Author Archives: ndelasalas

Pokemon Snap!

For my final project, I have decided that I want to look at the game Pokemon Snap, which I enjoyed playing as a child and still occasionally enjoy playing. I haven’t begun researching what gamers/experts have to say about this game, so one of my concerns is that I won’t be able to find any scholarly articles about it. I am also unsure as to what aspect(s) of the game I want to highlight and what questions I want to ask of the game. However, I find it interesting that the game is from the point of view of a first person shooter, so perhaps that is one aspect of the game I can explore.

Casual gaming

I, along with Brandi, felt rather uncomfortable dividing games into solely hardcore games and casual games, and dividing players into categories that could otherwise be labeled “elitist gamer versus noob.” While playing through Upgrade Complete! for the second time, I realized that there could be varying levels of casual games. Upgrade Complete!, for example, is much more complex than, say, Flow, The Crossing, or even Bejeweled. Even with my inexperience in “hardcore gaming” (or at least, the sterotypical idea of hardcore gaming), I felt like Upgrade Complete! could be the shorter, casual game version of a hardcore game where you could continue upgrading your ship, weapons, enemies and other aspects of the game. For that reason, I found it difficult to completely agree with the rather black and white idea of hardcore and casual gamers. Juul’s article left me with the impression that hardcore gamers enjoy only hardcore games, and casual gamers enjoy only casual games, but I don’t think that is true. I think hardcore and casual gamers alike can enjoy a game such as Upgrade Complete!.

Not exactly Cory Arcangel’s Super Mario Clouds, but…

While reading Galloway’s chapter on countergaming, I very much focused on the idea of modding. I thought it was very interesting that Peter Wollen’s seven theses on countercinema could be used to create a similar list for countergaming. In searching for media to share, I found two videos on YouTube that, like Arcangel, also modify Super Mario – except in a different way. While these examples probably don’t fall under the category of “artist video game mods” (since Galloway states that most are completely noninteractive), these examples do illustrate interactivity vs. noncorrespondence and gamic action vs. radical action. Both mods stress the contrast between what the player expects will happen during game play, and what actually, unexpectedly happens as the modified levels are played. In this example, the levels are made extremely hard not only by the seemingly long, impossible jumps, but also by the presence of invisible blocks that can cause Mario to fall and die. Natural physics vs. invented physics is also subtly used in that sometimes you can travel right through walls or tubes, and other times, you can’t. (While there are other videos of someone providing humorous, profanity-filled voice over while these difficult levels are actually played, I chose to share this edited video instead so that the entirety of all the levels could be seen without the numerous deaths that inevitably occurred.) On the other hand, this example plays against the assumption that coins are good in order to make it appear that the level is very easy. The description for this video also includes a link where you can edit or create your own levels.

The Baron… the movie/visual videogame?

While The Baron is not a FPS, I think it would be interesting to see how the subjective shot and other POV shots could be used if the text-based game were in movie or graphic videogame form. In movie form, I think these various shots could more easily be used to give clues that the supposed protagonist is actually the baron – in theory, at least. Whereas games succeed because players have control, in a movie, the viewer would have no control over the change in POV, making it more effective when all of a sudden “you” see the baron’s reflection in the mirror. In my example, the audience would have to feel as if they are the main character, but, as Galloway described, movies of the past have faced many hurdles in attempting to tell a story in this way. While the general narrative would perhaps be successfully told, the audience would never really experience everything the “protagonist” experiences.

Similarly, I think there would still be hurdles if The Baron were translated into graphic videogame form, as I don’t think player control would aid in conveying the narrative in the same way – though it would help the player feel more like the baron since the player is the one actually doing all the actions. The game would have to deny the player the option of switching POVs, and perhaps instead have the POV automatically change during certain times in the game (for example, when you enter certain rooms or look at certain objects) in order to hint that the “bad guy” is actually you, the player. However, unexpected changes in POV (especially when going from room to room) might be too distracting to the player for it to be effective. But, if it were possible for The Baron to have a visual, “typical” videogame form, it would also be interesting to see if the visual form or the textual form would be more effective…

In all, thinking through this idea of translating The Baron to some kind of visual form brought me to Galloway’s main point in regards to subjective and other POV shots – where film fails, games succeed. Also, it is interesting to note that it seems like the visual videogame form might not tell the story as effectively as the movie form, which brings back the discussion about games and narratives…

