The Stanley Parable takes choice in video games and simplifies it down to a simple “yes/no” (or more accurately, “left/right”) option. Commenting on various tropes relating to pathways and branching stories in gaming, it ostensibly boils all possible freedom within the game space down to two options. However, The Stanley Parable also subtly encourages the player to reject this dichotomy and explore their own agency within it. Despite the narrator’s directions and the apparent lack of options, the game actually has multitudinous endings. In fact, most actions the player can take to reject the structure imposed by the narrator have their own endings attached to them.
I recently took this concept to the extreme by refusing to even begin the game.
Instead of walking out of Stanley’s office, I closed the door. This resulted in brief narration followed by a black screen and cut back to the beginning of the game.
So even by refusing to approach the game’s central mechanic, the player in a way makes a choice and receives an ending. Since no ending is in any objective sense better than the other, and they can be reached by various levels of compliance with the Narrator, none of them provide any resolution in and of themselves. Any that do are then undercut by the constant restarting of the game from the beginning. But even this lack of closure seems an intentional comment by the game, as pointed out by Antranig Arek Sarian in his piece, “Paradox and Pedagogy in The Stanley Parable.” He writes:
“Ambiguities engender the sensation of an implied solution but fail to provide one. This encourages the interactor to continually test themselves via the game’s many branches. The Stanley Paradox hovers as a specter above the player, continually forcing them to ask “what should I do?” The game offers no definitive answer to this question, yet in the player’s constant attempts to answer it, they become aware of how they are subjectified by didactic choices.”
By refusing to reward or punish any choice more than the other, The Stanley Parable reveals how arbitrarily such systems behave in other games. When video games force you into a choice, and reward a certain option, they make a value claim using the player as a piece in their argument. In this way, freedom in gaming is often illusory on a very deep level.
Sarian, Antranig Arek. “Paradox and Pedagogy in The Stanley Parable.” Games and Culture. 22 March 2018. Web.
Super Mario Strikers is incredibly violent, but you would not immediately realize how violent it is. The player is constantly head butting, slide tackling, or throwing shells at the other team. Sometimes the players are knocked into an electric fence or are hit by a shell and knocked out. These are very violent actions, but the player does not have a problem with how violent they are. Tile Hartman talks about why videogames can get away with violence in her article “The Moral Disengagement in Violent Videogames Model.” In which she provides eight factors as to why violence in videogames does not conflict with an individual’s morals. Three of the eight factors directly apply to Super Mario Strikers.
One of the key factors in Super Mario Strikers is the dehumanization of the characters. Most of the team is made up of Koopa Troopa, Toad, Hammer Bro, and Birdo which are all fictional characters in the Mario universe. Because of this the player does not feel like they are hurting a real person and takes away the guilt that comes with the action. Another key factor is the distortion of consequences in the game. If you unjustly hurt one of the other team, the only consequence is the other team receives a shell. The player gets up after a couple of seconds like nothing happened. The last key factor from the article is the attribution of blame, meaning the victims necessitated the act upon themselves. Having these violent mechanics in the game tells the player that if another team wants to challenge you, they are asking for you to tackle them hard and beat them up in order to win. The game even keeps track of tackles which promotes the player to make as many violent tackles as they can.
This photo shows toad knocked out with stars above his head
Aside from the factors brought up in the article, I think Mario’s reputation as being family friendly helps lesson the moral burden of being violent in the game. Part of that reputation is how they are portrayed as cartoonish characters which is normally associated with children and innocence. Cartoon violence is also not as severe as realistic violence which shields the player from what they are actually doing. After reading the article and thinking about past Mario games I have played, I realized they all have aspects of violence in them, yet due to these factors and its reputation, Mario as a franchise is not known as being violent.
Hartman, Tilo. “The ‘Moral Disengagement in Violent Videogames’ Model.” Game Studies, Dec. 2017, gamestudies.org/1702/articles/hartmann.
