Lit 80, Fall 2013

Gamer Critique

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by Sai Cheemalapati in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Video games, since their introduction in the mid 1900’s, have come a long way in breadth and scope. When they were first introduced, processing ability was measured in the thousands of operations per second. A game consisted of a blip on the screen representing a person or a ball.  Today, with processing ability measured in the tens of millions of operations per second, games are visual spectacles rivaling the clarity and scope of real life. The often-made comparison is that video games are ‘interactive movies’ (Rutgena).  I argue that video games act as a medium for communication where storytellers can build an epic world and players can channel a bit of their own personalities into their game avatars.

Ian Bogost states “videogames are a medium that lets us play a role within the constraints of a model world” (Bogost 4). The model is constructed by teams of engineers and artists to encompass the scenarios of play – complex rules that govern the virtual world and what is allowed. This world is a medium through which the writers can express a story, and through which we can express ourselves in the form of an avatar. The avatar is a representation in the game where we can act on its virtual surroundings. Through the avatar, we have an impact on the virtual world, and our decisions produce tangible impacts in the virtual world. Consider the video game ‘Skyrim.’ The player is allowed in the beginning of the game to create his or her own avatar. The player can chose from a number of races and hundreds of different options to customize the character to his or her liking. As a result, a personal connection is made. The medium allows for the player to transfer a bit of his or herself into the game and invest in the character. As an open world game, the player is free to journey wherever he or she wants and follow any storyline they choose. There is no pressure in the game to follow the main storyline, and no pressure to play in a particular manner. Players can choose to be magicians, or warriors, or archers or any combination of skill sets. As a result, they build their own story around the character as they level up, gain skills and make a name for themselves in the world. Players feel loss when their companions die or excitement when a new piece of armor looks really cool on their avatar. In the process of playing, a real connection is made to a virtual character. As a medium, the game has succeeded in creating a connection. Many people get addicted to progression – to keep going back and conquering monsters in dungeons to get that new sword or level up one more time.

It is natural to ask why this should be true – that a connection to the player is made in a game like ‘Skyrim.’ Games are a very powerful medium. Like movies can tell powerful stories through images and media, games too can deliver similar experiences. The difference comes through the interactivity. The ability to control characters and put hours of time into a scenario creates a connection that most mediums are unable to capture. The idea of choice comes into play – that games succeed because they allow players to choose what they want to do and how they want to do it.

Wark proposes in his book “Gamer Theory” that “The gamespace of everyday life may be more complex and variegated, but it seems much less consistent, coherent and fair” (Gamer Theory 32).  His suggestion is that games work perhaps because they operate so differently from our world. They must work, as a computer game, on a set of rules defined by the world. As a result, it seems more inherently fair and precise.

Consider another example – the game series ‘Sim City.’ In this video game, there is no story. The player is the mayor of a virtual city with a budget. There are no goals or directions. The mayor is able to place plots and roads and nurture a virtual city and watch it grow. The irritations and mundane realities of being a real mayor are forgone for the satisfaction of placing lots and watching homes rise spontaneously. By playing to the rules of the simulation, a bustling city can be built in no time at all to the satisfaction of the user. What is inherently separated from reality plays to fantasy – the idea of building something through nothing by sheer virtual power. Like Wark says, Sim City removes much of the reality from the game. By dropping more realistic roadblocks in city building and making the player essentially a God in the world, the game world is fair to the user’s demands – to build and destroy.

It follows from the above examples that games are an effective medium for communication between the player and the game and vice versa. Consider a more nontraditional game such as “Flow,” for example. “Flow” has no epic story like big blockbuster games, but it too has an impact on the player. As the game starts, the player is an organism in an underwater world. There are no directions and no indications of where to go. It’s easily observed that moving the mouse causes the organism to move, and that by approaching smaller creatures the organism can eat and grow. With a little bit more experimentation, it can be observed that eating an organism with a red dot moves the player to a deeper level, while eating an organism with a blue dot moves the player to a higher level. The game plants you starting as a lowly creature and you slowly build up until you defeat the final boss. Then you start all over again with a new creature, which you previously encountered as an enemy. The game chooses to start off with no directions or indications for symbolic reason perhaps. The player is a weak organism that has to eat and find it’s way in the world. You find out you can eat others to grow stronger and that others can eat you if you’re not careful. As you grow you learn the way the world works and you can outsmart and defeat your enemies. As a survivor, you were naturally selected to continue your lineage, and at the very end of your journey your organism lays an egg, which hatches back at the beginning. The game tells a story about life and slow progression and is oddly addicting. There’s an anxiousness that is built in the player to see what’s next – to try to get that next stage of evolution or see just how big the organism can get. “Flow” is a game that’s intended to be artistic – to make the player think and interact with a piece of art designed to be beautiful in visuals, audio, and interactivity.