Music and videogames: A two-way street

Being a music minor, I have found our discussion of the ways in which music enhances videogames to be very interesting. The presence of music draws the player into the game and makes game play more exciting and worthwhile, as well as more memorable. However, the presence of music in videogames has also resulted in benefits for the music industry itself. This article discusses various music games such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and even DJ Hero. Additionally, it addresses the use of music in videogames and other mediums, which is actually helping the industry make up for losses incurred by decreased CD sales. Furthermore, in the spring of 2004, the composer Nobuo Uematsu joined the LA Philharmonic in a concert which featured Uematsu’s soundtrack for Final Fantasy. As that article also describes, an event titled Video Games Live was launched in 2005, in which the world’s finest orchestras performed music from popular videogames. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly obvious that videogames and their soundtracks have grown/are growing into a significant aspect of our country’s culture. Performance of videogame music has not been limited to professional orchestras, however, for various Youtube videos can be found of high school or college-level a cappella groups singing tunes from games such as Super Mario and Zelda. In that (somewhat long) video, it is interesting to note the audience’s quick recognition of the lyric-less melodies and the singers’ mimicking of the games.

The Play of the Structure

I, too, approached this reading prepared to have most of the material be over my head, and was surprised when I was actually able to grasp a decent portion of the chapter. Granted I don’t have a very firm grasp on all the ideas and concepts presented thus far, I understand the very (very!) basic gist of what Galloway attempted to convey. I felt that the majority of my struggle dealt with digesting unfamiliar words. Once I had an idea of what a word meant, I was able to get the basic gist of the sentence or passage that the word was used in. I employed this process countless times throughout the chapter, and each time (for the most part), I would realize that Galloway was referring to something maybe not so complex, but describing it in a complex way.

However, I was not able to use my two-step process successfully on pages 26 and 27. These pages deal with The Play of the Structure, and quite honestly, there was not a single line I could comprehend. How does play explain the nature of language? “As soon as it comes into being and into language, play erases itself as such.” (27) Uh… what? As I was reading, I felt like Galloway had switched gears here, and all too suddenly, since I was just getting more comfortable with the idea of diegetic and nondiegetic. But somehow, as Galloway says, “it comes full circle.” Once Galloway went back to discussing nondiegetic acts, I was able to get back on track.

Games aren’t about beauty or delight.

At the end of chapter 5, Koster writes, “Games aren’t stories. Games aren’t about beauty or delight. Games aren’t about jockeying for social status. They stand, in their own right, as something incredibly valuable. Fun is about learning in a context where there is no pressure, and that is why games matter.”

Throughout the chapter, Koster presents an interesting take on the relationship between games and stories. He writes, “It’s as if we are requiring the player to solve a crossword puzzle in order to turn the page to get more of the novel.” (page 86) I have noticed this in many games that I have played. However, Every Day the Same Dream is an exception. Even though parts of the story are revealed after completing tasks in the game, the very act of doing those tasks over and over again contributes to our experience and understanding of the story. In this case, game play is not separated from the narrative, but rather, the two are intertwined. And, in my opinion, the game play enhances the story, instead of other cases where the story is used to enhance an otherwise mediocre game.

Playing Don’t Look Back caused me to somewhat disagree with Koster’s statement that games are not about beauty or delight. Again, I believe that games may not be solely about these things, but at the same time, these aspects can certainly be involved in games and game play. “Delight strikes when we recognize patterns but are surprised by them”-we recognize patterns in Don’t Look Back, as the game play is rather similar to games such as Super Mario Bros., but are certainly surprised by the end of Don’t Look Back, “when everything falls into place” and we realize what the whole game has been about. (page 94) This realization is similar to Koster’s claim about beauty – “Beauty is found in the tension between our expectation and the reality.” I would imagine that approaching the game with no knowledge about what the game might really be about certainly results in tension upon reaching the end of the game. Who would have expected that a seemingly simple game (though perhaps difficult to beat) with simple graphics could convey a rather complex, deep message?

Games and social networking sites

For social networks, it’s game on – by Jon Swartz

Though I haven’t played FarmVille or Cafe World, I can certainly see how big of a craze these games have become. It seems that every day, at least one of my Facebook friends has found a lost animal on their farm or “tossed a few too many pizzas in Cafe World.” Why have these games become so popular, what do we learn from them? Koster might say that these games teach “tools for being the top monkey.” (page 52) However, not only are my peers learning to be top monkeys, but so are my aunts and uncles that have (for whatever reason) joined Facebook. As Dani mentioned earlier, how do adults fit in to our discussion of games? Marketing contractor Laura Phillips plays FarmVille in order to escape from the real world and relax, but is she learning or gaining anything new by playing this game?

Additionally, what role, if any, does the social networking aspect of games (both online games and videogames) have? Would FarmVille be as popular as it is today if it were not an online game, but instead a videogame made for a console such as Playstation 3? Perhaps popularity would decrease, since Laura Phillips and other adults are not always as drawn to those consoles as they are to computers. Would my peers still be drawn to FarmVille if it were made for Playstation 3 or another game console?