Map Quest

Remediation is quite common in video games today, especially in horror games: points-of-view from camcorders, necessitating the use of torches to light dark spaces, requiring the player to find and listen to old cassette tape recordings to put together the story, etc.  However, one of the most common applications of remediation we see in games is the use of maps.  More specifically, games in which the map has to be unlocked by segment.  Maps are a major avenue for remediation in almost every story-based game, particularly in the horror/survival genre.  Usually, the player has to adventure out into the more dangerous sections of the map in order to unlock the radio tower, to climb to the top of the tallest cliff and survey the area, or to find scraps of map in chests just beyond bosses.  This form of remediation helps greatly with immersion into the game and its environment, which in turn tends to increase the quality of the game and the player’s enjoyment upon playing.

In games such as Left 4 Dead, the map, though still accessible through a push of a button on the controller, begins as a blue or black or white sheet, sometimes with the boundaries of the in-game world drawn on, sometimes with no information whatsoever.  Normally, to progress in the story line, the player will be drawn far from the original zone of the game, usually the easiest zone, on an adventure to find someone or something.  However, before you can even delve into the details of the story events, you usually have to search through chests, backpacks, desk drawers, cabinets, and sometimes even the corpses you have laid in your wake.  In other games, like Legend of Zelda, the player has to climb great towers, with enemies and obstacles around the base and sometimes even going up the tower itself.  Once at these vantage points, a piece of your map can be cleared off, stitched together, or otherwise added to your collection so that you can actually see where to go and what will be between you and your destination.

This type of directional security is something my generation has grown very accustomed to- whenever a person in their twenties is going somewhere new, what do we do?  We pull out our phones or our GPS devices to produce a comforting voice and continuous directions, even accounting for traffic and total travel time.  However, in these horror-survival games, the use of older style maps and remediation serves to entrench the player in their environment.  It is easy to look down at a map every two minutes to ensure you’re on the right course.  It is much harder to have to find a visual waypoint in your field of view, track it through the environment, and struggle to find your way in a new and usually monster-ridden environment.  That a player has to find map segments or scraps makes that player identify just that much more closely with the character they are playing.  In this way, remediation is an effective tool to boost appeal, interest, and thereby sales in video games, particularly in the survival-horror genre.

Seeing the Game

One point that really stuck with me from this article is the idea about hypermediacy. Transforming the viewpoint and visual structure in which a story is shown and told really transforms how it is perceived. For example, look at 5 Nights at Freddy’s. The player controls their own viewpoint the entire time. They start in an office and they read a note telling them to keep an eye on the animatronics because strange things happen at night. Creepy, the player is already nervous. To add on to this nervousness it is also very dark and the game is entirely first person. The player can rotate between different rooms by selecting various security cameras in those rooms. When they are viewing a room any animatronic in said room is unable to move. When the player isn’t watching they are slowly progressing towards the player’s office. Once they reach the office the player can use some of his/her’s limited power supply to light up the hallways on either side of them to check for the monsters, and if the monster is there they can use even more power to shut the door temporarily on them.

Here is a video of someone playing the game, a little corny but it gets the point of the game across well. This forced perspective and constant feeling of uneasiness is a classic horror trope. Videogames allow this trope to be expanded upon though because they give control back to the player. No longer can you yell at the TV for the clueless horror victim to, “JUST TURN AROUND!” because now you are that clueless horror victim. As mentioned in the article and as seen in the game survival aspects make your experience harder. Having unlimited power would make it so the doors could always be shut around you and the threat therefore non-existant. This would ruin the suspense and take away from the constant sense of impending animatronic fluffy animal doom that the player is suppose to feel.

Audience Perspective in Until Dawn

Horror often relies on what the camera and therefore the audience does not immediately see to increase suspense and set up scenes like jump scares. Video game creators accomplish this not just through near-constant darkness but also through the limited perspective of the “camera.” In games like “Until Dawn,” in which action scenes are interspersed with dialogue options and relationship-building, the player does not control the angle of the camera. This allows the camera to focus on a character’s facial expressions or point out a detail in the scene, moving the story forward while keeping the player more engaged than a cutscene would. For instance, when Ashley, Josh, and Chris use the spirit board to communicate with what they believe is the spirit of Josh’s sister, we get several close-ups of Ashley’s face as we choose her dialogue and then of Josh and Chris as they react to whatever she says. In this case, the visible tension between the characters is what builds suspense, as the player knows that every choice they make will affect the story.

