Mario the Bully

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.

http://gamestudies.org/1702/articles/hartmann

Source: Mario the Bully

Animal Crossing and Mobile Gaming as Anti-Escapist

Gordon Calleja’s article, Digital Games and Escapism, which challenges the validity of the suggestion that video games are a mostly negative form of escapism, caused me to further question the distinction between mobile and console games. Much of the article emphasizes the idea of the “magic circle” as a problematic binary that defines the “spatial, temporal, and psychological boundary” (340) separating games from reality. This is a concept that is used regularly when defining both physical and virtual games. However, in his video-game specific argument, he primarily situates these three worlds as being dependant on the physical placement of a human playing the game. His use of language asserts judgment over computer games or console games, which generally require a person to sit down for a distinct amount of time and focus their vision onto the screen until they’ve decided to stop. This physical necessity to play in a specific spot more clearly sets up a claim for his argument, which problematizes the suggestion that focusing attention onto a game is inherently “escapist”, but does not exactly explain what happens when playing a virtual game on one’s cell phone or otherwise portable device.

For example, when playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp on my iPhone, I can pretty much pull up the app whenever or wherever I choose, assuming I have sufficient wifi connection. What does this lack of real-life physical boundary add or take away to the game experience—or even to the way I experience life? In questioning the application of the magic circle concept to video games as opposed to socially-upheld boundaries of games requiring human interaction, Calleja quotes Juul as saying: “… in video games, the magic circle is quite well defined since a video game only takes place on the screen and using the input devices (mouse, keyboard, controllers) rather than in the rest of the world; hence there is no ‘‘ball’’ that can be out of bounds” (341). This quotation doesn’t quite suit the description of a mobile game, as I can carry my game with me when I go to get a snack, or talk to a friend, and continue playing. To test this theory I spent my 30 minutes of play for this round of logs playing Pocket Camp in the living room of my apartment while my housemates were around. In this “study”, for lack of a better word, I found that instead of Pocket Camp serving as an escape from reality, I was simply less invested in both my real and virtual surroundings. Some of this came with the fact that I could still receive text message and email notifications at the top of my screen: a constant reminder that life is going on around me and I am expected to interact with it. There is something I find inherently less escapist in the model of phone gaming because of this. Though cell phones get a lot of flack these days for supposedly distracting millennials from their real-world surroundings, unless you silence your phone and remove all notification systems from it and sit alone in a dark room (which, admittedly, as kind of nice to do sometimes), the purpose of a phone is often to remind someone of external obligations and interactions.

In Pocket Camp, specifically, there is also an element of real time that contributes to my assumption that the game makers purposely do not want their game serving as escapism. As I’ve mentioned in previous logs, there are 3-hour rotations in which animals come and go and give the player requests. The background animation in the game changes in these three-hour time slots as well (primarily daylight, to sunset, to night time), serving as a reminder of the time of day in the real world. The time that has passed while playing, and the time a player must wait for certain things to occur, is consistently in the forefront of the game’s design, as is visible in the screenshot below.

 At the bottom of the screen, you can see how much time is left until certain events happen.

Ultimately, I came to wonder what it does to a player’s investment in a game to know that they are ultimately reliant on real-world time to reach certain accomplishments. This is a model I’ve now realized occurs in most of the phone games typically in the Apple store top 20: games that are often dependant on limited stamina systems and real-time refresh loops of said stamina. It is almost as though mobile game designers have purposely inverted the assumption of the “magic circle”, by creating a game that constantly reminds you that you are choosing to play instead of tending to real world responsibilities by having an in-game clock as a central mechanic. Often, this system serves as a method of frustrating the player enough to make them want to spend real-world money on stamina so they can continue playing as much as they want, and is therefore takes on a transparent capitalist agenda, but it also makes the game—and others like it—less escapist.

 

Works Cited: 

Calleja, Gordon. “Digital Games and Escapism.” Games and Culture , vol. 5, no. 4, 7 May 2010, pp. 335–353., doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412009360412.

Source: Animal Crossing and Mobile Gaming as Anti-Escapist

Casual Games: Shaping What a Gamer Looks Like

There is no questioning that the modern “gamer” is often misrepresented and misunderstood.  The gaming industry has dramatically changed in the last 20 years and with the rise of console games and the increasingly large number of “free to play” games that are available in app stores, the “casual” gaming experience is on the rise too: reflecting an entirely new demographic of players. In Shira Chess and Nathaniel Evans’ paper “What Does a Gamer Look Like,” they emphasize a shift away from the stereotypical image of a heterosexual male that many people imagine when they think gamer, citing statistical evidence that almost half of individuals playing video games today are women.  Is this shift a result of changing perceptions of the video game industry or are there other factors at play, such as the type of games that are being made?