Last year, 14 qualifying teams from Europe, North America, China, Korea, and two other international wildcards competed in the LoL World Championship for a $5,000,000 prize pool split among 5 players. While this is serious money, what I find more impressive is the event’s ability to sell-out the Seoul World Cup Stadium. The article I’ve found analyses how LoL and other Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games use dramatic dynamics to attract fanbases in the millions, leading to the rise of e-sports and competitive gaming as an entertainment industry.
The author, Chris Winn, begins by discussing the three types of performance time involved with any spectated competition: “Event time, where the performance will continue for as long as it takes for a specific event to be achieved; set time, where a time limit is provided for the performance; and symbolic time, where the amount of time taken for the performance to complete is intended to be representative of a separate amount of time (page 2).” League of Legends involves all three, but is based around event time which, in my opinion, increases the game’s appeal as a spectator. There are long, intense, drawn-out games that leave both spectator and player feeling satisfied after a win, and there are short, hyper-involved games in which one person can tip the scales of the match early-on with a decisive play. Both of these results provide great entertainment, and the beauty of LoL is that each individual game provides the audience with the possibility of either result. This is opposed to a game like Fortnite, which is guaranteed to last around the same time every match.
Another topic Winn covers is performance, which applies and is important to even the most casual video game players. Performance is at the heart of what drives any competitive person, although it is usually used in reference to what people consider “actual sports”, i.e. Basketball, Soccer, Football, etc. E-sport events bring together the best players in the world and provide viewers the chance to watch them. This is often overlooked when analysing the growing population of spectators for e-sport events. Winn also provides his view on this topic, “Even the act of spectating is made productive… watched specifically for improving personal play (page 4).” In the context of League of Legends, there are many areas of the game that the casual and even competitive player can improve upon. Whether it is last-hitting creeps to increase your gold, knowing when to push and drop-back, or signaling your teammates, watching the best players, as with any activity, can help improve your personal game.
Finally, Winn alludes to the structure of dramatic tension, and how this specifically is the main reason people watch any competitive event. Whether it is the last shot in a basketball game, 2-minute drive in the 4th quarter of a football game, or the game-winning play in a video game, the climax is what attracts viewers. For someone who understands the mechanics of League of Legends, the final team fight to decide the game can be as exciting as any sporting event, which is why e-sports has the ability to fill a stadium meant for a World Cup game.
Year-to-year, the FIFA video game franchise consistently ranks as the premier soccer video game. In 2016, according to Electronic Arts (EA), FIFA 17 was the top-selling console game, leading EA to generate over $1 billion dollars in cash flow for the first time in company history (Grubb). Customers repeatedly purchase the FIFA games to find updated teams, graphics, and occasionally features, such as The Journey, which I wrote about in my first game log. Consistently in my XBOX Live friends list I find friends playing FIFA 18 online, confirming my belief that fans of the FIFA franchise are the main customers who come back year after year to purchase the newest game.
Associated with this customer base that finds consistent overlap between FIFA games is a common understanding of sportsmanship in the games, or an “adherence to a body of written conventions and unwritten local norms” (Moeller et al.). I contend that in the FIFA video game community, an agreed upon game mechanic is that a player will fully commit to trying to score goals in order to make the game a fair, back-and-forth, entertaining competition. Ryan M. Moeller, Bruce Esplin, Steven Conway, authors of the article Cheesers, Pullers, and Glitchers: The Rhetoric of Sportsmanship and the Discourse of Online Sports Gamers, write that sports games are unique because while their mechanics are undoubtedly of a video game, the rules of the video game mimic the exact rules of real life sport. Moeller, Espin, and Conway explain that while many styles of play are permitted in the game, the gaming community agrees upon norms that are acceptable, one of which is sportsmanship. Within this category of sportsmanship is a commitment to making the game fair and exciting for both players.
Being a member of the FIFA 18 gaming community, I can attest that when both players are playing fair and free-flowing styles, the game is mutually enjoyable; it is when one player resorts to “conservative” tactics that the game becomes unfair and unsportsmanlike (for example of fellow FIFA players that agree with me, see the EA Sports FIFA forum).