This character-focused perspective also hides information. When we discover that Josh was playing a prank on his friends, the audience has to wonder how he set up aspects of the prank, like the spirit board. Upon review, we can’t quite see how the pointer flies off the table or what Josh’s hands were doing. The obfuscation of reality heightens tension in the scene and leaves us as confused and scared as Ashley and Chris.

Lights, Camera, (Hypermedi)action

In class, we have discussed the meaning and the role that hypermediation plays in different contemporary horror and non-horror examples. For example, we discussed hypermediation in A Head Full of Ghosts, the Office, Deadpool, and more. In all of these examples, the main characters draw attention to the medium that is being used to view their current scene. This makes us as a viewer conscious of our role in the story and evokes a sense of immediacy since we recognize our relation to the scene and the characters acknowledge it as well.

In the article we read for class today by Ewan Kirkland, he explores the role of hypermediation and immediacy in horror video games. While he emphasizes the difference between hypermediation and immediacy, to me they seem to both achieve the same goal of drawing in the audience and making their experience feel real and immediate. However, I do understand the difference of the two, as Kirkland unveils that hypermediacy is more technical and achieves a different reflective outcome.

Kirkland uses a specific example of hypermediacy in horror video games: the use of CCTV as a lens in the game. He explains the use of CCTV as “camera reality” because it narrates the game in a surveillance lens rather than a lens as if you are the actual character in the video game and fighting your own battle. Kirkland gives a variety of examples of “camera reality”, and they all remove the audience from the actual character in the video game. This creates a “big brother” like situation where the video game player is more aware that they are an actual outsider and not actually a video game character.

The examples Kirkland offers also showcases technology’s role in the video game itself. I think that technology is used to give the audience just enough of an insight into the game while still remaining removed and detached from the actual player itself, which will alter the player’s behaviors and actions while playing the game.

What We Want: Violence in Media

Our recent readings and discussions have all linked death in media with violence, which does seem the rule in genres like horror or action. However, this same prevalence indicates that humans want to watch or experience violence rather than death. Why?

I’m reminded especially of a scene from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, in which the then-established pattern of audience directing the story through making choices becomes disrupted by the presentation of essentially a single option:

The therapist character, in a position of authority or at least supposed wisdom for both the protagonist and for the audience, introduces that mere exposition or conversation is boring in media. Viewers then respond to the query “do you want more action?” by selecting either “Yeah” or “F*** Yeah”. At least one of these choices prompts a surreally elaborate fight scene, something that would (presumably) never happen in reality.

Movies, books, and so have received criticism for unrealisticity, but here draw attention to the notion that that may be their ultimate appeal. We want to experience things that we do not or cannot experience realistically. Living things are rationally, instinctually against ourselves dying to the extent that we want to avoid it happening to even semblances of us. We’re fine with killing others or watching them die, but it’s difficult to think of media in which the protagonist or audience stand-in dies without somehow resurrecting (aka “real death”). Violence– or for that matter, love, invention, and so on in certain cases–, though, allow us to explore possibilities and fantasies physically inaccessible. We cannot attend Hogwarts, but we can read and watch Harry Potter do so while speculating what may happen to ourselves in the same universe. We can, however, have a conversation with another person, as protagonist Stefan does at first in the Bandersnatch scene. So, Black Mirror anticipates that “F*** yeah,” we do want more action.

Mediated Vision & The Camcorder in Red Barrel’s “Outlast”

Outlast is a massively popular survival horror game that debuted in 2013. As the player, you take on the role of a journalist investigating the infamous Mount Massive asylym. Unfortunately for you, the place is crawling with violent and disfigured patients – and you’ve only got a dinky camcorder to your name.

While reading Kirkland’s piece, I immediately thought back to when I first watched my favorite Let’s Players cover the game. At the time, Outlast put an intriguing spin on the traditional survival-horror genre by not giving the player any sort of weapon to defend themselves with. Thus, the game operates on a “run and hide” system, wherein you are forced to face your own vulnerability and tailor your moves carefully to avoid confrontation. The camcorder (equipped with a limited night-vision feature) fits into this system by giving you the ability to see what horrors might be ahead in the dark asylym, and plan accordingly.

