Racism in Clash of Clans

Clash of Clans is a game available on the App Store for any person over the age of nine. Embedded in Clash of Clans’ gameplay is racist undertones—a claim that may raise some eyebrows, considering Clash of Clans markets to nine year-olds as its youngest intended audience. Nonetheless, hidden in Clash of Clan’s gameplay are dominant cultural messages about race.

Anna Everett and S. Craig Watkins discuss race portrayal in video games in their article The Power of Play: The Portrayal and Performance of Race in Video Games. Everett and Watkins introduce the concept of “racialized pedagogical zones,” which has to do with game creators drawing heavily upon racist mainstream perceptions and intensifying them to create problematic, racist embedded messages within the gameplay (142).

This is immediately apparent in Clash of Clans, which, on the surface, appears to be a harmless casual game. In Everett and Watkins’ article, they reference a study by the Children Now organization which found that in the top-selling console and computer games, “black and Latino characters were often restricted to athletic, violent, and victim roles, or rendered entirely invisible” (143).

The vast majority of characters in Clash of Clans, as shown in the two screenshots below, are either white humans or mystical animals, such as dragons or golems. However, there is one black character: the Hog Rider. The Hog Rider is unlocked when the Dark Barracks are upgraded to level two, and it is a black man with a mohawk that rides on top of a hog with a large hammer in hand. The Hog Rider attacks any enemy defenses first, moving quickly and dealing out damage at a high rate.

The above two screenshots are of the character list. Notice the magical characters, like dragons and golems, side by side with white characters with only one black character represented in the Hog Rider (the character on the right side of the images that costs 45 dark elixir to train).

This construction of the Hog Rider as a black man perfectly fits the stereotype that Everett and Watkins warn of. The Hog Rider is athletic, as he must be strong to destroy enemy defenses quickly. Additionally, he is violent, as he first goes for enemy defenses in a reckless manner. This depiction of the Hog Rider reinforces dominant cultural stereotypes of black men as violent and athletic.

Furthermore, the game reinforces the notion that Everett and Watkins put forth, that “hegemonic whiteness is positioned as the taken for granted racial norm in game-world environments” (145). The game introduces “heroes” as you progress further; the Barbarian King is unlocked at Town Hall level seven, and the Archer Queen is unlocked at level nine.

The above two images are screenshots of the “Heroes”: the Barbarian King, and the Archer Queen.

These characters are deemed essential in the game, as they do not cost money to train like normal troops, and can take high damage from enemy defenses while simultaneously dealing out high amounts of damage. These characters can be considered the best in the game, and are unsurprisingly white. By representing these two characters as white, Supercell, Clash of Clan’s developer, reinforces the stereotype of “white heroism” in society. As Everett and Watkins specified, “whiteness” is accepted as the norm in video games, and Supercell only furthers this notion with their skin color decision of the heroes.

 

Works Cited

Anna Everett and S. Craig Watkins, “The Power of Play: The Portrayal and Performance of Race in Video Games” from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning (2007), pp. 141–164.



 

Source: Racism in Clash of Clans – Interactive Digital Narratives

The Climb Never Stops (Overwatch Log #2)

As mentioned in the previous log, Overwatch lacks a structured narrative. Despite its extensive mise-en-scene, there’s no story mode, no plot to speak of, not even a definitive companion chronology. However, there is one element of the game which provides a certain narrative interactivity: Competitive Mode.

Competitive Mode places players in matches with others around their skill level. Each season, one plays ten placement matches and receives a skill rating based on their performance in them. Based on their skill rating, they’re placed in one of eight possible tiers.

Again, there’s no structured plot here. But there is a sort of implied narrative in the design of Competitive Mode. Higher numbers denote higher skill, and as the skill tier increases the icon representing it becomes more intricate and brightly colored. These small details turn the skill ranking players receive into a sort of implicit value judgment. The better you are at Overwatch, the more prestige you have. Of course, this is only logical for the Competitive Mode in a team and objective based game, but it’s still an element of narrative that seems carefully constructed.

Another interesting aspect of Competitive Mode is the sort of metagaming that goes along with it. Overwatch allows people on a team of six to select one hero from a range of over two dozen options, each with different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. This means that at any given time a team must have six different characters in play. While the development team behind the game has continually tried to balance the heroes so that a player can choose any of the options and have an equal chance at victory, they haven’t really succeeded.

