Category Archives: Respondents

Saving the World, One Game at a Time

Had I read the syllabus at the beginning of term and seen that we would be discussing the idea of solving real world problems with video games, I would have laughed and said that’s impossible, real world problems need to be solved in the real world. After watching Jane McGonigal’s lecture and reading the interviews, I am beginning to understand how something like that could be done. In something as simple as the release of an album, thousands of people got involved with Nine Inch Nails to solve a puzzle and actively play a game in the real world. If games could be presented like this (naturally, we wouldn’t know the end) then people might get involved. I think the key to people wanting to change their virtual worlds is that they know that the game can be won, the game has an endpoint and a purpose. In real life, they may see things as impossible and themselves as small parts. If a game was incorporated, individuals could have more of a say and creative ideas could be presented to solve the major problems of the world. I don’t think that video games are the sole source of saving the world, but I definitely think that they can be used and have their part.

ARGs… I want in :)

So I was fascinated by the articles on ARG’s and the fact that 9 Inch Nails did a game for their fans. I think this is an amazing idea and something I’ve been in love with since first being introduced to the topic. I am a puzzle person [as many people are] and have always wished that novels such as The DaVinci Code and National Treasure were real. In Jane McGonigal’s interview she outlines four main things that make people happy. I would agree that these points do make people happy, but I think that there are other things such as thrill, ie. the release of adrenaline and the endorphins that come with adrenaline, that can increase human happiness. I know that the excitement I would get from playing a game like that would be something that would increase my happiness and give me purpose in a bigger goal (which is exactly as McGonigal points out). ARG’s are not only a wonderful recent addition to society in a much more global world, but also an amazing teaching tool. The puzzles are too complex to solve individually, so the cooperation aspect is a must and the people who are involved must learn how to collaborate to accomplish a common goal. I think it’s an amazing opportunity and am upset I haven’t been involved in one yet. Will I be involved in the next one. You betcha – will I contribute, probably not I’m not an expert at anything, but will I enjoy tracking the progress of such a huge collaborative effort. Definitely.

Terminology Fail?

A problem that I saw in Tuesday’s discussion that I didn’t get a chance to mention has to do with our choice of the word “casual” to describe “casual games”. I think some people took issue with this because they saw people playing games that seem to fit this category that is separate from “hardcore” games in a decidedly “non-casual” way. Some followup questions to this then might be “are there hardcore games and casual games, or are there hardcore players and casual players?” and “if casual is a problematic term, what would be better?”

To the first question I think it is probably a combination. There are definitely hardcore games played by hardcore players and casual games played by casual players. There are probably hardcore games that are played in a somewhat casual way, if not necessarily by casual gamers in general. I know for example of World of Warcraft players that can play in fairly short bursts here and there and don’t really take it all that seriously; to them, it’s pretty much just a nice chat room where you can do stuff when nothing is going on in chat. (I will say, however, that the game really is not conducive to staying this way forever in my opinion; at advanced levels you’re pretty much trapped either starting a new character, playing in a more hardcore way, or else pretty much not playing. WoW is by no means a casual game across the board.) Similarly there are definitely casual games that are played in a hardcore fashion. Guitar Hero/Rock Band was discussed extensively in this way in class; I won’t bore anyone by rehashing that discussion.

To the second question I think the best first answer is to throw out absolute terms, as someone suggested in class on Tuesday, and go to a spectrum sort of approach. However, this alone is limited as well, since we only have labels for the absolute extreme ends of the spectrum, and since we don’t have an immediate consideration of deeper details of casual play (for example, playing MMOs primarily for the social scene). To extend this well I think we need a good label for this middle ground, which is neither casual nor hardcore, and I also think we need to turn the spectrum into a multidimensional spectrum, considering why people play the games the way they do and how this reflects on the games themselves, etc.

