Changes in agar.io

Having played agar.io several times a couple years ago, I was very surprised to see its popularity has been maintained (if not grown) since the last time I played. When I last played there was no revenue-generating system of payment or advertisement present in the game from what I remember. Now when I open the… Continue reading Changes in agar.io

Having played agar.io several times a couple years ago, I was very surprised to see its popularity has been maintained (if not grown) since the last time I played. When I last played there was no revenue-generating system of payment or advertisement present in the game from what I remember. Now when I open the website in my browser, I am first faced with an image informing me that I am using an adblocker (true) and asking me to disable it, followed by a number of panels advertising new apps and games that the developer has released as well as social media widgets for sharing the game and your score. Additionally, another ad appears superimposed over everything and you must close it before reaching the widgets to log in and play. Players may now customize more elements of their “character” like the skin and name displayed on your circle as you glide around the grid-based map eating smaller dots and players. I’m interested in both the fact that so many people still play this game despite how old it is (at least to me) and also the ways in which the game has been able to create apparent revenue streams and update content in a way that maintains the engagement of players while still creating an economic profit for the developer. Despite these superficial changes, there seem to be few (if any) changes to the actual mechanics of the game (unless there are some that I missed) and I found little difference in the actual gameplay experience from when I first started playing. I find the gameplay of agar.io to be part relaxing, part competitive. I would say the game is relaxing in that the movements of the player are smooth and very simple in mechanic nature, with the player simply guiding around their circle-shaped character with the mouse. It is also competitive, with the multi-player combat incentivising to absorb smaller players in order to increase their size.


When Game Narratives Run Deeper Than Ever Imagined 

Content Warning: sexual abuse  Gone Home is incredibly beautiful, subtle, and powerful in its narrative. So many little pieces are available for discovery and connection in the game that don’t relate directly to the object of the game. Players can learn about the characters pasts, read private notes and letters, read work and school documents, and…

Content Warning: sexual abuse 

Gone Home is incredibly beautiful, subtle, and powerful in its narrative. So many little pieces are available for discovery and connection in the game that don’t relate directly to the object of the game. Players can learn about the characters pasts, read private notes and letters, read work and school documents, and listen to cassette tapes. All of these add to the immersion of the game, and make the Greenbriars seem like a very real and knowable family. I find myself thinking about them and their story as if it’s a book I’m reading or have read. 

The opportunities to draw extra connections in the game make the player feel clever and invested in the game. They can discover information about Terry’s novels, letters from his father, newspaper clippings about the player character Katie’s great uncle (the previous owner of the house) and a lot more stuff. I thought I was a pretty astute player, until I stumbled across an article called “The Darker Story of Gone Home.” 

Before I go on I’m going to give a spoiler alert: the rest of this post reveals a lot about the game. If you have not played Gone Home yet and plan on doing so in the future (which I highly reccommend), I would stop reading. If you have played Gone Home, definitely read this article. 

In this article for Indie Haven, a series of very smart connections and discoveries are outlined to suggest that Terry (Sam and Kaitlin’s father) was sexually abused by his uncle Osacar Masan (previous owner of the mansion in Arbor Hill.) It all lines up: the heights on the wall of the basement, the wooden toy (which I never found in the pitch black room), the way the will is locked away in the safe, Terry’s writing and his behavior. With this new information, Terry becomes a major character in the game, almost on par with Sam and her story. 

In my last post I said Terry wasn’t a particularly likable character. I was turned off by his maniacal writings of the JFK assassination and time travel to the year 1963 (the year he was sexually a used as a child.) However now, with this new narrative, I feel very invested in Terry’s story, and a desire to go back and discover it myself. I thought Terry was selfish and neglectful of his wife and family, but he was just hurt and coping the best he could. 

I assume because I completely missed this hidden plot line, that many other players did as well, at least on their first time playing the game through. A lot of backlash against Gone Home is rooted in the claim that it’s impossible to spend more than 3 hours total playing the game, and that it’s only designed to be played once. I might’ve agreed during my early stages of playing, but after some research I believe this claim is really one sided and not inclusive to the many forms a video game can take. I think the game should applauded for tackling issues usually shied away from (especially in video game medium) and presenting it in a way more like a mystery novel or film. There’s obviously a lot to Gone Home, and dismissing it as only playable once is like saying a Kubrick film is only good the first time. In reality, engaging with the Gone Home more than once can yield very different experiences and reveal totally new subtleties. 
Works Cited

Rankin, Simon. “The Darker Story of Gone Home.” Indie Haven, January 2016. http://indiehaven.com/the-darker-story-of-gone-home/ 

