Chloe (first reader)

When applying Koster’s definition of a good game to Pac-Man and Flow I thought that each in their own way fit the mold of a game that, “teaches everything it has to offer before the player stops playing.” While each is based on a “catch and eat without being eaten” sort of theme, one of Pac-Man’s strengths is that it does so with more clearly defined rules. Die once and you understand what you don’t want to happen. This is not the case with Flow, which artistically pulls one up and down the levels, with no apparent goal (initially).

While I certainly don’t grok Pac-Man, I definitely know what is expected of me, and immediately set in. However, in Flow, it took me awhile (don’t laugh) to relate it to Pac-Man, which eventually allowed me to chunk it up. It really is interesting that as soon as we recognize a pattern, even if it is in a very different casing (Flow vs Pac-Man) that the game becomes more enjoyable. It made me think about different patterns outside of the gaming world, that I see and recognize unconsciously, or that have a hint of deja vu to them.

Given this, I wonder what it is that makes some people so naturally gifted at things like first person shooters. I’d like to believe that none of them have had experience shooting other people. What is it then? Maybe this is why some people are so concerned about violent video games, because, not only does one see it while playing, but one often thinks about later. As Koster says, if the brain is thinking about it, then you’re learning about it one some level. For example, there are certain therapists who work with athletes to help them improve their games. If an athlete frequently visualizes kicking the soccer ball perfectly he is more likely to do so successfully in an actual game. Applied to the concern of violence in video games, does the idea of children visualizing doing violent acts actually make them more likely to do them? Or does it just imply that they might be more successful if they try?

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4 Responses to Chloe (first reader)

  1. khrk says:

    I think Chloe raises a really interesting point about people thinking about videogames after they’re done playing, especially violent videogames. Videogames, like Halo and other first person shooters, have become extremely realistic. Watching my friends play games, I notice the scenery looks extremely realistic to towns in America. The characters in the game also have an uncanny resemblance to real people, and don’t look animated anymore thanks to technological advancements. This raises a red flag to me because in some cases people can’t tell the difference between a game and reality. In recent shootings, some of the shooters learned how to shoot their weapons from these videogames and brought the videogame to life because they could not see what was wrong with that. These cases are rare and extreme but the fact is that they happen. Children these days are also exposed to these games on a daily basis and become a part of their lives. Some children take what they learn in their videogames and reenact it on the playground with their friends. This is alarming because videogames are showing children that violence is acceptable which leads to instances where teenagers take what they learned in games and perform it in reality, where you don’t have the luxury of three lives. I’m not one of those people who are adamantly against videogames but I feel like they are becoming extremely realistic and some people blur the line between the game and reality and its becoming a problem.

  2. Jason Ko says:

    I would like to apologize ahead of time if my reply seems harsh. This is an issue I take rather seriously, as do many in the games industry, both from the development side and the critical side.

    Which shooting specifically are you referring to when you claim that “some of the shooters learned how to shoot their weapons from these videogames”? It has been argued that in fact violent video games can have the opposite effect, allowing people to take out their aggression in a fictional world where no one can get hurt. To use a specific example of where a baseless claim was made against games as a medium in recent memory, we need look no further than Jack Thompson’s accusation that Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter behind the VT massacre, was influenced by violent video games. I have read sources that claim his roomates said he never went near them. For a slightly less vague claim, and some proof to back up the claim I have already made, see this article here, courtesy of msnbc.

    Later in the book, Koster discusses this topic. He mentions that the trappings of the game are different and separate in the eyes of the gamer, one who frequently groks games, from the core mechanics of the game. Such a gamer practically ignores the trappings of the game and focuses on the core mechanics. I agree with Koster that this does not excuse game trappings which are in bad taste (his example is tetris skinned to be a mass-murder simulation). Even so, I think that looking at only this one aspect of a game is selling the medium as a whole short. Much like film, where special-effects alone, or the dialog alone (as separated from how those lines are delivered, and the facial expression etc.), can not be called representative of the work as a whole, I do not think it is just to judge a video game based on one aspect of what defines the medium.

    This issue of video game violence is also being contested in the Supreme Court case Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association. It was even discussed in Law and Order: SVU. In both ends of the spectrum, people understand that, to quote Law and Order,

    We get ideas all the time. From books, from movies… from everything. But we don’t act on them. We know better.

    The reenacting of a game’s events on the playground is still make believe. When you pretend to shoot a friend with a gun constructed of nothing more than you thumb and index finger, it is little more than a joke in most situations. But we all as rational people know that actually shooting your friend with a real gun would have real consequences.

    • Jason Ko says:

      That long comment up there I just posted is directed at khrk, in case it was unclear. I thought wordpress would emphasize that I replied to a comment and not the blog, but oh well.

  3. cole says:


    Your question “I wonder what it is that makes some people so naturally gifted at things like first person shooters” got me thinking about the demographics of video games, and what it can tell us about brains. One thing that has been discovered independently of video games is that on average men have better spatial reasoning skills. Which, along with hand-eye-coordination, is one of the main skills used in first person shooters. Spatial reasoning allows your brain to keep track of multiple objects and their potential interactions in an area of space separate and different then the one surrounding you in the real world. Game designers have commonly gravitated towards testing these skills in the form of violent shooting games, but I don’t think the two have to be linked. Portal after all is a great example of a game using first person shooter mechanics, but not actually using violent shooting as the expression of those mechanics.

    There are mental tasks that women are better then men at on average, I think as game designers learn of these they will create games to draw in larger female audiences. The sims, and the wii are two things that seem to have been very successful at drawing in female customers. I don’t know why they have had such success, but it seems like an interesting question worth pursuing.

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