For this game log, I set out to do exactly what every FIFA player hates: break that norm. In breaking this unsaid norm of playing fair and entertaining soccer, I hoped to discover “important things [sports games tell us] about human behavior, social interaction and sports culture in the information age” (Moeller et al.).
The first choice I made was a very strategic one. As Moeller, et al. explain, sports games like FIFA are unique because they mimic real sports in terms of rules, but the playing mechanics and norms may differ greatly. I chose to play as FC Barcelona in an “Online Exhibition” because FC Barcelona is known for a style of soccer that relies on extended possession, a style of soccer that FIFA players hate to play against. Therefore, this game is not entirely outside the realm of reality, but in terms of FIFA, this is a decision that goes against norms agreed upon by the gaming community.
I won the game 4-1 forcing my opponent to quit after 78 (sped up) minutes. The final statistics of the game are pictured above, and as you can see, I possessed the ball 80% of the game. In addition to playing a widely frowned upon style of soccer, I also watched every second of every replay for every goal I scored—a technique understood by FIFA players to get under the skin of the opponent. Overall, I played a style of FIFA the least sportsmanlike one could imagine—the only element missing from my play was the “trash talking” element.
Deriving from the results of what happened, when my opponent quit, it was a tactic for he or she to preserve their dignity by avoiding suffering a 90 minute loss. Moeller, et al. discuss that “Some online players simply disconnect their game systems when they are not winning; depriving their opponent of victory.” However, EA penalizes these “plug-pullers” by diminishing their online XP and rewarding the winners of the games with points.
What does this one game tell us about greater society? Acknowledging that one game’s result is not generalizable for an entire society, we can still make some assumptions, considering that this is not a random phenomenon—players “pull the plug” when they are losing in an unsportsmanlike manner frequently. However, these players that do pull the plug do not like to lose in a shameful way. When a gamer has no chance to win and are being humiliated in the process, they usually act in a manner to preserve their dignity, such as quitting or sending a insulting message. Though I hated the way I played this FIFA game, I am thankful for the generalizations that it taught me about the FIFA gaming community, and greater, society as a whole.
Grubb, Jeff. “EA: ‘FIFA 17 Was the Best-Selling Console Title in the World in 2016.’” VentureBeat, 31 Jan. 2017, https://venturebeat.com/2017/01/31/ea-fifa-17-was-the-best-selling-console-title-in-the-world-in-2016/.
Moeller, Ryan M., et al. “Cheesers, Pullers, and Glitchers: The Rhetoric of Sportsmanship and the Discourse of Online Sports Gamers.” Game Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, Nov. 2009. Game Studies, http://gamestudies.org/0902/articles/moeller_esplin_conway.
Within the video game realm there are a lot of different aspect that go into it such as the production, marketing, the assembly of the game itself, etc. However, one aspect of the game that not all games have (but the ones that do are super cool) are Easter Eggs. An Easter egg is a creation put into a game that is normally hidden that reveals something cool or special about the game itself but isn’t necessary to the game itself. One of the first examples of this concept being put into a game is the game Adventure made in 1979. Within this game there is an Easter egg that comes in the form of a secret room where the programmers name, Warren Robinett, was written. Obviously, this contributes nothing towards the overall game experience, but for those who figure this hidden message out, it makes them feel closer to the game and create a sort of emotional attachment.
Now, within Super Smash Bros there are a couple of different Easter Eggs the developers snuck into the game. One of the most well known of these would be the Starfox Smash Taunt Easter egg. This Easter egg allows either Fox or Falco, both members of the Starfox series, to be able to call upon their teammates to come shoot the enemy in their ships. However, this only works on two stages, the two Starfox stages. This Easter egg is one of the more well-known Easter eggs in the game, and really isn’t that tough to figure out, which kind of undermines the point of the Easter egg.
A tougher Easter Egg to find is on the bottom of a Barrel of one of the stages. If you zoom in ust right, you can see the bottom of a barrel says,
“2L84ME” which translates to “too late for me”. With some insider’s information, and if you follow the
SSBM series, we see that this refers to the usual KO after being shot from the barrel.