Casual games are fun supposed to be fun…lets keep them that way

After playing “You have to burn the rope” in class, Jake, Catey and I discussed how the game did not appear to be a casual game at all. It is short, simple, and really just makes fun of hard core games because of how short and simple the quest is. After our discussion, it made me rethink what casual games really do for the videogame industry. They are not “casual” because of their simplicity, but rather because they do not necessitate a background in hard core gaming in order for them to be enjoyable. In other words, casual gaming is simply the videogame industry’s attempt to show the people who aren’t hard core gamers that gaming can be fun. However, there is a fine line that developers tread when trying to make games that reach out to casual gamers, because if they do too much of this, they will alienate the hard core gamers who gave the industry their start. Games that worry me are games like “The Crossing,” which as we discussed in class, has very little depth after the first minute of playing time which is spent figuring out all the possibilities for what one can do in the game (and the rest of the playing time is spent trying to figure out while you’re still playing…). It is one thing if games like “The Crossing” are aimed at a specific audience (such as kids), but as developers continue to spend time creating games that appeal to the casual gamer, they must be sure to keep the hard core gamer happy as well. There is a lot of money to be found in developing games for things like the iPhone (as Mitchel mentioned in his post), or the Wii-ware games for the Nintendo Wii. However, the industry needs to keep high standards for these games, or else the casual game industry could end up repeating the initial failure that was created when too many bad video games started coming out for the Atari. Casual games are great, but developers must continue to push the industry in ways of innovation, so it must remember that quality is better than quantity, and that creating good casual games and good hard core games now will make the big money in the long run (even if creating a lot of simple games now may make a lot of money in the short run).

We need more gaming…is it so crazy?

In response to Jane McGonigal’s presentation, my first reaction is yes, it is crazy.  But then I changed my mind after listening for a few minutes.  I see where she’s going and I like it.  We’ve discussed what it is gamers are actually learning in class and in the readings (especially Koster), and I think she makes good points about weaving social networks and working towards a common goal and all that.  Her message is that we need to apply the same attitude to real world problems that we do to these not-so-real-world game problems.  And I agree completely.

That being said, I still see a problem.  This doesn’t apply to ARG type things though, I think those have a lot of potential.  No, for computer-based games, as long as they rely on some sort of static visual medium, I’m left wondering who’s going to put all these grandiose changes in the collective human conscience into action?  The people playing the games?  Um… no, they’re still at home playing the games.  So it’s left to the real farmers and real mechanics and real doctors to physically do things.

So, to wrap up, I’m just saying that I don’t think we can take this at face value.  We shouldn’t just “play more games”, or even “play different games”, because that’ll just leave more people at home clicking mice.  Like she says, if we could just learn to go for those epic wins and be urgently hopeful in real life, maybe games could find a new and effective way to actually make real world changes.  Because, let’s be honest, I don’t think Ayiti is going to spur anyone not already spurred.

Casual vs. Hardcore…not so simple?

Like Brandi, while reading the chapter from Casual Revolution, I found myself disagreeing with the methods in which casual and hardcore games were compared and analyzed. The descriptive terms used to wholly distinguish casual games from hardcore games were almost dismissive of casual games, delegating them to a class of gamers who are much less involved with the games they are playing.

As I mentioned in class, I believe one of the primary examples of this discrepancy can be seen with rhythm games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. While these games were created to also be accessible to those not adept at playing, they also have significant elements that I would consider ‘hardcore,’ where a user must hone their technique to advance to a higher skill level.

When I first began playing Rock Band, I could barely pass on the Medium skill setting, however with practice, I was eventually able to work my way up to consistently scoring highly on Expert level songs. Likewise, there are many individuals I know who would almost be offended if Rock Band / Guitar Hero were to be lumped into the casual gaming category, simply based on their level of time commitment and advanced skill level. In addition, while many ‘casual gamers’ may play in short spurts, I have known a great number of people who can play online flash or card games for hours on end. These types of people certainly blur the line between casual and hardcore gamer, and it is for this reason I believe the chapter to not accurately describe the subtle difference between the two main types of games and gamers.

