Montageman: A dude who writes

March 4, 2008

Rock Band

Filed under: affect, play, videogames — Tags: , , , , , — montageman @ 2:17 am

I was given an Xbox 360 as a birthday present this year.  A wonderful gift, indeed, made even better because one of my brothers has let me borrow his copy of Rock Band with all of the accompanying instruments.  Essentially, Rock Band takes the Guitar Hero model of rhythm gaming further and adds drums and vocals.   What is great about these games (along with Dance Dance Revolution and the like) is there is an endless replay factor.  Even after you’ve scored 100% on a particular song, you can jump online and compete against an unlimited and ever growing number of players.  Furthermore, the game play of Rock Band does not require learning the Xbox controller scheme rather you must learn the guitar/drum/microphone scheme, which may be easier for those not familiar with controllers.  Similar to the Wii model of using the controller as a point of action, the player is actually doing the actions on screen.   Much different from games like Grand Theft Auto or Madden NFL 2008 where the player is using buttons to stand in for actions i.e. the A button shoots a gun or throws the football, Rock Band players are banging the drums, singing into the microphone, and strumming a guitar.  Thus engagement with the gamer is taken to a new level beyond the controller as representation – the A button is no longer the trigger.  Drum sticks are necessary to play Rock Band.   The importance of physical engagement in rhythm games complicates the relationship of the player to the controller and the game.


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

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 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?

      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).

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