituality of multitudinous events and the influence they have on consumers/participants. To fulfill this objective, I will use as an example the League of Legends (LOL) tournaments, a competitive computer online video game. This is an interesting case because although the interactions in the game occur conventionally via the Internet, several years ago, face-to-face tournaments were held in different countries around the world.
Let’s begin with the rituals:
In his book Rites of Passage, the French ethnographer Arnold Van Gennep (2008 ) mentions that there are chains of symbolic acts or ceremonial sequences that accompany changes or individual or group transitions from one social situation to another. These are the rites of passage, which have three phases: separation, limen, and aggregation, which are part of a sequential scheme through which the individuals involved in the ritual pass.
Víctor Turner (1980) took up Van Gennep’s postulates to deepen the definition of ritual. He proposed that it constitutes a prescribed behavior that takes place outside the daily life or routine of a community or group. Moreover, according to Turner, in rituals, people act or move through certain social scenarios producing a “social drama” (1974: 10), which in itself constitutes the staging of emotions, interests, values, and attitudes within situations of crisis or change.
The staging not only implies the realization of a special activity but is also intended to be observed and witnessed by others (hence the terminology coming from the theater: “drama”). The actors in this “social drama” go through the three phases of the ritual pointed out by Van Gannep: separation, limen, and aggregation.
Applying this sequence to multitudinous events, such as soccer championships, business events, end-of-year celebrations or the reception of new workers, we can find coincidences. In fact, it is a good way to think and analyze the social activities organized around the competition or the consumption of certain products.
To illustrate the relevance of consumption analysis within the framework of rituality, I now return to the LOL championship, which took place in 2014 at the Coliseum El Campin in the city of Bogotá, Colombia. The Latin American League of Legends Cup brought together around 10,000 people from different parts of the country and some from other Latin American places. This competitive event promoted the interactions of different players and fans, was an opportunity to publicize the game and its sponsors and made visible the possibility of being a professional Gamer, an occupational field that at that time was little known in the country.
The event had a scenographic disposition similar to that of a football or basketball game, with audiences, narrators and players who are part of the consumer subculture around LOL. The big difference is that the latter play through characters inside the video game in the computers. The actions that the public observe are divided between cameos of the players and a large screen that shows the development of the game in real time.
In ritualistic terms, the first stage, the separation, corresponds to the “symbolic behavior” (Turner, 1988 : 101) by which the group (those that belong to the consumer subculture) is separated from a “fixed point in the social structure” or “state”. In the case of LOL, attendees separate themselves from their usual sociocultural context, that is, from all those who do not consider themselves part of the subculture and enter a space that is only understood by those who share knowledge and emotions around the game. This happens when they realize that they are not the only ones interested in the game and competitive events and feel that the social relationships built in the virtual environments become more palpable (usually they get together in social networks or the video game and not in person).
As the competition goes on, matches are played and complementary events such as cosplay contests or presentations (from the sponsors and the company that owns the game) take place. Then one of the teams in competition becomes the winner and the participants go through the second stage, the liminal stage, a moment of transition in which they become marginalized between two social conditions, the past and the future (Turner, 1988 : 101). This intermediate stage of the ritual is very important, as the individuals or the group are in limbo (neither here nor there) they no longer have a culturally defined social position. The assistants live the experience of the event, they are surrounded by people with a similar interest (the game), they are spectators sharing, enjoying in unison.
During this phase, what Turner calls “communitas” is built. That is to say, comradeship and egalitarianism are generally experienced, the actors/users join in applause, shouts, and laughter in response to the matches and the words of the commentators and narrators.
Finally, in the third phase of regeneration or aggregation “[…] the passage is consummated. The ritual subject, whether individual or collective, is again in a relatively stable state “(Turner, 1988 : 102). The actors/users are transformed, they now assume that they are not alone in their interest in the game (the product), their online virtual relationships are reinforced by the face-to-face interaction and the links built as members of a consumer subculture acquire more strength. Likewise, at the end of the event that brought together a large number of people, the group becomes visible to the society from which it separated at the beginning of the ritual, legitimizing itself in front of it. I remember that, at that time, in the national news, what happened at the Coliseum El Campin was mentioned and the newspaper they published an article that summarized the event. Likewise, multiple photos and comments appeared on social networks.
Users/actors return to their daily lives, feeling more confident about their belonging to the subculture and the future that LoL, video games and e-sports in the country can have. Their confidence and attachment to the game are strengthened.
As aforementioned, the analysis within the framework of rituality can help to understand the situations that people go through when attending events related to brands and products. This allows determining which elements can make the attachment to a brand, a game or a product, increase and strengthen. The example of LoL, allowed us to explore the ways in which face-to-face interactions consolidate feelings and relationships around the products, in this case, the video game, and therefore strengthen the sense of belonging to a consumer subculture or community.
It is interesting to think about the potential of ritual, in the case of business events or in the formation of work groups. These subcultures immersed in productive and administrative activities go through the stage of separation of individuals as they are assigned to a new group that pursues objectives within the framework of the activities of a company; an intermediate stage in which the social roles external to the company are blurred and the members of the group develop disputes over the leadership or its objectives; and one the last stage in which they are added or become part of a new social situation.
Gennep, A. v. (2008 ). Los ritos de paso. (J. Aranzadi, Trad.) Madrid: Alianza.
Turner, V. (1980). Entre lo uno y lo otro: el periódo liminal en los ‘Rites de passage’. in La selva de los simbolos (págs. 103-123). Madrid: Siglo XXI.
Turner, V. (1987) The anthropology of performance. En Victor Turner (comp.), The anthropology of performance, PAJ Publications, New York. Available: http://bit.ly/1EwKEV4
Turner, V. (1988 ) El proceso ritual. Estructura y antiestructura. Altea, Taurus, Alfaguara, Madrid.