Great in Theory, Could be Better in Practice…

So I after playing the socially conscious games, I was intrigued but a bit confused still. I found the Darfur game to be the most confusing. I don’t know if it was just me, but I ran, and ran, and ran, and ran, and ran, and ran. But there was no where to run to? Maybe it was because after four minutes of running in one direction with no change of scenery/landscape other than outpacing the janjaweed’s car I decided to change direction and ended up being caught. But who’s to say. I felt like there was no way to get to the water. No one told me where the water was or showed me how to collect it. And when I did try to hide, the Janjaweed found me hiding behind my barrel that I was supposed to put water in. I understand that this may be very close to the situation in Darfur. You are a sitting duck if caught by the Janjaweed while away from your family out collecting water, but there was no sort of explanation to go with it so I wasn’t sure if I was even playing it right or if I was just terrible at the game. A game with a social impact needs to have a message attached. I didn’t play until the end of the game, I’m not even certain there is any one particular ending, but I found it interesting none-the-less. The second game, Stop Disasters,  had more of a sim city feel to it. I found I was frustrated with this game because I have no knowledge of floods and don’t know how to protect against them. I put up enough housing for all the people in my town, yet 4 of them died anyway. I think if maybe there was a little information prior to the game play, people would learn something about their own preparation for themselves and their communities. That could be a valuable asset to any community.

I think the socially conscious games have a good idea, but need to be better implemented or executed. If there is more of an explaination it would go a lot farther for the cause. I understand it’s still a game. But Carmen Sandiago NEEDS the information in order to be as successful as it is. Make it a learning game like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago and you’re set.

America’s Army Clip

I agree – it was certainly a lively class discussion today, although I was most interested in the discussion about the YouTube clip. I was intrigued by it, to say the least. The more I think about it, the more annoyed I am with the person for doing what he did. I found it a little bit disgusting and even offensive.

First of all, I agree with what Calvin said in class about how it could be offensive to the families of fallen soldiers. Their names are being associated with a cause that they might not agree with or support. I know that there was mention of a debate over who ‘owns’ the right to memorialize, but I think using other’s names in such a controversial piece as this one is just not appropriate and in bad taste. I feel like he is taking advantage of something tragic and tailoring it to his own agenda.

Second, it was clear that he was trying to show that the people playing the game were insensitive jerks by displaying the interaction between himself and the players on the chat screen, which he eventually got kicked off of. I felt he was taking advantage of the people playing the game by not telling them his purpose, which was not immediately obvious. I guess I felt like he did not even give the players a chance to respond to his actions – perhaps if the other players heard his message they might rethink whether or not they should play the game. Instead, they were purposefully portrayed in a negative light with no chance to defend themselves whatsoever.

Third, I was even more annoyed when I found out that he did performances of portions of this project in Britain… How in the world is the accomplishing anything? Isn’t the point to protest the game and to keep young Americans from playing – to make the players of the game realize that there are real-life consequences? What is the point of going to another country to protest a game that is meant for American citizens? Is he really trying to accomplish something, or does he just like stirring up trouble?

This guy reminds me of those people that stand outside the JC spouting off their stupid controversial opinions (or word vomit, as I like to call it).  They are just trying to start conflicts and then feed on the attention.  I feel like this was a lame piece of protest performance art because there are about 2 million better ways to get his point across without being such a jerk and where more people would be able to hear and consider his message.

I don’t understand why artists strive to do projects like this – they purposefully do something controversial and one step over the line of bad taste, and then when they are criticized act all attacked and innocent. If you read over the comments on the YouTube page, the artist’s responses to some of the posters are straight degrading. He talks to them like they are inexperienced 3 year olds.

Ugh. I’d be happy if we didn’t talk about this game anymore.

4-6-10 Class (today, just thought that looked official)

So I would say that the discussions in today’s class were among the more heated, stimulating and thought provoking we have had throughout the semester.  Although the games we discussed Killing JFk or whatever its called and the Columbine Massive Rpg were comparatively primitive or small compared to others like WOW or Half life etc, we did have some major divisions in the class.  This being said I wanted to respond to one argument that was made concerning the Columbine game.

  Some people were arguing that the game was showing the actions as satire and consequently should not warrant such a negative reaction from media etc.  I looked for some definitions of satire and found satire is “the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.”  While this seems appropriate for this kind of game I do not think that the majority of people view the game as necessary.  I think we pretty much ruled out this being a function of the graphics, but a game like Columbine is such a sensitive subject that I think professor Sample’s point on capitalizing on the work comes into play.  I dont think that a game is necessary to point out subtle satirical aspects when the vast majority of people clearly see the evil that was behind the actions in real life.  Because every sane person sees these actions as terrible the credibility of the designer saying he made it to “get into the minds of the two boys” comes into question.  Why make the game when everyone already knows how wrong they were?  It seems like it is simply rehashing old wounds in people who were really involved.

