Archive for the ‘Academic’ Category

Riot’s League of Legends is a multiplayer game that consists of two teams. Each team seeks to destroy the other’s Nexus, a giant crystal near the back of the enemy base. What is interesting about this game is that, depending on the region, players subscribe to a particular meta. When a player deviates from that meta, it tends to incite other players, which often results in verbal punishment.

On North American servers, the meta tends to center on our capitalistic ideals: certain players come out as power players with everyone else supporting them. For example, those who fill the Attack Damage Carry (ADC) role usually end up carrying the fight because of the high amounts of attack damage they do. The longer the game goes on, the more effective they become until the Nexus is destroyed. These characters usually have the most kills, and other players are expected to help them get those kills to ensure that one player has the chance to optimize their equipment. In fact, other characters are expected to die to protect the ADC. An ADC usually plays at the bottom lane as opposed to the middle or top lanes. They are usually high damage dealers and are fairly “squishy” and need a support character. However, when a person takes a traditionally ADC character to a different lane where they are not necessarily as effective in this meta, other players tend to get frustrated or don’t understand why, often resorting to verbal harassment as a way to express their discontent with the broken meta.

The attitudes of these players, I think, is hauntingly representative of the normative American culture. The general populous expects its members to act and behave a certain way and to maintain a certain mindset.  It rejects any deviation from the “norm.” If a Marxist bent is added, it can be said that the ruling class is responsible for establishing these norms. Most often cited as the ruling class in American culture is the white male and his patriarchal iron fist. If you are not a white male, you are automatically disenfranchised as “deviant” from the norm. Other genders, races, and sexual preferences are seen as just that–“Other.” They are seen as a threat, which results in abuse whether verbally, physically, or politically. Such actions are certainly stunting to the development of the culture.

This is the same mindset that many players bring to League of Legends. Because they do not like other players “deviating” from the meta, they are practically stunting and discouraging experimentation and development of new metas that could have a lasting impact on the way the game is played. I find it really interesting that this normative mindset can be observed in the microcosm of the game. In fact, the League of Legends community is considered one of the worst because of the number of players who resort to verbal abuse and other unsportsmanlike behavior. To combat the notorious negativity of the League community, Riot created what they call The Tribunal System, which “empowers the League of Legends community to regulate the conduct that it considers appropriate and supports the tenets of the Summoner’s Code” (Tribunal FAQ). In other words, the players regulate the community. It will be interesting to see how normative attitudes might change in the game.

If the League community is considered one of the most negative gaming communities because of normative mindsets, what does that say about our society?

I finally finally FINALLY graduated. I got so tired of being in school. But it’s not really the break I thought it would be, because now I’m trying to decide whether or not to go back for Ph.D. I think I’ll take the year and let that idea steep for awhile.

As I mentioned before, I was working on a really big project. One of the requirements for my degree program was to edit a paper previously written to be publication-worthy. Except I did mine over the summer and had to restart. Twice. It took forever to finally get on a track where I could weed out the information I didn’t need to include and just write. Apparently that was more difficult than I anticipated. But, I’m pretty proud of the final product. I felt all smart and stuff.

Anyway, I’m not going to put up the whole thing because I may use it later for something or other, but I wrote about the political discourses in Skyrim and incorporated some theoretical badassery from some of the articles and books I read over the summer. I explored what it meant to be a player in the specific type of game Skyrim is and how that reflects the different levels of immersion. I also looked at how players’ real world experiences could affect their decisions about how to respond to the different discourses presented in the game. Then I looked pretty hard at the historical references in the game and how players’ knowledge of them could affect their decisions. That led me to analyze the various narrative layers in the game and how players’ decisions create one of those layers. And finally, I observed how that particular layer looked throughout the Elder Scrolls series.

It was really tedious and really frustrating. I feel so sorry for my poor advisor who basically held my hand through the whole thing. But I learned a lot and I’m thankful for it. I just don’t want to do that again for a while. ha!

I was lately introduced to Charles Baudelaire (love his shock value!) and his ideas on modernity and what it means for individuals as culture changes and morphs. One of the ideas that has stuck with me is the idea of sensory overload. For Baudelaire in the nineteenth century, that meant having to learn what kinds of sounds and sights to ignore and what to pay attention to as he walked around Paris amid the new technologies that were popping up throughout the city. The same overload Baudelaire experienced still goes on today, particularly with videogames.

That point was reinforced for me when I read an article from Gonzalo Frasca’s baby, ludology.org, JET SET RADIO – STILL TASTES GREAT AFTER ALL THESE YEARS” in which he pointed out how we get better at learning how to play videogames and how it takes less time to go from game to game and get comfortable with the controls. It made me aware of how my husband picks up games and just plays with very little difficulty. He makes everything look so easy, and he knows where to look to get goodies and bonuses and such, whereas I have a hard time doing that. However, now that I have more time to play, I’ve witnessed how learning gets easier after my own experiences of having to adapt to different games.