(10:30-12:30 to see how the camcorder works)

This mechanic is a great example of what Kirkland calls the “issues of vision and power” in regards to analogue technologies in digital media (120). By remediating the camcorder and imposing the arbitrary rules –

1) The player/protagonist is stripped of power – you have no means of defense

2) You must use the old camcorder to proceed

3) The night-vision function only has limited power and you must constantly be looking for batteries, or else you’ll be wondering around blind

– the game is able to effectively utilize both immediacy (at the beginning of the game) and hypermediacy (once you’ve figured out the ‘rules’ of the camcorder).

This kind of vulnerable vision proved quite popular with players, and has been adopted in later entries to the Outlast series.

Tech as a Mediator Between Monstrosity and Race

Oftentimes in our discourses and media we act as if technology is objective, and it is only how it is used that makes it “good” or “bad.” This mentality falls apart very quickly when considering algorithms, such as the ones used on reddit, or camera technology, as the article I found discusses. In many cases (despite the important contributions of women and people of color) technology has been created by and for white men. This article from the Daily Beast investigates the consequences of facial recognition not being designed to recognize people with dark skin, and what that means in a society which criminalizes black people at a higher rate than any other race or population. In the past, activists have argued for a higher visibility for black people by technology and those who create it, but Zoe Samudzi believes that increasing visibility for black people in regards to facial recognition will only end in further surveillance and marginalization of an already discriminated against population.

Of the media and scholarship we’ve looked at in our class, only Dead Set explicitly includes race, through their inclusion of non-white characters. The way the cameras look at Angel, the only black woman in the house, is explicitly different than how other characters are viewed. Patrick, the producer, who is in charge of what parts of the house the public gets to see, throws several racially charged insults at Angel’s image on the screen, marking her mediated image as fundamentally different than the other characters. The cameras, both used by ‘Big Brother,’ and those used by the actual crew of Dead Set were created to be used on white skin, because the creators never thought to consider that black people might be on film someday. While the film industry now has methods to adjust the camera for darker skin, the default continues to be white skin.

In our discussion of tech vs human, I think it is important to racialize in what ways people have not been considered ‘fully human’ and how that has consequences. The Monster Theses which we read acknowledges the relationship between the monster and the human ‘other.’ One way in which we might explain this phenomenon is that monsters are created to enforce ideology which marginalizes groups of people, based on the principles of white supremacy. Studying monsters without considering race would be severely lacking—much like Marjorie and Regan’s danger comes from the fear of young women’s sexuality, so too does the fear of the monstrous eventually uncover racism which is embedded in our culture.

violence sucks so let’s stop doing it

I’m not a fan of violence. It’s basically what we resort to when we have differences and decide communication is hopeless. We’ve gotten really good at that second part, looking for excuses to create the other, to ignore commonalities and kill whoever appears to threaten the status-quo, because it’s also efficient, and if they’re dead, they can’t threaten us again. But, when we resort to violence, we risk getting killed, too, we rob others of lives they’re just as entitled to as we are to our own, and we kill any chance at partnership. In a capitalistic society, that seems counterintuitive even if you ignore the significant humanitarian concerns. And yet, we’re conditioning our children to destroy the other, removing emotion from the picture and teaching them to kill this other simply because it is the other. That’s potentially helpful if we get invaded by aliens who want to destroy us, but chances are, if we do make contact with aliens, it won’t devolve into violence because they’ll be tiny organisms or plants or something of the kind. So, what are we doing, then? We’re teaching our children to destroy their fellow humans, breeding a lack of empathy and promoting blind slaughter of the other, whether these are people who don’t look like us, don’t sound like us, don’t share our views, or don’t come from the same place as us. Of course, this targets marginalized groups. It makes us worse. It magnifies our differences and drives us apart. I’m not sure who that helps. Let’s pay attention to humanitarian, economic, etc. concerns instead of finding the best ways to have fun and reduce video game violence, cut out the monsters, and move towards a healthier society. Our indulgence doesn’t need to cross every line.

A Violent Aesthetic: Walter Benjamin, Shopping for Weapons, and Videogames

I want to focus on the particularities and aestheticization of violence in video games because as many video game conventions showcase, the industry cultivates an aesthetic of violence with the intent of commercialization. Just as with T.V shows there’s a level to which video games are created to be merchandised, to exit the virtual reality into the material reality. And in this aestheticization, there is something perhaps violent involved. It almost reminds me of the end of Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction” which maybe one could use as a theoretical foreground through which to understand the aesthetic of violence in video games as a form of purveying or making consumable. This is essentially at the core of violence as Carly Kocureck arguement in Who Harkens To The Monster’s Scream? (But to get into nitty gritty theory will have to wait for a longer paper.)