Any thoughts on this or corrections to what I was saying? I think this is a really interesting topic btw.

Lara Croft as a role model…seriosuly?

I was very intrigued by the discussions that went on in class last Tuesday.  We covered many topics surrounding gender, especially in relation to Lara Croft and Tomb Raider.  One particular topic I found the most interesting was in response to one of the survey questions- that many female players would view Lara Croft as a positive role model after playing this game.  I was shocked that this was the most popular answer to how female players would view this character.   I most definitely have an opinion on this topic, but decided on the spot that this was what I was going to write my response blog about.  Therefore, instead of voicing my opinions, I simply sat back and listened to the arguments of others.

I understand that many females would like the character of Lara Croft simply because she is a woman and that is something rarely seen in videogames.  Therefore, they probably feel that they can identify with her more so than other videogame characters.  However, I think that viewing her as a role model takes it to an entirely different level.

I, for one, am a female and do not-in any way, shape, or form view Lara Croft as a role model.  I know that I am just one girl, and cannot by any means speak for all women, but I feel as if many women would have a similar view on the topic.  Don’t get me wrong, the character of Croft does, I think, portray some important qualities that are good for girls to be aware of.  The fact that you can be both attractive and powerful, for instance.  She also demonstrates a desirable amount of control-which, I think, is considered an attractive attribute by both genders…however, like someone pointed out it class, how is killing for what you want an attractive attribute?  is that really something you want to strive for? hurting and putting everyone else down to achieve your goals?.. I think we can all agree that selfishness is not a sought after characteristic in a person.  Also, yes, she is the combination of beauty and power…but seriously? Why does her character have to be so, for lack of a better term, “sexy.”  I feel that there is a clear difference of connotation between the word “sexy” and the word “beautiful”…I think girls or women, females of any age for that matter, should be aware that you can be beautiful without having the double-d chest.

Basically, what I’m trying to get at, is that although Croft does display some positive qualities, I do not think that her character as a whole would be perceived by most females as a positive role model.

In class, we discussed gender representation in videogames, namely female physiques in videogames.  The discussion on the representation of a female body and female characteristics got me thinking about representation of different genders by other ethnic groups. Using google and youtube, I noticed that a lot of American videogames focus on body build whereas a lot of video games designed by Asian designers focus more on facial features. Asian videogames, namely Japanese videogames, focus more on developing attractive facial features in both males and females. Common themes in all Japanese videogames characters include a sharp chin, a small, almost non-existent nose, huge doll eyes, and small mouths.

The bodies of most characters are usually lanky and not G.I. Joe big. American videogames, on the other hand, focus greatly on the physique of their characters. With Lara Croft, it is quite obvious that the main focus for the designers was creating her Barbie-like body.

In terms of characteristics of main characters in videogames, I noticed that a lot of Japanese videogames that I know of don’t portray women as very aggressive or outgoing. Moreover, they are rarely made into the only main characters in a game, unless they’re targeting females as players.

I get that games from different cultures probably represent their standards of beauty in that culture. But I wonder: Would a game like Lara Croft Tomb Raider elicit the same response it did with Americans?  Would men be attracted to  a female character that is very different from the regular characters they normally play as or see in videogames? Or would a videogame like this be dismissed because it doesn’t meet the characteristics of the player don’t match up to the characteristics developed for standard female characters in Japanese videogames?

*Disclaimer: Generalizations Will Be Made

With a plethora of topics introduced in Tuesday’s class, the following “response” is in regards to gender and the four playing techniques. We have discussed the overlap of various playing techniques, applied these personal qualities to Tomb Raiders, and placed them in quadrants. As a class, however, we have not discussed how the four playing techniques can relate to the genre of Interactive Fiction. Subsequently how the gender ideals within videogames, as developed by the studies of Carrie Heeter et al., were exemplified.

While playing The Baron how many boys in the class tried to make the main character sleep with the wife? How many girls did?  How many boys initially killed the she-wolf? How many girls initially spoke to/hugged the she-wolf? What, in short, were the different approaches by gender?

