Montageman: A dude who writes

January 31, 2007

Fun & Games

Filed under: affect, games, play, videogames — montageman @ 4:58 am

In Homo Ludens, Huizinga stakes the claim children and animals play because they enjoy playing, and therein lies their freedom (8). Children become bored with videogames quickly because of the rules of the game. Videogames cannot offer the illusion of freedom because their very nature is hinged upon the rules set in place by its creator/designer. Jesper Juul sees rules as specifying limitations and affordances. They prohibit players from performing actions such as making jewelry out of dice, but they also add meaning to the allowed actions and this affords players meaningful actions that were not otherwise available; rules give games structure (58). In order for a game to function as a game, the ludic foundations must be in place, but the game must be played by willing participants. Huizinga: play is never imposed by physical necessity or moral duty (8).

In order to play a videogame then, there must be some interest. This brings us back to Tomkins. As one of the primary affects, interest needs to be activated but not become overly aroused and be capable of sustaining until the activity ends. For videogames, interest begins at this point:

We play the games because they look fun. There is some preconceived notion of what fun is and how a videogame will help in having fun. Juul’s book does not ever explain why people want to be subjected to the relatively closed system of videogames. The rules are restrictive, even in the most open-ended of games. D.B. Weiss imagines a videogame world where players are wandering, picking up items, but never having any true objective. Once Stage III is reached, the player can stay as long as he would like but with no purpose beyond being there (Lucky Wander Boy, 204). The idea of reaching a stage in a game with no real purpose is absurd because the game needs to be a finite system, at least until the sequel is released. And herein lies the quandry, if play is freedom, but games necessitate rules – how are games fun?

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January 30, 2007

Interest & Atari

Filed under: affect, atari, interest, videogames — montageman @ 4:32 am

My dad and his friends used to play Realsports Football for Atari 2600.  The system was housed in our basement on Stephens St. in Saint Clair Shores.  Realsports Football is the only videogame that I can picture my dad playing.   Nights playing Atari did not involve me, however, they involved my dad’s friends and gambling for either money or dinners.  Realsports Football offered very little in terms of “real football,” but what it did offer was a chance for players to imagine themselves as that week’s hot quarterback, wide receiver, or defensive end.  “Ken Anderson throws to the wide open receiver!” Atari games required an interactivity beyond that of the joystick and the game.  To truly enjoy Football, there had to be some knowledge of real football.  Early games elicited, as Tomkins might argue, interest from players because interest is a necessary condition for the formation of the perceptual world (71).  Tomkins is talking about a much larger interest here, but bringing to the level of the game works.  For Atari to work, gamers had to be interested.

January 29, 2007

Some Tomkins

Filed under: affect, tomkins — montageman @ 3:29 am

In “The Quest for Primary Motives” Tomkins outlines the nine primary affective responses:

  1. Interest
  2. Enjoyment
  3. Surprise
  4. Fear
  5. Anger
  6. Distress
  7. Shame
  8. Contempt
  9. Disgust

He continues, “These are discriminable distinct sets of facial, vocal, respiratory, skin, and muscle responses,” (58).

“Affects may be intra- or extrapunitive, intra- or extrarewarding, intra- or extraconflicted, intra- or extraimpunitive, not rewarding,” (62).

From “Role of the specific affects”

“Startle appears to be activated by a critical rate of increase in the density of neural firing,” (68).

Fear is expected to be limited to only stimuli that produce the requisite density of neural firing (70).

“Interest must not necessarily remain activated too long once aroused, but it must also be capable of being sustained indefinitely if the object or activity so demands it,” (71).

If distress is activated by a general continuing level of nonoptimal neural stimulation, the we can account for the fact that such a variety of stimuli, from both internal and external sources, can produce the muted distress reponse in the adult (73).

Pain, distress, and/or frustration can cause anger (76).

Joy operates on the principle of stimulation reduction (76).

