Montageman: A dude who writes

June 24, 2007

Gaming through School

Filed under: Academic, news, videogames — montageman @ 6:19 pm

NPROn NPR’s All Things Considered this week, Heather Chaplin (co-author of Smartbomb) reported on a new school in New York that will be back by a million dollar grant from the McArthur Foundation. The school’s curriculum will be centered around game design & gaming literacy. Streaming audio of the story can be found here.

Gaming literacy is a fairly new concept & definitely goes beyond the realm of video games. The NPR piece argues that video games are systems and in order to properly function within these systems knowledge must be gained and used effectively. Essentially, this is a similar type of learning that we do all through school. For example in order to understand calculus, we must first have a strong grip on pre-calculus which requires knowledge of geometry which requires knowledge of addition and subtraction and so on. Collection of knowledge is prevalent across nearly all fields and gaming appears to be an effective way for kids to grasp these ideas.

This school is a tremendous idea & I would love to teach there (since I’m way too old to attend). However, the piece runs parallel to another segment that aired a day later, which can be here. Manhunt 2, as previously reported, had its release date suspended. The argument is that the game is “too violent,” so violent in fact that it was given the dreaded Adults Only rating – a rating tantamount to the NC-17 or X rating given to films. The AO rating is a kiss of death for sales because major retailers like Best Buy and Walmart will not carry games with this rating. This seems strange to me. On the one hand, neither place can carry a supposedly ultra-violent video game, but Walmart sells guns, ammo, and books by Ann Coulter and Best Buy sells recordings (and maybe books) by Larry the Cable Guy – all of which are much more offensive to me than a little killing in a video game.mario

When the two stories are looked at together, a problem arises. If kids are learning game design in school at such an early age, will they also be told what kinds of games to design? Will games like Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto, and others be demonized in favor of less violent games? And then we must define violence, right? Why is Mario killing a goomba with a fireball any different from the killing done in Manhunt 2? The question becomes how do we feel when Mario kills a goomba versus how do we feel when a strangulation happens on Manhunt? Is the feeling so different that a person would be moved to mimic Manhunt rather than Mario? Hopefully, this new school will teach kids the feeling behind games not just the content.

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February 3, 2007

Definitions of Play

Filed under: Academic, play — montageman @ 8:22 pm

Johan Huizinga defines play as:

Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside of “ordinary” life as being “not serious”, but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means (13).

Working through Huizinga, Roger Caillois’s definition of play is:

Play can be defined as an activity which is essentially:

    1. Free: in which playing is not obligatory; if it were, it would at once lose its attractive and joyous quality as diversion;
    2. Separate: circumscribed within the limits of space and time, defined and fixed in advance;
    3. Uncertain: the course of which cannot be determined, nor the result attained beforehand, and some latitude for innovations being left to the player’s initiative;
    4. Unproductive: creating neither goods, nor wealth, nor new elements of any kind; and, except for the exchange of property among the players, ending in a situation identical to that prevailing at the beginning of the game;
    5. Governed by rules: under conventions that suspend ordinary laws, and for the moment establish new legislation, which alone counts;
    6. Make-believe: accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality, as against real life (9-10)

      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.

      October 5, 2006

      South Park & World of Warcraft

      Filed under: Academic, southpark, videogames — montageman @ 4:23 am

      On tonight’s season premiere of South Park, the show was focused on World of Warcraft, which I have not played. However, I do not have to be familiar with the game because what the show was concerned with tonight was not the game itself, but rather the contextual placement of the game within peoples’ lives (or lack thereof). At one point, one of the executives asks, “How do you kill that which has no life?” A loaded statement to say the least – especially when considered with the W.O.W.’s CEO’s later response to the questions of if he had the game, “No, I have a life,” he responds. The problem here is that all players do have a life and in the world of the game – they have infinite lives. “Life” is being defined as physical activity outside of the bedroom or office where the computer or console is located. It is as though these games drain life force from its players. Once players become immersed in these games, life outside of Warcraft becomes meaningless. As with many episodes of South Park, an injustice causes the boys to take up arms against WOW.

      Gamers do not like deceit. Cheating as a means of winning a game robs the action of its play-character and spoils it altogether, because for the essence of play is that rules must be kept-that it be fair play (Huizinga 52). This includes never putting the game down. Play must be an escape from daily routine, as such, the gamer with “no life” is no longer a player, rather he has become a worker. As the kids continue to play, they devolve into gelatinous, zit-infested blobs. No longer concerned with anything but Warcraft, it has become their job to eliminate the murderer in order to restore justice to the world (of warcraft). At this point, the game is no longer fun and has lost its playful character.

      At the end of the show, Kyle asks Cartman, “We killed him – now what?” to which Cartman responds, “Now, we get to play the game.”

      September 22, 2006

      War games

      Filed under: Academic, videogames, war — montageman @ 3:21 am

      I need to read this book.

      Click on the arcade link and you’re able to play a series of flash games that are based on war, more precisely, the current war on terror. Playing these games recalls the event of 9/11. Not explicitly, of course, you’re not asked to subvert the planes from crashing in to the world trade center, but in one of the games involves the gamer choosing between “proper” detainee treatment or torture – in a nod to Mortal Kombat, the only way to end this game is to perform a “fatality” of sorts by shooting the prisioner. This can only happen once the prisoner has been properly neglected, beaten, or overfed. Torture has been in the news lately (through the President’s desire to use terror on prisoners and the mainstream media’s lack of outrage against this).

      This game not only puts a humorous spin on terror – it also exposes the frightening extremes that this type of humor can lead to. Sure, it’s funny to overfeed the silly lookin’ aye-rab, but too many donuts and his stomach begins to bloat. Soon enough, a gun shows up in corner for you to put this pathetic prisoner out of his misery. How dare he not take his donuts like a man – shoot his ass!

      Of course, I’m sitting in my basement force feeding digital carbohydrates down a virtual terrorist’s gullet – a virtual terrorist who ressurects whenever I feel the urge to torture – or just play around. Kill one and another pops up in his place.

      September 7, 2006

      We Stand as One and Folksonomy

      Filed under: Academic, folksonomy, schlock — montageman @ 3:52 am

      I came across this wonderful music video today:

      Oddly enough, it was tagged as “schlock” on del.icio.us

      I’ve recently taken an interest in schlock as a cultural phenomenon. More specifically, my decision to use Uwe Boll’s films as the focal point of my masters essay necessitates a genre beyond horror. Boll’s films are not good by conventional standards, in fact, they are poor – poorly reviewed, each of his last 3 films are in iMDB’s Bottom 100 list, and poorly made. Why then is there a need to examine his work?

      The last 3 films were all based on videogames, not based the same way Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was, rather Boll has attempt to form a contextual basis for the games. For example, his treatment of House of the Dead is that of a prequel. The final shot has the hero & his damsel flying back into the city under ominous circumstances. This is where the game picks up.

      Boll relies on horror/B-movie genre conventions and (unintentionally) becomes schlocky. Much in the same way We Stand as One is schlocky. There is a level of seriousness and an inability to be self-referential inherent in both of these examples. Schlock, then, becomes a tag that refers to subject matter of what is being watched. Maybe by referring to Boll’s films as schlock, it is giving too much credit to Boll and not enough to previous schlock films. However, the playfulness that is present in schlock films (i.e. Evil Dead 1 and 2) does lend itself well to videogames but the opposite is not necessarily true.

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