From playing the game in a mixed gender group yet sitting in proximity with an all female group and an all male group, personal comparisons can be made. Generally speaking, the males within my group wanted to win and kill everything that was in the way. The all male group explored a bit, as in they seemingly spent a long time trying to sleep with the wife. The female group spent a long time within the game reading everything and talking to the characters along the way. When playing time had expired the mixed gender group and the male group had been finished with the game but the female group had just gotten inside the castle.

The above observations simply suggest that girls do fall into the categories of hearts and spades while guys seemingly, within this specific genre, fall into the clubs and diamonds categories. Later, after playing the game individually and outside of class, I found myself more closely related to the female group. It took me about double the time to complete the game when playing alone. The female group, and myself, did value, or at least tried to establish interpersonal conversations within the characters along the journey, juxtaposing the males within my group who had immediately set out to win.

Conclusion: Yes, there are exceptions to every rule but gender generalizations undeniably hold some truth within the video gaming community.

Fear and Loathing in Subjective Point of View

Out of all the chapters we have read in Alexander Galloway’s book, I found this latest one to easily be the most intriguing. Because I am a most definitely a movie addict, I found his comparison of Point of View and Subjective Point of View to be particularly compelling because of not only its direct applicability to video games, but also its usage in popular movies as well.

As I mentioned in class, one of the first movies that I thought of when considering Subjective Point of View was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. For those who haven’t seen the film, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas chronicles a journalist (Johnny Depp) who gets dragged into the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas while taking copious amounts of illegal drugs of all kinds along the way.

One of the most well remembered scenes in this movie is when Depp’s character is in a bar lounge while hallucinating on LSD. The term “unreliable narrator” could easily be used here, as we witness the floors turning into lava and the people around him becoming giant lizards. In another scene, Depp’s drug induced state causes him to witness a woman morphing into a large moray eel. Obviously, such things didn’t happen in actuality, but it is through the Subjective Point of View that we are able to get a look into Depp’s character’s psyche. This Subjective Point of View, when coupled with a fascinating character in a unique position, allows us to get an “inside look” as to the character’s true self, and its effective use in any medium (including movies and videogames) can greatly enhance the viewer’s overall experience.

First Person Perspective

I enjoyed the discussion in Tuesday’s class as we discussed the effect of perspective in videogames and film. Generally in a video game (when given the choice) I will choose to see in the third person because I feel as though I can see more of the surrounding area. If I’m using my eyes to see through the characters eyes, I feel like I won’t be able to see as much because I am actually controlling the character.

In film though, I have the opposite opinion; I love seeing through a characters eyes. Generally it will contribute to the “getting to know the character” aspect of the film, and also I see what I’m supposed to see. The director is controlling the shots and obviously something about this scene is important. It can help to build suspense and drama, but in a videogame I see it as just rather annoying.

Tension from first person perspective

This issue that arose in class on Tuesday stuck out to me: how and why does a subjective first person perspective seem to smooth things out and perhaps relieve tension in games while it makes things more jumpy and increases tension in film? As I thought about it, what I came up with was the effect of perspective on our perception of control. If we’re in first person, we expect control, in some sort of very basic way. But on top of that, I think we also experience control more vividly from a first person perspective. We’re used to controlling our own daily lives from a first person perspective, and so I think we can get more strongly into the experience in that perspective, all else equal. So we not only feel that we are in control in a first person video game but we feel more natural and fluid in some way.

By contrast, with film we feel much less natural and out of control, in that events are going on that we are more directly involved in because of the perspective, but we have absolutely no control over them. I think this is probably part of why subjective shots get used in the places they do in: no matter what’s going on in the film, we have this expectation of control that isn’t met, and that unmet expectation brings about some anxiety in us. It would be silly to bring about anxiety in this way in something like a romantic comedy, where becoming anxious and worried is contrary to the point of the movie. On top of the anxiety that we get from our unmet expectation of control, what little control we may feel may be extremely negative. In Silence of the Lambs for example, what tiny bits of control we get in the night vision scene are all very unpleasant, because it’s as if we’re driving the actions of the killer himself.