As we can see having insider knowledge and knowing more about a video game franchise or series helps develop how the user will interpret the Easter egg. Those with more knowledge of the game will find it to be much cooler and fascinating, then those without such knowledge. Either way, Easter eggs are a great way for producers to express themselves and their creativity within the gaming industry.
People always look for ways to distract themselves from their daily routines. Throughout human history people have done this by immersing themselves in stories told through many different mediums. Books, music, movies, plays, and most recently video games, have captivated billions with their ability to project fantastic stories into the minds of the people enjoying them. From tales of love, to tragic war stories, people choose to take many different adventures. The ability to interact with these adventures allows them to be more immersive for many.
Contrary to many other forms of media which passively or actively engage their audience and are essentially self-contained, video games are completed through interaction with the player (Papale, 2014). By controlling the character in-game, many players begin to identify with their avatar and react to the game world with very real emotional reactions. This is especially evident in games featuring a human-like avatar.
In his paper on the relationship between player and avatar Luca Papale, a former EA employee and professor in game design at IUDAV, argues that while identification may indeed occur during play, it’s far from being the one and only type of psychological response that a player can have. One response, outside of identification, that he believes plays a crucial role is empathy. Players can experience emotional reactions outside of identification, by empathizing with characters that they are not be able to identify with. He uses the example of feeling empathy for somebody who loses a loved one by imagining the person’s emotions and somehow sharing them. (Papale, 2014) Sympathy works the same way in video games as players are able to imagine the feelings of characters in-game and experience them in real life to a lesser degree.
The concept of player sympathy is crucial to Infamous. The game sports a “karma meter” which is a reflection of moral choices made as the main character. In-game processes change drastically as the player makes different choices that affect the karma meter. The primary motivation to spare enemies and improve karma revolves around sympathetic responses in return to the player.
Infamous Karma Meter- InfamousWiki.com
As a reward for good karma, civilian NPC’s (non-playable characters) will join the player as he fights enemies in battle. The opposite is true with regards to bad karma. This dynamic is enhanced by the dialog enemies present you with when there is a chance to kill them. Many enemies will say, “hey I have a family man” or other responses that are meant to elicit a sympathetic response by the player. Through playing Infamous and experiencing these moral decisions the relationship between player and avatar is shown to go beyond identification.
As a deaf person who wears hearing aids, my primary form of communication since I was three years old has been through vocal speech. While hearing aids help me distinguish what is being said, I don’t really rely on my hearing all that much. Instead, I depend on my ability to read lips. When it comes to video games however, it’s impossible to even try to read the characters’ lips in the game. I’ve had to rely on subtitles/close-captioning to fill in the blanks. The reason I pointed this out, is because subtle facial reactions and cues are huge when trying to get a read on someone’s emotion. It’s an extension of the game for me personally and the face is such an important and complex communication channel.
Facial animation was first introduced in 1982 and focused solely on the mouth and eyebrows. In 1991, it was proposed that animation systems consider the link between intonation and the emotion to drive their system. Pretty much all video games are lacking in the ability to effectively communicate the emotions of the characters. In my opinion, it is essential that people realize that literally every single aspect of your face is used to communicate with people. Video games have never really focused on the following during dialogues between characters: cheek muscles, eyebrows, forehead creases, nostrils, position of chin, the clenching of your jawline, pupil dilation/constriction, eyelashes, tongue, and how much teeth is being shown. Video games that depict humans also never seem to produce the desired emotion of what is happening in the game. If you look at Grand Theft Auto V, the facial animations are decent, but they don’t really capture the essence of what’s happening in the game. It exudes laziness. The Last of Us is unique in that Naughty Dog, Inc. put a serious effort to exhibit the emotions completely.