This leaderboard shows the top 500 players in my region and their most played heroes. Although there is a decent amount of variation, the most common characters for these players only represent 14 out of a possible 26. Because it is impossible to make a game perfectly balanced, certain heroes will always be better equipped to win than others. The current hierarchy of the characters is called the meta, and knowing it allows players to choose the best options to win.

Of course, the meta isn’t a part of Overwatch‘s programming. When one works with the meta, one moves on Galloway’s categorizations from diegetic operator action to non-diegetic operator action. They are no longer working within the mechanics of the game, but are still striving to win it by using outside methods.

Source: The Climb Never Stops (Overwatch Log #2)

Minecraft or Mods?

Minecraft is about 10 years old now, but it has stayed a popular game partly because of the number of mods it has and how easily it is to share worlds. Minecraft was already a game that gave infinite possibilities to build and be creative, but through mods, there are even more possibilities. Minecraft makes it very easy to change the graphics, sounds, and the players skins. The default skin is Steve who is a basic guy, but there are thousands of downloadable skins that the player can choose to make themselves. The default graphics and sounds are also pretty basic, but there are mods that make the graphics hyper-realistic and make the game more immersive. On the other hand there are also graphics mods that make the game cartoony or medieval. The vast number of mods available makes it easy for each player to customize their own game however they please.

Minecraft ModAn example of a graphics mod that is hyper-realistic.

There are also mods that go beyond changing the graphics and change the mechanics of the game. Since the Minecraft world is so open, there is also a wide variety in the types of mods there are. However, almost all mods add new items to the game that change how the game can be played. I played a version that added jetpacks and other cool technological inventions into the game. Minecraft is a good example of how mods have benefited the game because they add more variety and creativity to a game and creates a positive, supportive community around the game.

Finally, Minecraft makes it easy to share worlds with other people. This allows people to make mini games in a Minecraft world or to share a realistic build of a real-life place. The Xbox version of Minecraft comes with a prebuilt world that is full of cool builds, such as pirate ships, and is fun to explore. Back when The Hunger Games was popular there was a version of the hunger games built into a Minecraft world. People have also created story modes in their worlds which gives Minecraft more of a narrative and makes the game more directed than before. Minecraft starts out as a very basic world, but the developers allowed the community to modify the game which resulted in a variety of game types and is a good example of how mods improve a game.

Source: Minecraft or Mods?

No Stop, No Problem

Most people don’t think about the menu of a game adding to the overall experience and creating a connection between the player and the game. Typically, the menu prevents us from becoming immersed in the game and separates its users from the game world and the real world. It is a nondiegetic operative frame that most games have, but few pay much attention to it. However, this is not the case with Warframe.

First let me start by explaining how Warframe “works”. Warframe is a game in which you go on missions and depending on the mission you choose to go on, determines if you go with other online players or alone. Now, depending on the type of mission you choose to go on, the menu changes. For example, when you play with other online players, the world is still happening and moving on its own, like all MMORPG games. And on the contrary, when you play a solo mission, the menu pauses the game and prevents the game world from moving. Although it is unique how these two menus correlate and go hand in hand, Warframe has yet another “menu” and separates it from other games.

When you finish a mission, or are choosing a mission to go on, you are sent to your ship. In this ship you can change weapons, do practice fighting, change appearance, and obviously choose a mission to go on. I considered this in between scene to be a menu as well for it has all the functions of a menu, but also it is interactive. You must move around the ship to locate these different places to perform the operations I listed above. This interactive menu helps keep the user immersed in the game, all the while still acting as a menu. Even though it has the characteristics and preforms the same purpose of a menu, doesn’t feel quite like a menu. This menu manages to keep the attention of those playing, and very creatively closes the bounds between operator and machine. For this reasoning, Warframe has one of the most creative menu’s that blurs the distinction between the game’s menu, and its play.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4O0pwn9XlxQ

Work Cited:

Nooney, Laine. Debugging Game History, A critical Lexicon. MIT Press: 2016.Print.

