Montageman: A dude who writes

February 26, 2007

Wark on Boredom

Filed under: boredom, games — montageman @ 1:49 pm

Boredom is the ambivalent gift of the surplus. Boredom arises out of
the absence of necessity, of a yes, a no, a straight line. Boredom
demands new necessities, and if not granted them – produces its own (Wark 155).

The very action of overcoming boredom reproduces it, when gamer and game reach some impasse (Wark 166).

Just as the military industrial complex once forced the free rhythms of
labor into the measured beat of work, so now its successors oblige the
free rhythms of play to become productive (Wark 172).


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February 19, 2007

A Theory of Fun

Filed under: controllers, games, koster — montageman @ 4:02 am

A Theory of Fun is an excellent analysis of the current (& possible future) of videogames. Koster uses the book as opportunity to not only view games through the lens of a designer, but also through the lens of a player and lover of games. In the final chapter, Koster lays down the following the claim, “Games have the capability to sit on the shelf next to all other communications media. They are capable of art. They are capable of portraying the human condition. They are teaching tools. They carry socially redeeming content. They elicit emotion,” (184). Koster yearns for a moment when games are no longer viewed as violent & mindless. Videogames should be used as teaching devices, Koster says games need to illuminate aspects of ourselves that we do not understand fully (186). This is the intention of art. Currently, videogames are stuck in a rut, however. As Koster sees it, there is very little in the way of gray thinking – too much is based on decisions that are either right or wrong. We are all familiar with games that punish us for making the wrong choice. For example, running into a goomba in Super Mario Bros. will cause Mario to die & start the level over, but jumping on the goomba will allow Mario to progress further & continue his quest to save the Princess. Punishment, then, is short lived, but it is the punishment that leads to feelings of inadequacy which in turn lead to the feeling of boredom. If a player cannot figure out in a relatively easy fashion how to progress, then frustration ensues. Conversely, if a game is too easy, boredom will rear its ugly head again.

The problems Koster deals with here are fundamentally cognitive in nature. He talks mostly puzzles and their subsequent effects on the gamer. He also speaks, in an overarching fashion, about the current state of games and how a change is needed. Two things he never mentions explicitly, however, are the controller and affect. He talks about fun & control, but never the underlying affective implications of either. Current videogame theory (for the most part) fails in its discussion of the controller. It appears that this physical aspect of the gaming experience is taken as a given. However, without the controller there is no physical and emotional connector from the player to the game.

I recently played a flight simulator game at an arcade. Before I describe the gaming experience, it should be noted that the arcade has changed. Essentially, arcades have fallen to the wayside in favor of entertainment complexes – huge places that have a multitude of activities to take part in, full service restaurants, and sports on big screen televisions. The experience is not unlike walking into a casino, the feeling of having your senses bombarded from all directions.  While this is a very public space, the majority of games are of a solo nature.  Even competitive games require the players to look at separate screens or take separate turns.

Arcade games are unique in that they have to offer players something that home consoles cannot.  Console games have better graphics & are mocap boxingusually played in a less public space – a basement, bedroom, computer lab, really spaces that are still public, but within the confines of a home.  Many of the games use motion capture technology to bring players a full body experience.  For example, Mocap Boxing (pictured left) situates the player as an up and coming boxer who must work his way through the ranks to win the championship.  The game is essentially a 1st person fighter with boxing gloves (Koster claims that most games are fundamentally the same in terms of mechanics only the dressing is different).  Before the Nintendo Wii was released, these games that required the player’s entire body were a reason to go to an arcade.  The Wii has repurposed motion capture for at home use, so now games like Mocap Boxing seem dated.

However, some games still maintain a level of novelty.  18 Wheeler (pictured right) requires players to man a big rig and make a delivery within a certain amount of time.  The logic of the arcade is that of the drift.  Barthes tells us that the drift refers to not respecting the whole.  In an arcade setting, it becomes nearly impossible to finish a game (i.e. “beat the game,” or play to the game’s end).  Instead, it is assumed players will drift from game to game finding pleasure in the novelty rather that the overall substance of the game.  This is precisely the reason I sat down to play the flight simulator.  I had no intention of completing the 3 missions, but I was drawn in by the desire to fly a jet fighter, if only in the context of a videogame.

February 17, 2007

Some Koster

Filed under: games, koster — montageman @ 9:53 pm

Since games are generally about power, control, and those other primitive things, the stories tend to be so as well. This means they tend to be power fantasies. That’s generally considered to be a pretty juvenile sort of story (86).