Moral Code as a Hindrance to Truly Free Play

When doing some digging regarding Fallout 4, I came across many gamers of past Fallout games who were miffed by the lack of a karma system in the newest game of the series. The Karma system in these games was affected by almost every action done by the player, as good acts cause positive changes, … Continue reading “Moral Code as a Hindrance to Truly Free Play”

When doing some digging regarding Fallout 4, I came across many gamers of past Fallout games who were miffed by the lack of a karma system in the newest game of the series. The Karma system in these games was affected by almost every action done by the player, as good acts cause positive changes, while negative acts invoke negative changes. In his article written about the game series in 2009, prior to Fallout 4’s release, “Moral Decision Making in Fallout”, Marcus Schulzke claims “the Fallout series is unique in giving players an open world in which they can make genuine moral choices. Moral dilemmas are not presented for passive contemplation – they are an integral part of gameplay”(Schulzke).

And having now played Fallout 4 for a significant time, I feel this feature gets lost. Schulzke talks about how Fallout 3’s lack of a moral code is a strength of the game, promoting immersion in the same way that a person is not bound to any particular moral code(Schulzke). In this sense, the game can be played however the operator wants to play it. Whether he wants to blow

up every town and become a “Devil” or save the world and become a “Messiah” (Devil and Messiah, titles bestowed by the game depending on a player’s level and karma, are the highest evil and good titles that one can receive), the choice can be made freely, and the game will adapt around your choices, allowing the player an individual path through the narrative that is influenced by their choices. But this choice is absent in Fallout 4, and instead there is a system where the main character gets “Affinity” depending on how his companions respond to his decisions. Similar, but also very different. And while this is interesting, I would’ve much rather played Fallout 3 and had the karma.

Perhaps Bethesda listened to criticism regarding the game’s lack of morals imposed on a character and decided to invoke a moral code. However, making important NPC’s invincible, or forcing certain important quests and factions upon the player regardless of their choices goes against the fabric of the series, causing a seismic shift in how free the player really is within the game.

 

Schulzke, Marcus. “Moral Decision Making in Fallout.” Game Studies9.2 (2009): n. pag. Gamestudies.org. Web.

Environmental Storytelling in the Nuclear Waste of Boston

As I alluded to previously, Fallout 4 tells a sad story at the start, and a large part of this story comes in the environment. The more I play, the more I discover how terrible of a spot the protagonist is in. He went from living in a nice, bright house pre nuclear fallout, then … Continue reading “Environmental Storytelling in the Nuclear Waste of Boston”

As I alluded to previously, Fallout 4 tells a sad story at the start, and a large part of this story comes in the environment. The more I play, the more I discover how terrible of a spot the protagonist is in. He went from living in a nice, bright house pre nuclear fallout, then we given false hope by a similarly tidy vault, only to find himself alone in a vast nuclear ravaged wasteland. In game, he is surrounded by nothing but destroyed buildings, abandoned cities, and pools of nuclear waste.

What this scenery does for the game is it causes the player to not only see the fallout, but play through it. Empty buildings become hiding spots for enemies, and cities get overrun by bandits who shoot on sight. The game’s use of environmental storytelling helps create an immersive experience in its realistic representation of what a potential suburban life post nuclear fallout might look like. In Henry Jenkins’ article “Game Design as Narrative Architecture”, he quotes Disney designer Bob Carson on the use of this method of storytelling: “The story element is infused into the physical space. . . . It is the physical space that does much of the work of conveying the story the designers are trying to tell”(123). Jenkins uses the example of Disney theme parks to convey his point, noting how the atmosphere and layout of the attraction play onto the visitor’s prior knowledge of the parks to create a new experience. Going to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is one thing, but going in with the foresight of the plots of the movies as well as hearing and seeing familiar sights and sounds amplifies the experience.

In this regard, Fallout 4 is not much different. It plays off of prior thoughts of what a fallout might look like, giving it sounds of a nuclear wasteland, and the architecture that would be expected in such a time. This is a very effective method as in open world games such as Fallout 4, it is near impossible to have a linear narrative. Thus, the use of environmental storytelling allows game designers to use the mise-en-scene to enhance and extend the narrative.

 

Jenkins, Henry. First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2004. Web.