Source: No Stop, No Problem

GTA V: Do with it what you will

In this second play through, I focused on how immersive GTA is to help break down just what makes this game so appealing to people of so many ages. The three narratives the game designers created are extremely deep and allow the player to feel emotionally connected to the character(s). One unique aspect of GTA V is the game designers made it extremely easy to mod, allowing players to add hundreds of different objects, abilities, etc. in order to keep gameplay fresh. I was able to add my own mods to the game, making my character invincible and able to call a helicopter at a moment’s notice. Doing this made the game way more interesting, allowing a non-experienced player, like myself, to explore even more of GTA’s space. In my opinion, these mods are as important to the game as the initial game itself, especially because of their ability to extend the game’s life for experienced players.

An image from the game highlighting its controversial portrayal of stereotypes

The many critics of GTA V point to the game’s emphasis of violence, sexual depiction of women, and obvious racial prejudices as reasons it should not be played. After going through the second round of playing, it is easy to understand the detractors; however, I think the reason GTA V is so popular and important culturally is the fact that it highlights everything that is wrong in today’s world. Possibly the most unusual part of a video game this violent is what happens when the player chooses to do nothing. The mise-en-scene goes from one reminiscent of an action-packed thriller to one depicting the average hustle and bustle of a major city. I believe the game designers were attempting to make a point: The crime, racism, and sexism that is so often portrayed in the media, is completely avoidable. Just as it is in GTA V’s digitally remade environment, wrongdoing is always a choice.

Source: GTA V: Do with it what you will

What’s Your Body Count?

In Destroy All Humans!, the primary objective is to take over Earth through means of deception, tactics, and more noticeably, sheer will. Laine Nooney describes menus as being drastically different than menus we get when we are about to order our food at a restaurant. “Rarely do we discuss simply ‘choosing’ from game menus. Rather, we ‘navigate’ them, like captains gliding across digital surfaces.” When I first played Destroy All Humans! as a kid, I was unaware of what was going on during the cutscenes. Had I known then, I would have been able to turn the subtitles on. Menus today typically allow the player to restore, quit, or customize the controller or audio settings, among other configurations. In Destroy All Humans! however, the menu was not as sophisticated as they are today.

Players have the option of either killing as many humans as they want or completing the objective to advance within the game. Destroy All Humans! keeps stats of almost literally every aspect of what you have accomplished or have not accomplished within the game if you go to the menu. So for me, I personally felt that the game menu allows you to define and customize the experience of the game by revealing what your tendencies actions you undertook while you progressed. You define what you want to get out of the game itself, especially if you like the simulation that it provides if a hostile alien were to land on earth.

As you can see in the pictures above, as you progress through the game itself, it keeps track of how many humans and soldiers you have anal probed, disintegrated as well as destruction of cars, tanks, and buildings. It’s a pretty neat feature that complements the narrative of the game and makes me wonder what the total body count is going to be by the time you reach the end of the game. The menu in Destroy All Humans! incorporates both attributes of digital play as well as participating in the activity of digital play.

In the pictures above, you can see an example of how the menu can be considered as participating in the activity of digital play. The on-screen activity of presenting the player with options to select different discourses of action, seems to emphasize the connection between player and machine. The human agency to choose between what the mayor in the pictures above wanted to say to his constituents was a good choice in utilizing the aspects of choice and menu within the gameplay itself. You could either anger the townsfolk and lie to them causing an uproar. Or you could tell them what they wanted to hear like real life politicians. The similarity between what the options were and what American politicians say in real life was not lost on me. Because in all honesty, what politicians actually tell the truth?

While the varying menus in Destroy All Humans! complement the gameplay itself, I believe there was one aspect of the game that prevented the game from reaching its full immersive potential. That feature was the auto-save screen. For the PS2, the memory card had to be plugged into the console itself before you could even save. The auto-save function today occurs in the background without notifying the player and taking them out of the game-world for a few seconds. In Destroy All Humans!, the auto-save feature was triggered anytime you died, completed a side-mission, or completed the objective. This constant interruption between the gameplay and need to seamlessly combine the auto-save function and narrative of the game was jarring. I feel it emphasizes how important it is to design a video game that doesn’t prevent the player from being totally immersed in the game itself.