January 28, 2007

Manhunt – Initial thoughts

Filed under: affect, Film, videogames — montageman @ 6:12 am

I started playing Manhunt tonight partially for my essay and partially because it has been a game that’s piqued my interest. Rockstar Games (well known for the Grand Theft Auto series) developed this game. In terms of gameplay (at least initially), play is very similar to GTA in that you are expected to roam around the city and complete objectives. The setting is the city streets – very dark & gritty, almost noirish. But before the game even begins, there is a suggestion and a choice to be made.

suggestionThe image on the left is a setup screen that tells the player how the game should be played. Not the game itself, but the atmospheric surroundings in the player’s room that will most emphasize the ambience. Notice the use of the word “experience” followed by the promise that the player will be killing soon. The instructions to turn off the lights and close the drapes could also be advice for watching a film at home. The darkness of the roon imitates that off a movie theater. Further, we usually want darkness for a horror and/or thriller film, which then lends a clue as to what type of game this may be.

Horror, according to Linda Williams, is a body genre meaning for the genres she focuses on the body is a spectacle and a point of (estatic) excess like sexual pleasure, fear and terror, or overpowering sadness (209). Williams is specifically talking about the female body in her essay, however, the formulation holds true for games as well. The viewer derives pleasure from body genres by seeing what is being done to female body – orgasming in a porn or being cut up in a slasher film – in these genres. For the player of a horror game, the pleasure is two-fold – not only does the player get to watch the avatar on screen kill his enemy, he also has helped in the act itself. The body in “body genre” is then multi-layered in the exmple of the horror game. fetish

Killing is immediately fetishized on the instruction screen as well – “Then get ready to kill!” – but this is taken further on the next screen (pictured right) where the player must choose the difficulty level between “fetish” and “hardcore”. Hardcore is more difficult, so the player begins with fetish and eventually graduates to hardcore. Interestingly, both fetish and hardcore are porn genres as well. So Manhunt is not only a horror/slasher game, but is also pornographic in nature. Not pornographic in the sexual sense, but rather in the gratuitously violent sense.

January 19, 2007

McLuhan on Games

Filed under: games, mcluhan, play — montageman @ 5:01 am

A few lines from Understanding Media (2nd Edition) that I will return to in the next couple of nights.

Games are popular art, collective, social reactions to the main drive or action of any culture.  Games, like institutions, are extensions of social man and of the body politic, as technologies are extensions of the animal organism (208).

Games are dramatic models of our psychological lives providing release of particular tensions (209).

What disqualifies war from being a true game is the rules are not fully known nor accepted by all the players (212).


January 18, 2007

Heather & Paper Mario

Filed under: affect, videogames — montageman @ 4:39 am

I’ve been helping Heather make her way through Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door.  I’m helping by cheating basically – I look here & offer tips on how she can defeat her enemies and/or move through a particular tableaux.  I have not played this game, however, I am an expert – I know what the next move needs to be.  Like reading the spoilers to a film, game guides are spoilers for games.  But this is beside the point.

Each time an obstacle is reached or a point of distraction arises, there is inevitable cursing – “Fuck! That happens everytime!” or “Damnit! These things keep hitting me!”  I want to focus on the use of the word “me”.  Me is a simple word, but when used in this context it has a loaded meaning.  Nothing is actually hitting Heather, but her onscreen presence is being attacked.  The presence in this case is Mario – more specifically, Paper Mario, a 2-D rendering of the hero who was 3-D in his previous game.  The use of  2-D in this version is twofold: 1) to provide a 3rd game in the “Paper” series following Paper Mario for Nintendo 64 and  Super Mario RPG for Super Nintendo & 2) to put forth a notion of nostalgia.  Mario is nostalgic in and of himself, but the 2-D graphics in the Paper Mario series refers back to earlier games.  For gamers, the reference point of Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System is comforting – Mario is back! He’s returned to normal!