External Context and Zelda’s Magic Circle

As I mentioned in my last post, the music and sound design of Ocarina of Time has been an element of the game I have noticed and appreciated more and more the more I play through the game. One interesting phenomenon with the game that I have discovered, however, is that the current near-meme status… Continue reading External Context and Zelda’s Magic Circle

As I mentioned in my last post, the music and sound design of Ocarina of Time has been an element of the game I have noticed and appreciated more and more the more I play through the game. One interesting phenomenon with the game that I have discovered, however, is that the current near-meme status that some of the sound design elements have achieved in gamer and internet culture have altered the associations I make with the sound effects, which alters the feel of the gameplay itself. For instance, I have heard Link’s spin attack yell used as a sample in songs, and have done so myself when making music. The “secret discovery” sound effect is another that I have heard so often in other Zelda games and outside of the context of a video game that I am somewhat dissociated from the game world when I hear it. It makes me wonder if the magic circle created by the rules of the game can eventually be worn away as the game becomes more of a cultural artifact than an immersive gamic experience and the player becomes increasingly distracted from the gamic experience by the constant sonic reminder that they’re playing a Zelda game and not actually exploring the landscape of Hyrule and fighting monsters to rescue the kingdom. To extend this line of thought, I also wonder if this phenomenon may mean that it is impossible to create a convincing magic circle with the continuation of a successful series. As the series gains a following and its own place in gamer/internet/general culture, it becomes impossible to disassociate elements of the game from their appearance outside of the game. Nintendo, however, seems to have wholly embraced the relevance of their games outside the context of the digital video game world, with games like the Super Smash Bros. series creating a context-collapsing post-modern mashup of the most popular Nintendo characters.


Messing With Time

The mechanic that I found the most interesting in Ocarina of Time while playing was the day/night cycle that triggers when the player enters certain non-narrative linked areas and the ways this was used to add and alter the content of the game in ways that add depth to the game in a remarkably impressive… Continue reading Messing With Time

The mechanic that I found the most interesting in Ocarina of Time while playing was the day/night cycle that triggers when the player enters certain non-narrative linked areas and the ways this was used to add and alter the content of the game in ways that add depth to the game in a remarkably impressive way for such an early implementation of the mechanic. Searching for some discussion on day/night mechanics in games I stumbled across this reddit thread in the large (700k+ subscriber) /r/gaming subreddit about day/night mechanics in games (https://www.reddit.com/r/Games/comments/24igkc/weekly_rgames_mechanic_discussion_daynight_cycle/). Nintendo games were some of the most frequently referenced in the thread, Zelda and Pokemon being the main two series. Because these were the earliest games referenced in the thread to my knowledge, I was interested in the history of day/night mechanics in games. This led me to this DigitalPress forum thread from 2006 on the subject (http://forum.digitpress.com/forum/showthread.php?89524-First-game-with-a-day-night-cycle). Despite some uncertainty, it seems that the game Red Alert from 1981 is the earliest game mentioned with a day/night mechanic and in-game clock that changes as the player progresses through the game (video of gameplay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iHMzi86KuE). Many games use the in-game clock or day/night mechanic to add difficulty during the night-time, with Minecraft being the most notable modern example of this that comes to my mind. In Minecraft the player must try to gather enough resources, weapons, and/or shelter in order to survive the flood of monsters that come when the sun sets. The nighttime  and darkness in the game is something the player grows to fear almost as much as the sound of a Creeper about to explode. This seems to be a fairly common experience with day/night mechanics in video games as noted by many of the posters in both threads. Ocarina of Time eschews the notion that the night has to be a bad thing in the game, offering certain night-time-only opportunities to the player like the grave-digging minigame in Kakariko Village.


Zelda Nostalgia

Having played a lot of Zelda on the Gameboy Advance as a kid (A Link To The Past, Oracle of Seasons/Ages) but very little on any major consoles (my parents never let me have a game console more than the gameboy my grandparents gave me when I was growing up) I was really interested to… Continue reading Zelda Nostalgia

Having played a lot of Zelda on the Gameboy Advance as a kid (A Link To The Past, Oracle of Seasons/Ages) but very little on any major consoles (my parents never let me have a game console more than the gameboy my grandparents gave me when I was growing up) I was really interested to play this game. The puzzle-based game mechanics that I loved in the previous Zelda games I had played were clearly present and apart from a few differing mechanics and graphic differences (the largest being the 3d/2d difference between GBA and Nintendo 64 games) I felt very much at home in the world of Ocarina of Time. I found the ambient nature of the graphics, especially in Kokiri Forest where the player starts, to be very relaxing and nostalgia-inducing at the same time. The music and sound design are the elements of the game that I have been most consistently impressed and awed by, with a music-based puzzle mechanic and music-based story elements fitting perfectly with the atmosphere of the game and story. I can recognize many of the sound effects from both my time playing other Zelda games but also from music and more general recent media, as the sounds in Zelda have become such recognizable cultural artifacts that they’re maybe even more commonly heard in digital media now than when the game was made. From a 2016 retrospective perspective, it’s very impressive to see how many of the Zelda games were constructed in a way that would let them age well. Despite improving graphics, physics engines, audio quality, and general game mechanic and technological improvement, I have found Ocarina of Time incredibly enjoyable to play and personally believe that it is still very much worth playing in 2016.


