Lit 80, Fall 2013

Tag: videogames

Video Game Flow Chat

Hey Everyone,


I randomly came across this so I wanted to share. It reminded me of how we were discussing interactive and impassive video games, but this gets very specific.

I included the actual image and site where I found it.




Game(r) Critique

Just like many other technological elements, video games act as a medium that are capable of portraying themes, emotions, lessons, judgments, truths, and many other factors that can teach us things about the world, ourselves, and others. In the introduction to How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogot states, “We can understand the relevance of a medium by looking at the variety of things it does” (3), and games play a much larger role than just providing entertainment, whether we are aware of this or not. Games can be used as to train people—more emotionally and mentally than physically—for real life situations. Army soldiers play video games to prepare their reaction times and emotions for battle and astronauts utilize virtual reality for flight simulation. In both cases, the participants are able to undergo real life experiences minus the reality, thus ultimately removing the aspect of death. And it’s not to say that this doesn’t have an affect on their experiences, as there is a survival element within all of us that is activated in the presence of near-death situations. Yet, being able to prepare for the other emotional aspects tied into such scenarios can prove advantageous. But games don’t have to be “educational” to prove a point, and the point that they prove may not even be intentional.

I know from playing games I have experienced real-life emotions—such as an increase in heart rate, sweaty hands, an increase in concentration—in response to situations, regardless of whether or not those situations are considered “realistic”. In that moment, you are immersed in the game, you are the avatar, and it is that life that is your focus. But just because you are removed from reality doesn’t mean that you cannot learn from these “artificial experiences”. In fact, games provide a means for us to explore the world (or worlds) and experience perspectives that reality may inhibit us from perceiving. There are elements of a game, such as multiple dimensions or “power-ups”, which do not exist in our reality yet that still allow us to connect to the world in ways similar to how we would connect to our world, to aid us in challenges and direct how we approach problem solving. The study of games and reflection of ourselves—within the constraint of the rules of the game’s creator—could offer interesting insight into us as humans and the way we approach different situations and react to scenarios.

Games don’t have to be “life-like”, such as Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, or the Sims, all of which simulate real-life situations. I found that I learned more from the ones that removed me from the realism and placed me in a situation where I didn’t feel like I was in a game, or even experiencing it. Take for instance Storyteller, a relatively simple game that involves moving three characters around a fixed setting. The game seems simple, yet it became more interesting as you began to realize how moving the characters affected the ending. As I continued to play around with the characters, I began to see a pattern of which combinations would produce which endings. I had become a “god”, capable of manipulating the fate of the three characters. This is how the game became more than just a game; this is where it became a medium. It provides us with an interface through which we can examine our own morals and the consequences—without having to “actually” experience them. But just because it isn’t “real” doesn’t mean the game doesn’t invoke emotions. As I toyed with the characters, I realized that I was experiencing different emotional reactions to the different endings, and these reactions demonstrated how I perceive relationships and the subsequent actions that I took. Once you have created one story, and thus generated an ending, you can continue to manipulate the characters to change that ending. I found that the endings the included the death of one of the characters (usually marked by a blackened sky) made me go back and automatically try combinations that would reverse the black sky. However, in the relationships that ended with two of the characters alive (and with hearts and a blue sky), I was content and almost reluctant to change anything, regardless of whether the third character was dead or alive. These characters do not have names, do not have a back-story, are not portrayed as good or evil, and do not speak. I was judging them based on how I had placed them within the setting and on the resulting outcome, an outcome dictated by an algorithm. Though I was the “god” I was still confined to the rules of the game. It didn’t matter who they were or the intricate details that would play a role if they actually had “lives”. Yet I still cared about them, and sought to have a happy ending, even if that required the death of one. What does that say about me as a person? Am I that quick to judge, that quick to take sides? Am I that indifferent towards one life if it means the happiness of two others? These are all things I began to think about as I continued making combinations, and it was through the medium of this game that I was able to recognize these aspects of my self.

Storyteller is a simple game, a prototype even, and yet I was able to discover traits and think differently than I had before. If such a simple medium were able to provoke such an outcome, it would seem that the game as a medium holds truths and insights that go beyond beating an algorithm. You don’t just play a game, you experience it, and just as you learn from experiencing life, you learn from the game.

The same can be said for “The Company of Myself”, through which you learn the story of a lonely character’s life as you progress through levels. Each level begins with a quote from the character, aimed at giving you a hint for completing the level but also depicting the sad reality of the characters isolated life. The character is alone for most of the game until he falls in love with another character, Kathryn. For a few levels, you work with both of these players together, and through this you experience the bond between them as they help each other, and thus the gamer, progress to each level. However, at one point you are required to sacrifice Kathryn in order to complete the level. When I was playing, I experienced a sense of guilt for having been responsible for her death, yet conflicted because there was no other way to complete the level and continue going with the game. This guilt that I felt is shared by the character, as demonstrated through his quotes at the beginning of the levels. The game portrays a story in an interactive way that forces you to experience questions and sympathize with emotions in ways that another medium, such as a book or medium, could not. While those allow you to feel emotions and connect with the characters, you are detached from the story, whereas the video game element allows you to immerse yourself in the story, to be the one making the decisions–and it is that factor that affects how we perceive and reflect on the story we are given.

Games reflect elements of our lives and are models of our experiences, thus they will be different for each person who interacts with them. Games serve as a medium through which we can reflect on ourselves based on the reactions and decisions we make through game play. Life itself can be considered a game—both have goals, achievements, rules, challenges, and consequences and require contemplation of morals and values. When we play a game, we are playing a role with our actions, constrained by the rules of the game, yet free from the confines of death, as death is not as absolute in a game. But just because we have a reset button doesn’t mean we don’t treat a game as we would treat our own life.

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

Videogame Critique

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.

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