Back to Heather/Mario getting hit – the controller is the mediating device between Mario and Heather.  Both Mario and Heather are bodies.  Mario’s body mirrors Heather’s or vice versa.  In another of the Mario games, Super Smash Bros. Melee, the bodies are there to be smashed.  Yet, the damage suffered by Mario or Link or Donkey Kong is not mirrored by player.  The controller, then, is a distancing as well as a connecting device.  It is there to let us feel and not feel.

January 17, 2007

Corporeality, Affect, and Gaming

Filed under: Academic, affect, corporeality, videogames — montageman @ 4:55 am

Reading through Massumi’s Parables for the Virtual, I’m struck by how videogame studies takes the body for granted.  Throughout the literature I’ve read, nothing (or very little) is made of the relationship of the gamer’s body to the gaming apparatus and, subsequently, the game itself.  To be blunt, there would be no game without the apparatus and the player – without the corporeal component of the game, there is no conscious experience of the game as a game.  Early games like Pong are examples of how the body is incorporated into the gaming experience.  When watching two people playing the table-top version of Pong, the corporeal nature of the game begins to manifest, i.e. players moving with the ball and/or paddle in an effort to aid in blocking the ball.  We imagine that we are holding the paddle that is hitting the ball.  The game itself transcends the screen and works its way into the consciousness of the player.  The game becomes more than two sticks and a bouncing square.

Tomkins states, “It is the innate plasticity of the affect mechanism which permits the investment of any type of affect in any type of activity or object which makes possible the great varieties of human personalities and societies,” (148).  Not only is affect plastic, but there is a systematic outline put forth by Tomkins, which aides in the creation of an affectual response:

  1. Original resonance
  2. Risk is ventured
  3. Suffering in Consequence of Risk Taking
  4. Deepened resonance, increased commitment (159-63).

Videogames take on this structure through their narrative and/or the nature of their puzzles. In order for a game to be played (and remain interesting), these 4 steps are essential.  Take Super Mario Bros. for example.  Your initial mission is clear – save Princess Toadstool from Bowser.  Mario risks his life through 8 levels (worlds) & inevitably loses a life or takes damage from an enemy.  As Mario progresses, the game becomes more difficult thus creating a sense of urgency in the gamer to save the princess and finish the game.

January 11, 2007

Master’s Proposal – a start

Filed under: Academic, affect, videogames — montageman @ 4:08 am

When reviewing the current literature on videogame criticism and ludology, it is evident that many of the authors in the field are more concerned with separating videogames from any other media (film, comics, literature) and moving the field into its own distinct field. More specifically, Espen Aarseth wants to distinguish between games and narrative – “The cybertext reader is a player, a gambler; the cybertext is a game-world or world-game; it is possible to explore, get lost, and discover secret paths in these texts, not metaphorically, but through the topological structures of the textual machinery. This is not a difference between games and literature but rather between games and narratives,” (Cybertext, 5). Cybertext is, historically speaking, the first book length analysis of games as texts and the moment where ludology, the theory that games are different than traditional narratives, takes hold. Throughout the book, Aarseth does not attempt to question why it is that gamers are drawn to and enjoy gaming in the first place.

Ten years later, not much has changed. Juul’s Half-Real, while effective in its definition of types of games, is not concerned with affect. Juul is concerned with cognitive functions, or how the gamer interacts with the game world and what the impetuses are for these interactions. However, his argument seems reductive at best breaking down the world of videogames into fictional worlds with rules & how games cue players into imagining worlds (121). There is no mention of why gamers continually come back for more. If Juul’s distinction between emergent and progression games is true, why would a gamer want to play a game of progression?

