Archive for the ‘games’ 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?

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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.

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.