One of those games was Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram. My husband recently pulled out his Dreamcast (which didn’t work, so we had to order a new one) so he could introduce me to a game from his golden years. In Virtual-On you control a robot (like in Gundam or Xenogears) and shoot at other robots in a fight to the death. The whole time I played it, I got really frustrated because the controls are difficult to get used to. For example, in order to lock the camera onto your opponent, you have to “dash” and fire weapons. Pressing the required buttons to execute said operations takes some really athletic bending of the carpels! Talk about awkward. And on top of that, there are so many colors and things going on that it makes you feel like you’re going to have an epileptic seizure. Once you get used to picking out the important things to pay attention to, it’s a really fun game.

After Virtual-On, I started playing Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption. I love the open-world RPGs (as you’ve probably noticed from my Elder Scrolls obsession blatantly and shamelessly plastered all over previous posts) because I get to explore and talk to people and do whatever I want whenever I want. Having never played their other franchise, Grand Theft Auto, I was like “Sweeeeeet. Skyrim except in the Wild West!” Aw hell no! That was a stupid expectation. After much yelling and cursing, I finally started getting used to the game’s controls and love playing it.

Baudelaire was onto something. Even in an era where people are used to the constant hubbub and technological presences in daily life, there are always new things to get used to, particularly in videogames. Each game requires players to learn different controls and get used to the sights and sounds of the game. Players have to learn what to ignore and what to look for in order to survive in the gameworld. And who knows, maybe those experiences with videogames can help when we have to adapt in reality, too.

New Media and literacy was a topic that was discussed (in-depth) tonight in the Studies in Adult Literacy seminar I’m taking this semester, though we discussed a relatively limited scope of New Media such as videogames, social sites, and instant messaging.

I had to lead a discussion about an article of my choice that related to the subject, so I chose Gonzalo Frasca’s “Videogames of the Oppressed” in First Person. Frasca seems to be making the claim that videogames are not viable modes for social discourse, nor do they have the power to institute change in people. Of course, the article was written nearly ten years ago, but I think videogames are extremely effective at getting people to think about the current social and political atmosphere. And as far as literacy is concerned, they can help with problem-solving and critical thinking. And they can make us look at both our world and ourselves from a different perspective.

The same thing goes with social media. I would argue that sites like Twitter and Facebook are great platforms for getting students to interact with one another, which has the potential to help improve literacy, especially if the students know that a particular group has higher expectations of their writing skills. They can also be used as a form of more immediate contact with the teacher or other students. Students can post questions, ideas, and connections that have the potential to enhance their knowledge of the material being presented in classes. Plus, on a more practical note, many businesses are looking for employees that are familiar with all different types of social media and web design experience.

Sadly, many educators and schools don’t really see the need for New Media in the classroom; in fact, some schools will fire educators who use them for class. I think that’s really sad because they have such potential! They aren’t without their cons, but if you think about it, as one of my classmates put it, it’s kind of the same as when the printing press came out in the sixteenth century.

What do you think about New Media and their potential as educational tools?

GTA5: Kitsch is a Funny Thing

Posted: October 27, 2013 in Academic, games, gaming

GTA5: Kitsch is a Funny Thing.

 

Very cool article.

Article by Edge: “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and the Evolution of Story”

This is a really neat article about a new game by The Astronauts called The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. According to the article, the game is more story-centric in its approach to gameplay and is all about exploration. The Astronauts say their game is all about immersion, but it will be interesting to see what level they are aiming for. According to Richard Bartle, there are four levels of immersion. Each level depends on the thing the player is controlling and how the player relates to that thing. The first level is object, which is considered un-immersed because the player does not at all relate to the thing they are controlling. The second is avatar, where the player is controlling something that carries out their will, but that is all the thing is good for. The third is character, which the player acts out. The fourth is persona. This is considered full immersion, where the player IS the thing they are controlling; they consider themselves to be IN the virtual world.

I will definitely be checking this game out.

The narrative in Skyrim is wonderfully complex. There are three narrative layers consisting of quests the player can choose to complete or not; the story created by the player’s actions in the gamespace; and narratives contained in objects such as books, diaries, and notes the player can choose to read or not read.

Undoubtedly a quest-based game, Skyrim’s main story arc is to defeat the dragon, Alduin, who has returned to Skyrim  to destroy the world. As the main character, you have the privilege of being the Dragonborn, a figure foretold in ancient prophecy. You get to speak in the language of dragons, and your power is the only way to defeat Alduin. This is not the only arc, however. One of the major sub-plots of the game involves warring factions that are on the brink of civil war over the power structure of the country. On top of this, there are literally thousands of quests, each with their own story.