While hardcore games such as first person shooters may be still dominated by men, games like Words with Friends 2 attract an entirely different audience- outside of the image of a gamer that we traditionally subscribe to.  This isn’t to say that females don’t play MMO’s and first person shooters but, as Chess points out, that the number of females playing these games are far fewer than their male counterparts.  Even more surprisingly, Chess and Evans suggest that the females that do play these games, are less likely to use voice chat and similar features, possibly pointing out that the misperception of what a “gamer” looks like, puts pressure on females, forcing them to play other, “more casual” games.

As an experiment, I queued up 20 random matches in Words With Friends 2 in order to get a sense of the demographic that’s playing the game.  Of the 20 matches that I started, 14 of them were women and I assume that this trend would continue even if I had a larger sample size.  As Chess and Evans posit in their paper, it is clear that there are plenty of women playing video games, but I would suggest that this statistic  has more to do with a change in the gaming industry than it has to do with the actual “gamer.”

 Endless Number of Casual Games Available in the App Store

With the increasingly large number of casual games on the market that you can play at the click of a button, such as Words with Friends or Candy Crush, video games are reaching larger and larger numbers of people, with only a small percentage of games falling under the “hardcore” category that is largely dominated by males.  As a result the demographic of people that play video games is becoming more and more balanced among all types of people, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality.  In the end, it isn’t exactly clear what accounts for this shift in “what a gamer looks like”, but with the increasing number of games on the market that are being marketed to individuals outside of the “traditional” straight white male version of a gamer,  it is no surprise that more people want to play.

 

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1527476416643765

Source: Casual Games: Shaping What a Gamer Looks Like

Blog 3: Mario, come save me! Oh, and by the way, I baked you a cake!

Mario first graced the video game industry over 30 years ago and has since appeared in numerous reincarnations, many of which rest of the premise of Mario saving Princess Peach from the evil Bowser.  Princess Peach represents a common “damsel in distress” trope in video games and perpetuates the societal idea that women are helpless and need men to fulfill their lives. Since Mario and Peach first debuted, Peach has evolved to participate in some activities such as being a playable character in Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mario Party, and others.  However, in Nintendo’s most recent Mario game, Super Mario Run, Peach is subjected to the old position of helpless distress and even adds at the beginning that she will “bake a cake” for Mario if he comes save her.

Why is it that even in the 21stcentury, when gender equality, gender rights, and female empowerment are topics widely discussed, Nintendo still paints women in a powerless role?

Journalists and scholars debate over whether or not Super Mario Runis sexist or not. New York Times writer, Chris Suellentrop criticized the game for not only falling in the same gender patterns as before, but also exacerbating them by making Peach a playable character by unlocking her through a series of difficult tasks and in-app purchases. Suellentrop argues that this makes women seem like “prizes.”  On the other hand, Forbes writer Erik Kain, pushes back on Chris’s comments and believes unlocking Peach as a character is not objectifying women but simply a reward for playing the game.  Ina Fried of Recode also notes that while Mario may be dated with its references to the damsel in distress, it is this nostalgia that brings players back to new Mario games and Nintendo is neither perpetuating gender stereotypes nor subverting them.

In my opinion, Super Mario Run is at its core, a sexist storyline. Perhaps if Nintendo is ever willing to take the risk to create a game that completely goes against the “nostalgic” sexist Mario storyline, then people will begin to take note of the impact that video games can have on societal interactions.

Chris Suellentrop: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/22/opinion/super-mario-runs-not-so-super-gender-politics.html

Erik Kain: https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2016/12/31/no-super-mario-run-isnt-a-sexist-retrograde-mobile-game/#663817907e10

Ina Fried: https://www.recode.net/2016/12/16/13984628/super-mario-run-gender-stereotypes

Source: Blog 3: Mario, come save me! Oh, and by the way, I baked you a cake!

I Literally Have No Vowels

Words With Friends 2

 

Words With Friends 2 is basically your epitome of a casual game. No gore, no element of fear, and certainly no punishment, this game combines the classic elements and mechanics of scrabble with the ability to connect online with other individuals, hinting the “with friends” portion of Words With Friends.  The game even offers a chat box to communicate with your opponents.

Another element that makes this game fall into the casual game category is the fact that this game is about as juicy as it gets. There are bright colors, inviting sounds, and prizes to be won with the completion of weekly challenges.  All of these elements combined with extreme playability makes this game one that is accessible to almost anyone. Take a look at the trailer below to get a feel for the game and the casual atmosphere that the developers at Zynga intended with its design.

Is there anything interesting that can be said about a game like this? The academic intrigue that can be found in this game partially lies within the juxtaposition of the seemingly friendly, low risk vibe with the high stakes competitive atmosphere. You might be asking, how is this game high risk? You can’t die, there are no punishments for a loss, and, most importantly, there are no zombies trying to eat you.  Well, the punishment in this game is one that isn’t quantified within the game.  What you’re risking with this game is your pride. A win cements your superior intellect to your friends while a loss leaves you embarrassed and desperate for a rematch.