 

Works Cited

Laine Nooney, “Menu” from Debugging Game History (2016), pp. 305-312

Samuel Tobin, “Save” from Debugging Game History (2016), pp. 385-391



Source: What’s Your Body Count?

Storytelling in Journey

Having played through Journey now, the experience was wonderful.  Rarely has a game been so compelling, and with so little dialogue to build its narrative.  One of the ways that Journey does this so well is through the use of dynamic lighting and music to influence your mood as you progress through the different stages of the game.  When you start off, the land is bright, enjoying the pleasantly filtered (afternoon?) sunshine as you experience the game’s world for the first time.  Later, as you explore the ancient ruins before you, the lighting changes to a beautiful sunset-like shade of gold and orange, lulling you and creating a sense of peace as you descend into the ruins.  Deep inside the ruins, you find that the world is not as peaceful as it appears at the surface, with giant machines that seek to eliminate all of the scarf you’ve been working so hard to collect up to this point.  The music takes a dramatic shift, and the atmosphere becomes much darker with eerie green and blue accents instead of the comforting gold and orange of the previous stage.  These shifts occur to inform the player that there is danger, something that these changes seem to subconsciously alert us to.  This method of moving forward a narrative creates an experience that feels less forced, although the game is still “on rails” in many ways.

One of the other aspects of the game that helps develop a sense of context are the murals hidden throughout the game.  Upon arriving at a blank wall with a few gravestones framing it, you can activate your chime and trigger a reveal of a mural on the wall, which details some aspect of the story hidden behind the world of Journey.  Without these murals in the game, I don’t think I could have begun to understand the series of events leading up to the present state of the world.  What ThatGameCompany did with Journey is a masterpiece.  They hid the story just within reach, but asked the player to decide whether they wanted to know more or not.  This allows the player even more agency, and helps develop a sense of immersion with the world should they choose to seek out all of the murals and hidden items throughout the game.

 

Source: Storytelling in Journey

All Hell Breaks Loose

In my weeks of playing call of duty WWII since the last time I posted have been great. In that time, I was able to discover new parts of the game, improve my skills and appreciate how impossible it was to fight in WWII. Which is what the creators of the game at Sledgehammer did well at, showing how intense WWII was. The game camera they use in this game is FPS which means you see what your character or avatar would see. In the campaign, they do a great job of using the characters line of sight to show the full environment of what these men went through. “the characters emotions or actions are not the purpose of the scene. Rather, the camera is on the character’s environment, affecting what actions the character can likely do” (deWinter) For instance, in the first scene of the campaign is D-Day. It shows you the boat ride to the beach and the unfortunate task of having to drop the steel shield to exit the boat. But more importantly, it directs you towards a specific bunker in which you are supposed to overrun. By narrowing you in and engaging the environment you feel inclined to go towards the people that are shooting at you because it feels like the right thing to do. Which seems that FPS games are doing well at lately. Another thing that stood out to me in the game was the use of non-diegetic sound. Throughout the campaign you can hear music and sound effects that would not normally occur in the actual environment. For instance, in a stealth mission there will be calm and “sneaky-like” music while you slip through the enemy’s radar. When you are seen by an enemy this sudden high note goes off, kind of like a cello playing a quick note. The game seems to have many of these types of non-diegetic sounds going off for dramatic effect. Like I have said in the past, the game comes off as a movie, especially with these long cut scenes between missions.

Source: All Hell Breaks Loose

Why COD Lacks Immersion

Call of Duty: WWII is a first person shooter game that gives the player the ability to play three different modes: multiplayer, zombies, and campaign. I will focus on the campaign mode, specifically its immersive qualities, or lack thereof.

The game does have characteristics that make it an immersive game. Qualities such as its perspective (FPS) and the dialogue one must experience throughout the campaign only add to the environment of World War II combat.  The graphics put the player into 1940’s Europe and the constant action keeps the player entertained with the game.

Gameplay when dialogue commonly occurs

Yet, Call of Duty: WWII has features that takeaway from the overall immersion.  It is not surprising that there are features that reduce the immersion, but it is surprising how glaring they are.

The most obvious and least bothersome is the head-up display (HUD).  Most first person shooter games have a HUD, which is a status bar that relays information to the player.  As the picture below indicates, the HUD shows health, number of bullets, grenades, and other possible options, like a mortar strike or the use of binoculars.