Though games as a whole are beyond any traditional type of narrative such as the novel, the quests can be identified and related to them. To borrow Henry Jenkins’s terminology, quests are enacted narratives.  More specifically, they are spatial stories that can also function as micronarratives, which

[privilege] spatial exploration over plot development. Spatial stories are held together by broadly defined goals and conflicts and pushed forward by the character’s movement across the map [. . .] so that obstacles thwart and affordances facilitate the protagonist’s forward movement towards resolution. (124-125)

What is key about micronarratives is that they invite “intense emotional impact” and “shape the player’s emotional experience” (125). From a proceduralist perspective, each individual quest—each micronarrative—can be seen as a sort of unit operation (a process) that creates a more complex system (an arrangement of interlocking units), which is the overall story of the main character. The quests signify a breaking down of time and space that are then re-constructed to form a whole, or what Ian Bogost calls a Configurative Literary Space (159, 160). This suggests that Configurative Literary Spaces are not only enacted narratives, but also embedded narratives, wherein “the game space becomes a memory palace whose contents must be deciphered as the player tries to reconstruct the plot” (129). If the player is the director of her own experience, then playing in an open-world adventure RPG means that the story of the main character must be totally constructed from the narratives already embedded in the game. Quests, however, are not the only way to accomplish this. Any action the player takes in the game is a construction of the main character’s story.

Other than quests, there are also books, diaries, and letters that can be obtained throughout the game, and these constitute a pre-structured, embedded narrative. Many of the books explain the myths and history of the culture.  Some are written in tight poetic structure, while others are written in prose. Interestingly, some of the books the player can read are about events the player might remember—if she played them—as quests from previous Elder Scrolls games that have made it into the recorded history of Tamriel. According to The Elder Scrolls Wiki, there are over 820 pieces of readable material. Some of this material can be found while spelunking through dungeons for one quest or another. One example is a quest in which the player is directed to obtain an ancient and famed weapon. If the player reads the book found in the dungeon right before the boss battle, the player can learn about the bosses she is about to fight.  According to the book, the draugr (think ancient Norse berserker zombies) were once lovers.  One became ill and the other left to seek a cure.  When the cure was administered, the lover who found it was bitten by a snake and died, causing the lover who received the cure to commit suicide. Their story is finished with the player’s discovery of their tomb: they were buried together, they fight the main character together, and they die together for a second and final time. The book operates as a pre-structured, embedded narrative because it is placed as a prop in the mise-en-scene of the dungeon, waiting to be discovered by the player (Jenkins 126).

The narrative elements of Skyrim reveal much about the culture of the gamespace, making the gameworld more believable. These elements allow the character to create their own story out of the fragmented narrative units scattered across the map and embedded in the gamespace, creating memories and initiating emotional responses. As an author of experience, the player functions as an archivist of the gameworld, affecting the environment and creating a unique history. This is true even of multiple play-throughs, making open-world adventure RPGs like Skyrim extremely re-playable.

Sources:

Bogost, Ian. Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. (154-164). Print.

Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004. (118-130). Print.

Game Studies: A Summer War Zone

Posted: July 28, 2013 in Academic

It’s been a long time since I last posted. A long time. But, as I’ve griped about before, grad school tends to get the best of your social life and hobbies. It hangs them up, tortures them, and throws them back in your face like your favorite pair of shoes that got chewed up by your Beagle. Or Min-Pin. They’re equally bad.

I spent this summer (so far) researching video games.  I’ve read a few of the “biggies” like Espen Aarseth, Ian Bogost, and articles by Markku Eskelinen, Jesper Juul, and Henry Jenkins.  I even tried to read Marie Laure-Ryan, but fell asleep three times trying to get through five pages.  Same thing happened to my professor, so my excuse is legit. (Also, sorry Marie–your subject matter is just so dry.) What I first recognized about this relatively new field is that is a freaking war zone! It’s like a Facebook cat-fight up in there! But you know what? That’s a good thing. The field is growing and people are taking it very seriously–although sometimes they go a little overboard but hey, gotta love the enthusiasm.  One very important lesson I learned is that you can glean a lot of stuff from games.  I particularly like Ian Bogost’s proceduralist approach that asks three very important questions: 1) What do video games do? 2) What happens when players interact with them? 3) How do they relate to, participate in, extend, and revise cultural expression at work in other kinds of artifacts? (Unit Operations, 54). Games are capable of reflecting who people really are based on their reactions to…lets call it simulation fever (simply put, the anxiety created by the blurred boundaries of reality and the game world)…and you may not like what you see. How is that not something worth looking into?

This kind of grates on my nerves, but I have been asked in reference to my academic pursuits, “What are you going to do with that?” It’s almost as if what I’m doing is not important because it won’t make me any money. To this type of question my answer is as follows: Well, I shall sit in an office. Writing nonsense. Starting various little academic quibbles (I will pwn people left and right). And then I’ll force-feed it to the next generation who decides to go to college. All because I think  it’s important. And THEN I’ll draw all over student papers with red ink and meaningless symbols and write only the first four letters of the alphabet minus “E”. How you like them apples?

My aspirations are so high. 😉

P.S. If you’re interested in this field, try reading these for a decent start (they aren’t in any particular order.  Just read ALL OF THE THINGS). They’ll set you up with the basics of people and theories you need to know:

  • First Person (MIT Press)
  • Cybertext by Espen Aarseth
  • Unit Operations by Ian Bogost
  • Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga
  • Game Studies (Blog–Espen Aarseth)