In a game like The Last of Us, the emotional whirlwind that the characters and gamers themselves are exposed to is what really sells separates the game from its peers. When I try to read lips of the characters in other video games, it’s unnatural. It immediately reminds me that I’m playing a video game. I understand that it’s a computer animation and rendering of what we see in the real world, but for me, it’s a huge dealbreaker when it comes to how immersed I can get within the game. Simply put, The Last of Us contains the best facial animation I have seen in a video game thus far. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. They were able to capture the intonation of how the characters meant to say the word, which is how words are said in its pitch as well as its delivery speed.
The main characters in The Last of Us, Joel and Ellie, were able to show shock, fear, irony, sarcasm, despair, anger, sadness, disgust, and surprise, among other emotions. Joel and Ellie weren’t just computer rendered characters. They were their own people with their own moods and their own distinct personalities. They weren’t solely outward projections. They were also able to project inwards, which is difficult for video games to accomplish. And that’s what I believe is necessary to help people bond with characters. If you look at the video above, The Last of Us 2, which is due later this year or next, is looking more and more impressive. I mean, I think the video speaks for itself from my perspective. It’s uncanny how natural it looks and I’m excited to play it. When Ellie says, “I’m going to kill every last one of them,” at the end of the video, one can’t help but get goosebumps. The bar has been set by Naughty Dog, LLC and everyone else is playing catch up.
Pelachaud, Catherine, Mark Steedman, and Norman I. Badler. “Linguistic Issues in Facial Animation.” Computer Animation. University of Pennsylvania. 1991. Pages 15-30. https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1076&context=hms
Schaap, Robert, and Rafael Bidarra. “Towards Emotional Characters in Computer Games.” Entertainment Computing. The Netherlands: Delft University of Technology, 2008. Pages 167-172. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rafael_Bidarra/publication/220851417_Towards_Emotional_Characters_in_Computer_Games/links/004635311e999b6343000000/Towards-Emotional-Characters-in-Computer-Games.pdf
Building on my last post about Journey, I found a post on The Guardian’s Games Blog about the relationship between Journey’s physical progression and the progression of it’s story. In the post, game designer Nick Harper discusses the many ways in which traditional movie plot formats are reproduced in video games. The aspect of his analysis that I found most compelling was the idea that the story arc of most films and compelling narratives can usually be simplified into five main parts: intro, turning point, development, low point, and climax. Harper then maps the stages of Journey to this arc:
Journey’s Emotional Arc (Nick Harper, The Guardian, 2012)
Having played through the game, it is incredible to see the different stages fit this model so well. The intro represents the first few minutes of the game, when you begin to understand the controls and are able to explore the world to some degree, though the world seems very desolate and is sparsely populated with the ruins of an ancient culture. At the turning point, the player discovers how to engage with the ribbon-creatures and progress through the world towards the mountain, which has since become their goal. The development comes as the player begins to sand surf down into the civilization, where they find the machines as the primary antagonists. Though this marks the physical low point of the game, Harper argues that the narrative low point comes as the player dies in a blizzard trying to reach the summit. Naturally, there is the rebirth and ascent, made possible by a group of god-like white figures that revive the player and allow them to finish their journey to the summit.
Compare Harper’s emotional or narrative curve to the physical map that the game displays in the form of murals:
In-game mural from Journey (thatgamecompany, 2012)
I found Harper’s argument very compelling, especially after seeing this mural from the game. Of course, the emotional curve is not the only way to talk about the story of Journey, since other methods like the hero’s journey also apply very well to Journey.
The virtual reality gameIn Deathis my game of choice which has brought me hours of joy and entertainment, but was I putting myself in harms way during this time? One of the main concerns that gets coupled with virtual reality games is the safety of the player. When you play with a virtual reality game system, your vision, and sometimes your hearing, is completely immersed in the environment of the game that you are playing and not on your actual environment. Throughout the world, people have hurt themselves from hitting spinning ceiling fans, kicking or running into furniture, and/or hurting others around you like small kids and family pets. Clearing your gaming space is a key preventative step in order to prevent injury.