Video games have come a long way since their inception to become artistic masterpieces. They build on established forms like movies, and through the option of choice they allow a new level of involvement for players. They are unique in this manner as there are few mediums that are able to demand so much involvement and evoke so much emotion.


Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. Print.

Wark, McKenzie. “Agony.” Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. N. pag. Print.


Rugnetta, Mike. Idea Channel: Top 5 Most Artful Video GamesPBS. Web.

Videogame Critique

September 27th, 2013 | Posted by Sheel Patel in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

I’ve never really been too much of a gamer. Don’t be mistaken, I have played my fair share of video games ranging from Pokemon on the GameBoy Color to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the PlayStation 1 to Halo 3 on the Xbox 360. Although these games have brought me enjoyment, I never really got into the stories of most games or was never willing to invest that much time into something I may never complete. After analyzing multiple independent games like Portal, Fl0w, and The Company of Myself, I really regret not getting into video games earlier. My preconceptions of video games as simple or complex challenges with no real meaning or function except to entertain have definitely changed after my realization that games can be used as media.

A medium is a dynamic substance or object that can be used to portray a message, implicitly or explicitly. Classically, artistic and intellectual mediums were restricted to printed books, music, movies, etc. But today, with the surge of technology and the internet, a rise of the Digital Humanities can be seen which incorporates a wide range of mediums from interactive charts to sound banks and even video games. If a medium is a way to express a message, why can’t a video game be a medium? According to Ian Bogost in his book How to Do Things With Videogames , video games are a medium that let us play a role within the constraints of a model world. I completely agree with this idea. The world we live in today is controlled by sets of inherent rules, physical laws, traditions, cultures, that inhibit us from doing many things. Gravity keeps us from soaring into the stratosphere, laws prevent [most] people from ravaging cities and stealing cars, most people are not athletically capable of playing in the NBA. These sets of rules and facts of life are why I believe people play video games and why video games can serve as a medium, a way to escape and test the limits of human imagination, and learn about ourselves doing so.

One way I can justify this is through the game Portal. Portal is a first-person puzzle game where the user controls or is embodied as a women wielding an electronic gun that shoots two distinct portal ends, orange and blue. The portals create a visual and physical connection between the two different areas in 3D space. The user is challenged to solve a series of puzzles using only this device. Portal shows an element of how a game serves as a medium, through its capability of allowing users to experience a ‘cyberworld’ where portal teleportation is available while maintaining general physics. If users jump through a portal on the ground, they will be propelled at the same speed out of the other portal maintaining linear momentum. This serves as a medium for users to break the boundaries of the physical world and explore the ability to travel instantaneously from one place to another. Another main point that seems to be interesting in the game Portal is the choice of a female protagonist. In most video games that are characterized as shooter games, where the character wields weapons and shoots and usually kills others, the main character or avatar is generally male. Portal breaks this stereotype with the female protagonist and I find that very interesting and deliberate by the creators of the game. This is a key example of how a video game can serve as a medium. The main character being female, brings attention to the fact that many first-person shooter games are male dominated. Another possible purpose is to entice more female gamers, in a hobby that is often characterized or stereotyped as male dominated.

Other uses of video games as mediums can be seen through the game Fl0w, which personally kept me entertained for hours on end. At first glance Fl0w may seem like an over simplistic, evolutionary interactive game but after delving into the game you can see that it is way more than just a medium of entertainment. Fl0w’s distinct visual color palettes, image rendering (especially on the PS3), and simplicity deem Fl0w as an artistic medium, along with its playability. Playing Fl0w feels like playing through a piece of artwork and its different layers. As your organism slowly grows, you can progress through different levels or layers of the medium you are in and encounter new organisms, colors, environments, and sounds. Fl0w is much more than an interactive video game, it is more of an experience of ‘flow,’ a term often used in psychology and Neuroscience. Flow is a state between anxiety and boredom where if completely engaged, the user loses track of time and the outside world and becomes fully focused on the task at hand. Personally, through the visual palette and simplistic gameplay and music, I entered a flow like state when playing Fl0w. In that way the game Fl0w served as a medium showing that video games or mediums in general do not have to be over saturated with complex plots, scenery, music, characters, in order to maintain the ultimate stage of focus, flow, of the user.

Overall I think that critically evaluating video games based on principles like the effect they have  on users both mentally and physically, the message they try to get across, and the sheer entertainment level they offer  can be beneficial in many realms. The use of video games as experimental mediums is something I believe can change the way we think about different issues ranging from ethics to physics. I think that video games can be used as tools for people to explore unrestricted boundaries and break away from the constraints of the physical world. Thus by doing this, they can teach us more about the physical world and the mentality of humans in general. Therefore studying video games of the past and present should be at the same priority for scholars, as books and movies are today. We cannot ignore the dynamic and inherently experimental properties of video games and how these properties and the way they are implemented reflect on the zeitgeist of society.