Montageman: A dude who writes

March 2, 2007

Attachment & Gaming

Filed under: affect, games — montageman @ 4:24 am

Going through Half-Real again, there is a moment that must be refuted here. Juul states,

The emotional attachment of the player to the outcome is a psychological feature of the game activity. A player may feel genuinely happy if he wins, and unhappy if he loses. Curiously, this not just related to player effort: a player may still feel happy when winning a game of pure chance. As such, attachment of the player to the outcome is a less formal category than the previous ones in that it depends on the player’s attitude toward the game. The spoilsport is one who refuses to seek enjoyment in winning, or refuses to become unhappy by losing (40).

Juul is grossly understating the importance of affect in the gaming experience. The attempt here is to define emotional attachment, but all that is defined is winning versus losing. Attachment to the outcome is but one type of attachment in videogames. However, attachment is not my concern here. Instead, my issue is with the reductionist view that enjoyment is derived strictly by winning or losing.

Videogame theory seems to always assume that players are competent at playing. Rules are quickly learned, controls are figured out, and the game is played in a seemingly fluid and effortless fashion. Hence, the notion of playing a videogame seems like a quaint & mindless way to spend leisure time. Becoming competent is work and for there to be a desire to work during free time, there must be interest. In Shame and its Sisters, Eve Sedgwick and Adam Frank take on Silvan Tomkins’ affect theory and attempt work notions of affect into critical theory. Interest, they claim, is a positive affect that has a function of engaging the player in what is necessary and in what is possible for him to be interested in (76). In order for interaction to occur with an object (in this case the game), the player must be initially interested. However, the game must provide material (i.e. storyline, graphics, controls) that maintains the interest of the player.

Destroy All Humans (THQ, 2005) is interesting from the beginning – even its title is interesting. The box art (pictured right) looks different. Instead of the usual human saves the world game, the player’s objective here is to take on the role of the alien and destroy all humans. Similar to movie posters, the box art for videogames is the first affective connection (interest) the buyer – the player is at first a buyer (or renter), so the what is being purchased is the game as commodity.

Destroy All Humans offers players an opportunity to be the alien in an effort to take over the earth – a simple retooling of the invasion narrative made popular by countless popular culture like Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds.   This game is essentially a novelty game. Level design, controls, character mapping is no different than any other 3rd person shooter.  However, the games works with regard to pleasure, however fleeting, because it can be fun to take on the role of an other.



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