Empathy Provoked in Fallout

Having never played a Fallout game before, I wasn’t sure what to expect before I started playing Fallout 4. I knew that I was in for an expansive RPG centered around surviving nuclear fallout, but that was about it. But one thing I didn’t expect was the cold-blooded murder of the character’s wife and the … Continue reading “Empathy Provoked in Fallout”

Having never played a Fallout game before, I wasn’t sure what to expect before I started playing Fallout 4. I knew that I was in for an expansive RPG centered around surviving nuclear fallout, but that was about it. But one thing I didn’t expect was the cold-blooded murder of the character’s wife and the theft of his child within ten minutes of the game starting. I was surprised, as to me it seems a dubious decision to start off a very anticipated game with such negativity and sadness. However, as I played on, I started feeling sorry for the guy and I realized that my character was no longer just any other videogame protagonist, there solely to shoot and kill and explore- he was a man on a mission to find his lost child.

The empathetic feelings provoked early on were then tapped into again shortly after escaping the Vault. The protagonist discovers a dog wandering about all alone in the nuclear wasteland, and takes him to be his companion. This taps into the societal norm of a dog being man’s best friend, and you begin to feel the same feelings as before, but in a different light. You begin to feel sorry for the dog that he’s in the situation, but also hopeful that he will help the survivor.

Ian Bogost has a chapter on empathy in his book “How to do Things With Videogames”, and in it he discusses a Zelda game where at the beginning, Link is far too weak to rescue his sister from the Forbidden Fortress, but later comes back much stronger to handily do the job (19). In a sense, Fallout 4 starts the same way. The protagonist’s child is taken from him very early on while he is unable to help, but presumably he will rescue the baby when he has become strong enough. While the games are drastically different in both narrative and mechanics, they both provoke an experience of weakness that fosters empathy, while leaving the door open to finding the necessary strength to succeed in the latter parts of the game.

 

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

Blog Post #11

Reading through my classmates’ blog posts and listening to in-class discussions one thing appeared abundantly evident to me. Despite trying to be an understanding person, aware of others’ issues and problems, I remain ignorant of many issues that do not pertain to myself. I had always thought the overly sexualized nature of female characters in … Continue reading “Blog Post #11”

Reading through my classmates’ blog posts and listening to in-class discussions one thing appeared abundantly evident to me. Despite trying to be an understanding person, aware of others’ issues and problems, I remain ignorant of many issues that do not pertain to myself. I had always thought the overly sexualized nature of female characters in most video games mainstream video games today was silly, but I never saw it as such a troublesome issue. Partly because I assumed that most people who play video games simply don’t care. Thinking back, I’m almost ashamed to think that because people don’t care, they didn’t need to be exposed to another perspective. What I’m getting at is that, exactly BECAUSE the video game industry is full of young male customers, the vision and perspective they see needs to be altered not to serve them, but to educate them. The video game industry is actually the perfect platform, because within it exist a vast majority of ignorant males who need exposure to something other than fanservice, who need to start being counter-indoctrinated, and liberated from their simple minds.

Chris’ post about Skyrim, and the role of women for instance, was very eye-opening. I had never considered the reality that many of the women in the world are submissive and without a real independent role. The stupid excuse that, “it’s realistic that way” does not go in a game with dragons, magic, and elves. In fact, it is in exactly THAT world where we need to see equality – a virtual world. What does it say about a developer when they create a world that retains issues from reality, like inequality and sexism? Especially when you’re given a choice to right the wrongs by creating a new world. It says that they are ignorant.

Samantha in her post about GTA as well makes very strong observations. Yes, the developers of GTA are trying to make a game that simulates reality. But in a way where they augment it as well. So why augment the aspects that need fixing within our world? Why make a problem that’s already an issue, even more extreme? In GTA, a prostitute is already an NPC, a bland representation of a real human being. We also have to slap a sexist sticker onto it? Objectify it even more? What are we teaching young males all around the world? That these things are okay? That they’re just “part of our world”? One would argue that GTA allows you to do much worse things than objectify women, but the issue is that, the violent outbursts a player might engage in within the game world are almost NEVER translated into reality (even cases where people in real life go on violent criminal outbursts in the form shootings, GTA is not the reason why), but sexism does translate into reality, because it’s everywhere around us, it’s so integrated into society that it’s impossible to draw the line between the game world and the real world.

Violet as well makes a solid point about who deserves to “survive”, what does a successful survivor most likely look like.
Emi’s post on Bioshock was just as eye-opening and telling of exactly the points I made. It is within the subtle nature of sexism that we find the true problem and potential for positive progress. When these subtleties are changed to support a better world, maybe we’re able to influence more young males and change the way they think.