Author Archives: mitchellthorson

Final Project idea?

I was thinking about exploring the game Heavy Rain for my final project. I would like to discuss the nature of narrative in games, and the ability of games to be effective story tellers. Can games convey emotion? Can they do it effectively? Can they do it in a way that does justice to important/deep/heavy/sad/real topics? What about a game makes it effective as a story? Does Heavy Rain exemplify the narritive ability/emotional capacity of “videogames”? My biggest problem at this point is that I haven’t finished the game yet (only started it) and i hope i can finish it, or at least know wnough about it to answer these questions in time.

The iPhone, Casual Game Heaven?

Jesper Juul discusses “casual games” in his article “A Casual Revolution” and he lays out the basic elements of what makes a game casual:

I. Fiction

2. Usability

3. Interruptibility

4. Difficulty and punishment

5. Juiciness

As I was reading the article I was immediately struck by the thought that the iPhone has, in some ways, become the ultimate casual gaming platform. Because of its inherent structure and limits, like battery life, touch interface and so on, it is set up to play these types of games perfectly. The control interface of the touch screen makes the usability very simple and intuitive, and excludes the possibility of any complex “hard-core game” type of controls. Also, since the phone is very limited in battery life, the games must be easily interrupted.

These factors, among others, seem have led the iPhone to be the platform of choice for many casual game developers. Some of the games Juul mentioned in his article such as Bejeweled and Peggle have made their way from their original downloadable forms to iPhone application format, and there has been an explosion of new games created just for the iPhone. I think it will be interesting to see how the market for casual games continues to grow as the iPhone and other similar devices continue to put these games in the spotlight of the mainstream. I wonder if some developers are also interested in subverting the simple characterstics of casual games to convey more interesting ideas, and if we will see “casual counter games for the iPhone” in the near future.

The difference between ‘watching’ and ‘doing’ in a subjective viewpoint

Galloway’s chapter on first person shooter games isn’t really about first person shooter games, but rather about subjective first person devices used in visual media, beginning with film, and then later explored further in first person shooters. Innovative filmmakers began pushing past the traditional POV shot into a more subjective first person shot as a way of embedding the viewer deeper into the mind, psyche and emotions of the character.
But no matter how elaborate and realistic the subjective shots in films are, they still only manage to show the viewer something. The viewer is still simply watching the film. He or she may begin to understand how the character feels, or what they are thinking with the shot, but they don’t feel it, and they can’t be certain.
These limitations are inherent in any visual medium, including videogames. The gamer does not feel what the character of an fps feels, but there is one important difference. Since the gamer is not merely watching things unfold, but is in direct control, something does change. The entire mental activity, and decision-making action occurs within the mind of the gamer. As a result, even the emotions of the character can occur in the mind of the gamer. Fear, excitement, and anger all flash constantly through the neurons of the gamer as the diegetic action reflects the activity of the gamers mind, channeled through the controller.
The jump that occurs from filmic subjective first person shots to an fps game, is amazing.  The jump from ‘watching’ to ‘doing’ vastly changes the type of mental activity occurring in the viewer/gamer.

Emotion and Narrative in Videogames…the Next Level?

So we’ve discussed a few times in class the role of stories/narrative in videogames, as well as their ability to emotionally involve the gamer. The game Heavy Rain, which was released just about a week ago, attempts to take both of these gaming elements to a new level.  This review is a nice summary of the games innovations in both narrative structure (if a character dies, the story continues without them) as well as innovative gameplay designed to blur the lines between the non-diegetic world of the gamer and the diegetic world of Heavy Rain. Decisions, morality, and consequences all play a heavy role in the game. My brother and sister both played through the game this week and reported that it does indeed pack an emotional “punch” and even said that there were times when taking one action (like killing another character) would have helped them advance towards their goal, but were unable to do so because of some emotional reaction to the scenario in the game. Seems interesting to me when considering how far games can go, and whether or not they can “make you cry”.

Re: Reading Galloway

I was pretty confused by pages 6-8 and Galloway’s description of “diegetic” and “non-diegetic” elements of games. I see that they refer to the elements of games that exist both inside (diegetic) and outside (non-diegetic) the “pretend world” (or “second reality” as Callois would say), but somewhere along the way i found myself completely lost as he analyzed which gamic elements and nongamic elements fell into which category. An example here from page 8:

“To be sure, nondiegetic elements are often centrally connected to the act of gameplay, so being nondiegetic does not necessarily mean being nongamic. Sometimes nondiegetic elements are firmly embedded in the game world. Sometimes they are entirely removed”

Somehow its just not connecting in my mind how elements can be both “firmly embedded in the game world” and completely outside the “pretend world”. Or maybe I’m just misunderstanding his terms here. I guess the “game world” and the “pretend world” are not one and the same, but rather overlapping circles on another confusing Venn diagram?

Video Games and Brain Structure

We’ve read a lot about how play and games affect development of the brain and learning.  This article offered a slightly different perspective on how inherent brain biology and structure can effect how games are played. When it comes to gaming ‘experts’ it seems there may be a fundamental biological difference setting them apart from ‘casual’ or ‘novice’ gamers.  Since the brain is not a static object, and is constantly changing and growing as we learn and respond to the world around us, I wonder if these biological differences stem from the amount of hours played, or if the amount of hours played stems from the biology. It seems like an interesting “chicken or the egg” scenario.