Aesthetics are about recognizing patterns, not learning new ones. Delight strikes when we recognize patterns but are surprised by them. Delight doesn’t last – it’s fleeting. Recognition is not an extended process (94).

Fun is about learning in a context where there is no pressure, and that is why games matter (98).

Games do not permit progress. Games do not permit innovation. They present a pattern. Innovating out of pattern is by definition outside of the magic circle [Huizinga]. You don’t get to change the physics of a game (116).

The destiny of games is to become boring, not to be fun (118).

A given gender presentation is a solution choice – a tool the player is using to solve problems presented by the online setting (132).

All media exert influence on their audiences.  But it is almost always the core of the medium that exerts the most influence because the rest is dressing (170).

February 12, 2007

On GAM3R 7H3ORY (part 1)

Filed under: affect, boredom — montageman @ 6:39 pm

McKenzie Wark’s brilliant GAM3R 7H3ORY is a critique on gaming unlike anything I’ve seen.  The section on boredom is especially intriguing.  I think that there is something incredibly interesting going on here (in the boredom section).  The idea that surplus (of time, of money, of space) is essential for survival.  Moreover, conscious choices are made to fill that surplus of time with videogames, movies, books, the web, etc.  Oddly, we become bored with these escapes as well.  Prior to the boredom, however, there is genuine interest.  An interest that is always waning.  One minute we love to play, the next we despise it, but twenty minutes later we love it again.  The continuum of interest is touchy indeed.

Controllers, Control, & Interactivity (Part 1)

Filed under: console, controllers, videogames — montageman @ 4:09 am

Jeff Han’s presentation got me thinking about games. I agree with his assertion that we should move away from the restrictions of the keyboard and other physical devices. The interface needs to be changed. When he’s moving the images around on screen, thoughts of Minority Report (Spielberg, 2002) come to mind, but even more than that – playing the Wii came to mind.

Very rarely, if at all, in videogame schloarship is there any talk of the appartus. I would argue this is because not much has changed since Pong hit the streets so many years ago. Sure, there have been alternative methods of control like the Dance Dance Revolution pad, Nintendo Track and Field pad (a.k.a the power pad), or the power glove, but for the for the most part, if a side by side comparsion is done between early arcade games, the first consoles up and through the next generation consoles, most glaringly obvious is that out method of control has not changed much. Nintendo is the one company that has begun to change that, but we will return to that momentarily.

atari controllerTake, for example, the Atari 2600 controller (pictured left) – a seemingly simple device, a joystick and one button. In contrast, the Xbox controller (pictured right), more complex, right? Visually, yes – more buttons, more control pads, etc. However, the essential function of both is the same – to give the gamer the ability to control the onscreen avatar throughout the apparatus (console). Both controllers are physically connected to the console, which then physically connects the gamer to the console. The hardware then becomes an extension of the player. Even prior to consoles and arcade games, games like the one pictured left (c. 1924) allowed players to control a series of players with a joystick or some similar type of lever. Interactivity has always been an issue. Videogames bring interactivity to a level of mirroring. It follows that if a player is to become affectively interested in a game and its characters the game must respond attentively to the player’s commands.

Part of the enjoyment of gaming deals with, as I’ve mentioned previously, the ability to control someone or something normally considered not controllable. While the control given the gamer is within very strict constraints, the responsiveness of the controller is paralleled by no other activity.

February 8, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith and Wikipedia

Filed under: wikipedia — montageman @ 9:05 pm

Here is the current wikipedia entry on Anna Nicole Smith’s death (around 4:00 PM):

“On February 8, 2007, Smith was found unresponsive in a room of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. She was rushed to hospital. A witness told local media that paramedics were pumping her chest when they took her out of the hotel. It was later the she was found with cum in her ears. She had been raped by a puerto rican bell man. Awkwardly enough, traces of anal lube were found in her left nostril. [1] [2]

Obviously, this is falsified, but it is one of those web moments that will soon be edited & never made mention of again.