In response to Kocurek, I might push further and say that part of the violent outgrowth in video games becomes more so an aesthetic violence. How many Fortnite swords to children wield now across the globe? How many faux daggers were sold following the peak popularity of Assassin’s Creed? This aesthetic specifically is one which is done under the illusion that the gamer inhabits a free will inside the video game (Just as the consumer to an extent can decide what to buy while in the push pull tide of manipulative capitalism).

(Check out this interesting Amazon purchase for example):

 

https://www.amazon.com/McFarlane-Toys-Assassins-Creed-IV/dp/B00EGMXTI8/ref=asc_df_B00EGMXTI8/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=309806158787&hvpos=1o3&hvnetw=g&hvrand=4703914352291134160&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9009905&hvtargid=pla-342540788852&psc=1

One of the oppressive aspects of graphic video games is the illusion of choice that they create as they inscribe this aesthetic violence. This often begins when users generate an avatar, and as in the several iterations of Halo along with multiple other first-shooter games, players initially decide on their armor, and even the type and color of their weaponry. We are given the choice of color, but we have no choice as to whether or not we can choose to have a weapon. The act of choosing one’s avatar feels like an intensified trip to the mall for new clothes, however, with these clothes violence is sublimated, made quotidian, routine.

As games like this precede the ease at which multiple rounds are fired becomes a repetitive, almost addicting visualization of success. By ascending to the next level or in some cases receiving better weapons for attaining certain checkpoints, etc, we begin to create a false sense of self-determinism within an environment that actually has been pre-set before us. We are choosing to shoot the gun in our hands, but we can never rid ourselves of the gun itself. We can replace the AK 47 for the shotgun, but it’s glued to our virtual palms.

Thus we are never given the choice between non-violence and violence, we are only given the choice of this costume of violence or that.

 

 

Work Cited:

Benjamin, Andrew E. Walter Benjamin and Art. Continuum, 2005. WorldCat.org. Accessed 15 Feb. 2019.

In Response to Kocurek

To quickly summarize “Who hearkens to the monster’s scream? Death, violence and the veil of the monstrous in video games”, Carly Kocurek argues that we as a society moralize death and violence in video games by dehumanizing the enemy, by turning them into monsters. She calls for further research into the issue stating that it may be causing intergroup bias (87) or illustrate those we commit violence against as inherently monstrous (88). After sitting on the reading for some time, I am still hesitant to say that I fully agree with the basis of her argument. I understand, and agree, with the point she brings up about we as consumers justifying violence through dehumanization of the victim. In fact, we are complicit with the violence the second we purchase the game to play because we are telling the developers that we are okay with their practices of normalizing violence. However, I just can’t fully buy into her argument because I think she disregards the purpose of video games and entertainment in general.

To me, a video game is a chance to experience something that is not available in reality. It is a chance to fantasize and escape your life in favor of a digital creation of a controlled environment. That being said, games serve to give us control that we lack in real life. I think that violence in video games is just another instance of giving us dominance or control that every human craves, as morbid as it sounds. We as people enjoy having some sense of control in our lives because it gives us a sense of stability and contentment. I think that unless we are feeling the literal sensations of killing a monster/zombie/alien/human, we are physically and mentally disconnected from the violence via the game interface. It is obvious then, that the violence on screen is not meant to represent real life. Even in cases of realistic portrayals of violence, see Grand Theft Auto or Postal, you have to remember that these are games, imaginary environments that have imaginary rules. If we were to take all entertainment, games, movies, books, music, as reality, I think we would be creating unnecessary metalepsis. I argue that we need to step back and take entertainment at face value.

If Kocurek was to reevaluate her argument, I would suggest that she argue that we as a society moralize violence in video games because we understand that video games are meant to be controlled, imaginary experiences separate from our reality. To reiterate, I agree with the points she makes, I just think that she went overlooked the purpose that entertainment in general serves us. I agree that we dehumanize victims in order to justify digital violence. But I want to ask Kocurek, why does the violence exist in the first place?