Videogames are, in fact, toys. Roland Barthes talks about toys prefiguring the adult world and working to prepare the child for the adult world, or if not working to prepare then making the world easier to accept (Mythologies, 53). Toys and by proxy games are furthering an ideology then. An ideology that can either be accepted or rejected. Silvan Tomkins in talking about the psychology of knowledge states,”It [the psychology of knowledge] would concern itself with the role of violence and suffering in either discouraging or encouraging commitment to and deepening of ideology,” (Affect, Cognition, and Personality, 73). How then can a game like Conflict: Desert Storm 2 – Back to Baghdad or Left Behind: Eternal Forces be viewed differently? These games are attempting to do something beyond let their players solve puzzles. Games like this require a response – an emotional response. Gamers will either accept the ideology or reject it before ever trying to solve a puzzle or get lost in the fiction. If there is little hope of pleasure at the outset, the gamer has little reason to proceed further.

January 10, 2007

Half-Real (1st half) – Initial thoughts

Filed under: affect, videogames — montageman @ 3:43 am

Metal SlugThrough the first 3 chapters of Jesper Juul’s Half-Real, there appears to be an almost total lack of contextual gaming.  Juul spends a lot of time explaining nuances of game rules, types, and models – basically, we get definitions for the first 120 pages or so.   This is a relatively new field, sure, but come on – video games are supposed to be fun, right?  Where is the fun here?  For Juul, much of our enjoyment comes from our ability to beat a challenge, find a new challenge, beat that challenge, repeat.  There are two types of games – emergent & progression.  Games of progression (Metal Slug (pictured left), Super Mario Bros, Contra), it is argued, are some how inferior to emergent games because once a game of progression has been completed, there is no need to go back & do it again.   Juul says, “Different games provide challenges in different ways.  This is apparent in the distinction between games of progression that are only completed once, and games of emergence that can be played to their conclusion many times,” (97).

The biggest problem with this thought is that the games that were mentioned above, while they fall into the  progression category, are also termed “classic” games and, therefore, have tremendous replay value.  Because Juul decontextualizes gaming, a moment like this is ignored.  Much of gaming’s fun comes not from the game itself but the context in which it is played.  Pong was addictive both because of its simplicity and because of its role as a public domain.  Anybody could go up & play for a quarter.  As games became more complex, the fundamental notion of communal gaming has never ceased.

January 7, 2007

Spamalot

Filed under: montypython, spamalot, theater — montageman @ 5:35 am

Spamalot

I love going to the theater, especially musicals.   I’m also a fan of Monty Python, so Spamalot (check out the game linked off the homepage) was an exciting show for me.

First, a bit of background.  I first saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 7th grade.   At that point, I knew it was a funny film, but I wasn’t quite sure why.  Eventually, I began watching the film once a week (sometimes more).  The humor goes beyond what would be considered conventionally funny.  It’s the humor of wit and little things.  The horse that’s not there, the black knight sequence, the taunting frenchman, etc.  The film has so many scenes that are quoted and/or ripped off.  In Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” he raps, “I memorized Holy Grail really well /I can recite it right now and have you R-O-T-F-L-O-L,” (Straight Outta Lynwood, 2006).  Monty Pyhton is a quintessentially nerdy film.   The people who love it, really love it – to the point of recital.  But those who dislike it, really dislike it.  It’s weird how some films (or series of films) become polarizing in this way.

That said, I was worried that the stage presentation would not live up to the film, even though Eric Idle and John Cleese were heavily involved in its production on Broadway.   I’m very happy to say that I was wrong.  Uproariously funny and well acted, Spamalot was easily the most fun I’ve had a musical.  What also became apparent to me tonight is the timelessness of the Python’s humor.  None of the jokes had changed, however, they were all still funny.  There is both a moment of recognition, i.e. attaching the line to the film and an enjoyment in the new.  There was a self-reflexivity throughout the show, which mirrors the reflexivity in the film.  Also, constant use of anachronisms, i.e. the mention of Broadway are prevalent as well.  In fact, the entire production in an anachronism of sorts with one foot in the past & an one in the present.  This is one of the most enjoyable parts about comedic theater – all of this is taken as the norm.  Taking it one step beyond, a musical comedy can be afforded even more leeway since the entire premise of the musical demands a suspension of disbelief in the first place.

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