[Update – 6:40PM]

Wikipedia now reads:

“On February 8, 2007, Smith was found unresponsive in a room at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. At 1:38 p.m. (18:38 UTC) a nurse called 911 and at 1:45 p.m. a bodyguard administered CPR before she was rushed to Memorial Regional Hospital at 2:10 p.m and pronounced dead at 2:49 p.m. She was later pronounced dead upon arrival. Smith’s boyfriend, Howard K. Stern (not to be confused with the radio personality), was with her when she died and has reported to Entertainment Tonight that her temperature was running high the night before.[20][21][22][23]

The other entry was much more scandalous…

February 7, 2007

Multiplicity and Gaming

Filed under: identity — montageman @ 5:04 am

Tara McPherson in “Self, Other, and Electronic Media,” talks about the virtual self and its ability to inhabit different points of view.  She sees this as a moment of a fantasy of colonialism (188).   Her concern is Levinasian in scope – cyberspace allows us to become the other rather than engaging with the other.  “Players or viewers are invited to try other points of view in rapid succession, an exploration of characters or presepctives.  Click a menu; be a Ninja.  Click once more; you’re white again,” (188).  McPherson is responding to Bolter and Grusin here – Bolter & Grusin argue, “the freedom to be oneself is the freedom to become someone (or something) else.  Because there is no single, privileged point of view, the self becomes a series of “other” points of view- the intersection of all the possible points of view that can be taken in a given space,” (248).  Identity, then, is treated as fluid & malleable.  In the context of gaming, McPherson’s comment regarding the click is true.  The gamer can be a Ninja at one moment and then Peyton Manning the next.  Part of the pleasure of gaming is this fluidity, a transience that does not demand fidelity to any one character.

February 5, 2007

Mimicry & videogames

Filed under: caillois, play, videogames — montageman @ 4:18 am

Roger Caillois outlines 4 distinct types of play – agon, alea, mimcry, and ilinx.  I’d like to take a second to look at mimicry.

“Play can consist not only of deploying actions or submitting to one’s fate in imaginary milieu, but of becoming an illusory character oneself, and of so behaving, (19)”.  As mentioned in my previous post on Realsports Football,  mimicry is a fundmental part of videogames.  In that example, it is possible, through the lack of graphical detail, to mimic any player at any time.  The way the game is played is up to the player of the game.  This mimicry is taken to a new level in games like Madden NFL 2007.  The player need not imagine that he’s playing Michael Vick because the artificial intelligence of the game console is functioning like Michael Vick.  The player (controlling a defender) then gains pleasure when he sacks Michael Vick, a pleasure much different than when that same player sacks Jon Kitna.  However, there is a barrier here.  The gamer knows he is not Brian Urlacher – he is only controlling an avatar (or any other defensive player), so through the formal structure of the game – the player’s pleasure is based almost exclusively on his ability to mimic the play of real players.

This is wholly different in MMORPGs.  In games like World of Warcraft or Second Life we create our avatars and impart a personality, partially our own and partially fantasy.   If only for a few hours a night, gamers can be elves, dwarves, warriors, or themselves.

February 4, 2007

Manhunt and Risk

Filed under: affect, play, videogames — montageman @ 6:07 am

Brian Sutton-Smith referencing J.P. Jones makes the following claim:

A rationalist theory of intrinsic motivation is the view that gambling is one of the few ways of risking something of personal value without the severely negative consequences that occur when you take real risks physically, emotionally, or socially. This is what makes it a play form, it is said, the fact that one can indeed take risks without disastrous consequences (71).

Going back to Manhunt, it could be said that satisfaction is derived from killing because we can get away with it. The risk of being killed is overshadowed by the pleasure of seeing our avatar kill his enemies. We’re willing to risk the life of our avatar – something we couldn’t do in any “real life” situation. The consequences are not worrisome because we can save our progress & start back at the last save point – totally resurrected & ready to go again.

February 3, 2007

More Manhunt

Filed under: affect, videogames — montageman @ 9:53 pm

Playing Manhunt last night, I found myself no longer concerned with the narrative progression of the story. Instead (and I don’t know what this says about me), I found myself wanting to kill people. When a character is killed, the camera moves from the avatars back to the front and shows a fetishistic view of your avatar killing. “The Director,” a disembodied voice, tells you to kill these characters, but the player is not clear who or why he is killing. The kill and the view of the kill depends on what weapon is being carried – at this point, the choices have been a glass shard or a plastic bag. A piece of glass is jutted into the jugular. The plastic bag is used as a suffocation device (below). Either way, pleasure is gained from watching the act.

The cutaway video of the kill is not the only way to see a kill in Manhunt. In order to see the cutaway video, the player must sneak up on his foe and hit the ‘X’ or square button at the right moment. If timing is off, then I must kill by striking my enemy multiple times with the chance that he can fight back. The Manhunt‘s pleasure in killing is highest when there is no chance of prey fighting back. The only time this happens is when the game cuts away, thus the most pleasurable moments of killing are not interactive. The player watches the suffocation. The affective cue then is the cut or the game’s use of editing as a formal structure.

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