Next is the historical accuracy of the game.  Although, locations and the overall narrative of WWII is followed, there are little things that add up.  For example, there are females enlisted in each military, which did not occur until later.  Additionally, the swastika has been censored in some parts of the game.  Now it is most likely that these two things have occurred because of culturalization.  Kate Edwards defines culturalization as “taking a deeper look (than localization) into a game’s fundamental assumptions and content choices and then assessing their viability both in the broad, multicultural marketplace as well as in specific geographic locales” (Edwards, 97).  It is possible to assume that censoring the swastika is a message and utilizing females is to make the game more personal for female players.  Another quality that take away from the immersion of the game is that some of the weapon sounds were made via software and not with the actual sounds from real life fire arms and are therefore inaccurate. A final issue with the historical inaccurate campaign is that the game starts with the invasion of Normandy, better known as D-Day. D-Day occurs on June 6, 1944, almost 5 years after the start of the war.

 

Kar98k Sniper

The most blaring characteristic that takes away from the immersion is the soundtrack.  There is nothing wrong with the soundtrack except that it plays while the game is going.  If I can hear the soundtrack while I am gunning down planes then that takes me out of the game.

Although there are immersive problems with the game, it is possible for a Call of Duty game to be immersive. This article ranks a Call of Duty (Black Ops)  game in the “top 10 most immersive games to play before you die.” https://www.moltenice.co/10-immersive-games/

 

Sources:

Edwards, Kate.  “Culturalization.” Debugging Game History. MIT Press, 2016.

 

 

 

Source: Why COD Lacks Immersion

Game Log 2 – 3: Queering Soccer with Cars

Recently, we talked in class about the concept of ‘queerness’ in games.  In her writing, scholar Colleen Macklin argued that Queerness can manifest itself in games in a number of ways, besides the community outside the game identifying as queer.  In class we elaborated on this specifically in the game itself.  Gameplay can be queer.  The narrative itself can also be queer in how it is told.

 

Now, you probably are confused as to how a game about cars playing soccer could possess any sort of queerness.  But I’d argue quite the contrary.  When you think of a game like Rocket League conceptually, you’d probably initially expect it to be hyper-masculine.  Cars, particularly racing games, are usually targeted towards men, typically featuring things like scantily-clad start girls and super “macho” cars.  The same can be said for games like Madden and Fifa who focus their marketing towards men.  Thus, if I were to tell you you were going to play a game that involved both, you’d probably think this was a real MAN’s MAN GAME.

Team Rocket GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

However, on a gameplay level, the combination of cars with soccer is kind of queering the idea of a traditional soccer game.  Playing soccer with a car results in a lot of erratic movement and passing.  This challenge the fluid and controlled movement of a traditional soccer game.

 

Rocket League isn’t in the business of catering to heteronormativity and masculinity.  As an example, look no further than the car customization system that sits at the center of the game.  

 

Shane Beam GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

As you play matches, you acquire gear to customize your car.  In most car games, you’d expect to be able to change the color of your car, add a huge muffler, maybe put some flames on the side, or improving the performance of your car.  In Rocket League, everyone’s car is the same.  The important thing is to stand out and be unique.  As a result, you end of with all sorts of crazy cars that are stellar exemplifications of self-expression.  These cars don’t have to be hyper masculine, bending to heteronormative expectation.  They also defy the expectation of conformity in sports like soccer, the idea that we have to sacrifice individuality for the success of the larger group.

 

And the developers didn’t hide this customization feature, it sits front and center. Customizing your car, being unique and standing out, are the only true measures of progression in this game.  There are no experience points or awards to be sought, the only thing you gain from playing matches is more cool gear to customize your car.  They clearly wanted being different to be a point of emphasis in this game.

Rocket League Slipstream GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I think that ultimately you can call Rocket League a queer game because of the way it subverts heteronormative expectations of what a car or racing game, “should be”.  The idea of customizing your player avatar is not necessarily new in games, but it’s presence as a prominent feature in a car/sports game, especially in such a way that emphasizes creative freedom and expression, is certainly something to get excited about!

Source: Game Log 2 – 3: Queering Soccer with Cars