Your eyes are also at risk when you continuously play virtual reality systems. University of California, Berkeley optometry professor Martin Brooks was quoted during an interview by CNN about the visual health effects caused by virtual reality goggles. “One [effect] is how we affect the growth of the eye, which can lead to myopia or nearsightedness.” (Brooks). Not only is Dr. Brooks lead to believe that virtual reality causes nearsightedness, but also eye fatigue and eye strain. He recommends, as well as the virtual reality company Oculus, that for every 30 minutes or so, you should take a 5 minute break to rest your eyes and brain.
The last and most common negative health side effect that playing virtual reality can induce is motion sickness. I have experienced this first hand with the first couple rounds playingIn Death. The immersive experience that virtual reality offers, and paired with a quality made game, will take you aback and cause a whirlwind of emotions. This whirlwind feeling will cause some motion sickness.
Overall, if you take some preventative steps and follow guidelines discussed above, you will have an enjoyable and safe time playing with virtual reality.
In 2005, Republican Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, helped pass a law that restricted sale or rental of violent video games to minors, in the state of California. This is ironic coming from the former actor who made tens of millions of dollars as the violent antagonist in the Terminator Series, among other violent, yet popular, movies (Totenberg). The idea that violent video games should be kept out of the hands of minors has been studied recently because of the increased notion that violent video games cause real world violence. In fact, Hollingdale and Greitemeyer found that violent video games, whether offline or online, increase aggression, compared to playing offline or online neutral games (Hollingdale & Greitemeyer). This data is not all that surprising because of the widely accepted theory that people learn from one another, by observing, modeling, and emulating (Bandura). These behaviors and attitudes demonstrated by others, which includes the media, extends to video games.
Among the most targeted video games, is the genre of FPS type games. In many of these games, designers are able to depict real-life missions of contemporary war. For example, “Episode 107 was released for the FPS Kuma/War (KumaRealityGames, 2004), allowing players to recreate the killing of Osama bin Laden, by US Navy Seals (Hitchens, Patrickson, & Young).”
Despite the obvious possibility of causation between violent games and violent real-world behavior, it is inconsistent at best. To examine an entire genre of video games and state that these games cause an increase in violent behavior is not only reaching, but fails to take into account other factors, like poverty, social status, and mental health. In fact, Freedman states that research could be interpreted as finding that there is actually no causal effect of video game and violence at all. (Freedman). Freedman also determines that despite the increase in the number of violent video games (and shows and films), there has been a decrease in the number of violent crimes (Freedman).
The violent video game equals violence or aggression is an emotional argument that also fails to take into contemporary politics. Emotions play a large role in behavior, but FPS video games, like Call of Duty: WWII (CoD: WWII) do not. A game on killing ISIS members might spark an unwarranted real-life attack on a Muslim, by an ignorant citizen, because emotions are currently high about ISIS. To add fuel to the fire, people are on edge about the final outcome of whether ISIS will be destroyed or not and this merely adds to emotions. Games like Holy Defense, elicit these emotions, while games about older conflicts, like CoD: WWII do not (O’Connor). Because WWII was around 70+ years ago, it is internationally known that the Nazis were evil, and the conflict has long been settled, people are no longer worried about the outcome, and no one is worried about Hitler and concentration camps returning, regardless of the Nazi Zombies mode available in the game (Although with the rise in Neo-Nazis, in America, this could change soon).
Call of Duty WWII: Zombie Mode
Therefore, I fail to agree with the notion that violent video games, especially CoD: WWII, cause increase violence and/or aggression in the real-world.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. New York, NY: General Learning Press.
O’Connor, Tom. “This New Video Game Lets You Kill ISIS While Fighting as Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 28 Feb. 2018, www.newsweek.com/new-video-game-lets-you-kill-isis-hezbollah-fighting-syria-lebanon-816978.
Totenberg, Nina. “Calif. Pushes To Uphold Ban On Violent Video Games.” NPR, NPR, 2 Nov. 2010, www.npr.org/2010/11/02/130979773/calif-pushes-to-uphold-ban-on-violent-video-games.