This game centers around agon competition that involves strategy, skill, and intelligence while mixing in alea factors of tile selection and opponent word placement.  This combination of agon and alea components offers another interesting component of Words with Friends: how players respond to the game. With a game that can be tied to intellect, a loss can feel like a real blow. I am interested to know if players view losses and victories differently.  What I mean is, are losses written off as unlucky results of chance while victories pinned to a players superior skill? There may be an element of this in all games that combine aspects of agon and alea, but is it more apparent in a game like Words With Friends that centers around the players intellectual ability.

A look into the tile bag

These questions will be analyzed further in upcoming blogs along with other aspects of Words With Friends. At surface level this game may not seem like much but, like any successful game, an incredible amount of thought and creativity has gone into its design and therefore this game has a lot to offer upon further inspection.

Source: I Literally Have No Vowels

Let’s Make Juice

Bored at a commercial break, I take out my phone, and the next thing I know I am slicing apples, oranges, pears, and the all-important bananas. I am playing my favorite casual game, Fruit Ninja. Over the years my interest in this game has come and gone; however, with this assignment I plan to take a critical look at some of the characteristics of Fruit Ninja that make it a casual game.

According to the chapter “What is Casual?” by Jesper Juul that we read for class, Fruit Ninja meets all five of the specifications for a casual game, it is fictitious, easy to use, it has interruptibility, there is a low amount of punishment, and it is highly juicy. In this blogpost I want to specifically address the punishment and juiciness aspects of the game. Fruit Ninja has three modes, and each has a varying level of punishment. In “Zen” mode there is absolutely no punishment, fruit simply flies up for ninety seconds before the game terminates. In “Arcade” mode there is slightly more punishment; in addition to the fruit there are now bombs, which if hit will lower a player’s score by ten points and will remove any blitz that the player currently has. In the grand scheme of the game, a ten-point reduction is very small, and the blitz can easily be re-earned by slicing more combos. Even in this mode it does not appear that the punishment is overwhelmingly harsh. The final mode, “Classic,” has the strictest punishment. In this mode there is no time limit, instead the player slices fruit until he or she drops three fruit (after every 100 points one drop is erased) or until a bomb is hit. This is clearly the most severe punishment in the game, as a single errant slice could end an entire game. However, the difficulty level, especially in the early stages, makes the game very accessible to players of all abilities.

This picture shows the minus 10 points from hitting a bomb in “Arcade” mode

Finally, I want to talk about the juiciness of the game. As one might expect when violently slicing all types of fruit juice flies on to the screen. More to what Juul discusses in the aforementioned chapter, there is almost endless positive feedback, both visually and audibly. For example, when a player gets a combo a graphic pops up that tells the player about the combo, along with a special noise that only accompanies combos. In “Arcade” mode, the juiciest of all the modes, a player is capable of getting combo blitzes when he or she gets a certain amount of combos in a certain time period. A blitz is accompanied by a special light in the background of the dojo, which acts as a reinforcer for the player. In addition to the lights in the background, every blitz is accompanied by what sounds like an “ahh” from the crowd. Juiciness is one of the hallmarks of a casual game, and Fruit Ninja, at its core, is full of juice.

This picture shows the background yellow lines along with multiple examples of positive reinforcement from the previous slice

Source: Let’s Make Juice

Super Casual Bros

I have been playing Super Mario Strikers for the Nintendo Gamecube and it is a good example of what a casual game plays like according to Jesper Juul. While it does fall under the category of agon and can be very competitive, it does fit into all five categories set out by Juul. To begin, the cover of the game is a picture of Mario and Donkey Kong playing a pretty fierce game of soccer. These two characters are well known throughout Nintendo and while they do look intense, knowing that it is a Mario game lets the player know that it will be a pleasant game. If you have had any experience with a GameCube controller, the controls of the game will come easily. The game has two or three important buttons for beginners but once the player gets a hang of the game can use all the buttons on the controller to perfect their playing style. Each match can be set to different settings, but the standard time limit is five minutes. The game can also be paused any time and played later so it has a high level of interuptibility. Losing the game to your opponent is the biggest punishment the game has. While playing the game, if you do something illegal, the player gets a classic Mario shell to throw around which is also a small punishment. In general, since the matches are so short, there is a very low level of punishment for the player. Lastly Super Mario Strikers has a high level of juiciness. If the player does something well within the match, like get a shot on target, the player is rewarded with a Mario shell to throw which provides very quick feedback. When a goal is scored a dramatic replay is shown and when players perform their special shot a cool cut scene is played. I would say I am a casual gamer and this game fits my style perfectly so that I can play a short game in-between class or play a couple games at night with a friend.

This shows Yoshi during a super strike. The green fire and stars show the juiciness of the game.

 

Source: Super Casual Bros