The Rewarding Nature of Super Monkey Ball 2

Super Monkey Ball 2 is an example of a platform game, where the player is tasked with navigating each individual stage (platform) in order to reach the goal and complete the level. In her paper, “Unlocking the Gameworld: The Rewards of Space and Time in Videogames,” Alison Gazzard illustrates four central reward categories that are prevalent in games like Super Monkey Ball 2, Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, and many other classic platform games. These four types of rewards are “‘rewards of glory, rewards of sustenance, rewards of access, and rewards of facility’” (Gazzard 2). For the rest of the blog post, I will explain how each of these rewards relates to the game play of Super Monkey Ball 2.

Rewards of glory are “‘[. . .] all the things you’re going to give the player that have absolutely no impact on the game play itself but will be things they end up taking away from the experience’” (Gazzard 2). In Super Monkey Ball 2 rewards of glory would be bananas, which are comparable to the coins and rings that Gazzard mentions when discussing Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the HedgehogIn the game play of Super Monkey Ball 2 the bananas, individually, serve no purpose, they can increase a player’s score slightly, but in challenge mode each individual banana serves no real purpose. In challenge mode, and even in story mode the bananas seem to be elements of juiciness that serve as a social reward, giving “[. . .] the player an opportunity to discuss rewards amongst friends ” (Gazzard 2).

This picture shows a level rich with bananas (reward of glory). When the banana counter in the top right reaches 100 the player will be granted an extra life. (Courtesy of Google images).

 

Rewards of glory can be linked to rewards of sustenance, as rewards of sustenance are “‘given so the player can maintain their avatar’s status quo and keep all the things they’ve gained in the game so far’” (Gazzard 2). In terms of Super Monkey Ball 2, the bananas, which individually serve no purpose, eventually allow the player to gain a life. This feature is only available in challenge mode, but it allows “[. . .] players to keep their characters within the gameworld longer” (Gazzard 2). In doing this, rewards of sustenance allow the player to increase the amount of time he or she is able to play one continuous game.

The third type of reward is rewards of access, which “[. . .] allow for a direct impact on the spatial opportunities within the game” (Gazzard 2). In Super Monkey Ball 2 these rewards manifest themselves as switches that move certain elements of the platform, such as a bridge. Without activating these switches the player will not be able to successfully complete the level. Gazzard claims that “these rewards are spatial, as they allow for game progression through unlocking new areas for players to explore” (2). While these buttons might not always be seen as rewards due to their necessity, it is their ability to help the player progress through the level that makes them a reward.

This picture shows many switches, only a few will cause the goal to pop up, allowing the player to successfully complete the level (Courtesy of Google images). 

The final category of rewards is rewards of facility. They are defined as things that ‘”[. . .] enable a player’s avatar to to do things they couldn’t do before or enhance abilities they already possess’” (Gazzard 2). In Super Monkey Ball 2 these can be considered the switches similarly to the rewards of access; however, I believe that knowledge of the game mechanics is the games true reward of facility. As a player improves he or she will inevitably gain a better understanding of the patterns within the game, and the proper techniques for navigating difficult obstacles. This, while not a physical reward, will allow the player to enhance their existing abilities and will expand the existing spatial world for the player. These four types of rewards make a significant contribution to the incredibly rewarding nature of platform games like Super Monkey Ball 2

 

Works Cited:

“Game Studies.” Game Studies – Unlocking the Gameworld: The Rewards of Space and Time in Videogames, gamestudies.org/1101/articles/gazzard_alison.

Source Website: http://gamestudies.org/1101/articles/gazzard_alison

 

Source: The Rewarding Nature of Super Monkey Ball 2

Questionable Representations of Race in Kingdom Hearts 2

Though Kingdom Hearts one of my favorite franchises ever, I have always been bothered by the representations of race in the game. This has always been questionable territory for the game, and can be tricky to argue for or against because the races of the characters are generally intentionally ambiguous. This is due to the fact that the main trio travel across worlds and visit nondescript original locations (alongside the more familiar Disney worlds) and their home is an equally nondescript island paradise in the middle of nowhere. Though it seems to be a common opinion that Sora, Riku, and Kairi are of Japanese descent due to the production company being Japanese, there is no concrete answer to this question, Regardless, it is obvious that the majority of the characters in the game are depicted as light skinned.

In Kingdom Hearts 2, however, it becomes more apparent that there is a specific usage of dark-skinned characters to depict evil, or the ability to be corrupted and ultimately become evil. Though the main argument for this aesthetic choice is that they represent humanoid embodiments of darkness—a key concept in the game—the implications of this choice are still inherently problematic in suggesting that people with dark skin are also more likely to be devoid of compassion, sanity, or complex emotions. One example that stands out to me from the beginning of the game is the early representation of DiZ, a mysterious character who appears for the first time as a manipulative bad-guy. Since I’ve played through the whole game before, I know that he is actually on the side of the heroes, but what interests me about this reveal is the way his character is portrayed when he is assumed to be evil, and how he is portrayed when he discloses his true persona.

DiZ at the beginning of the game (assumed to be evil) versus his “true form” at the end of the game after being proven good.

As you can see from above, DiZ is originally shown as a character who is mostly concealed, but the little visible skin is notably dark. However, when he takes off his disguise and becomes “Ansem the Wise”, this persona is dropped, perhaps indirectly (and very problematically) suggesting that a black character can be neither wise nor good.

Another prickly example is the appearance shift of the character Riku. As the anti-hero protagonist, Riku has perhaps the most complex character arc across the course of the games, but the most drastic shift of his characterization is in Kingdom Hearts 2, where he gives up his physical form to the darkness in order to become stronger and save his friends. This is what happens:

Riku’s appearance in KH1, the first big chunk of KH2, and the ending of KH2 when he relinquishes the darkness from his body.

There are hints dropped every so often in the beginning of the game, but the big reveal of his new form is not until much later, and the power of friendship manages to revert him to his original appearance (and give him not one, but TWO vests). However, it is safe to say that this shift is questionable at best. In the first game, it was already clear that he was the most susceptible to negative emotions, so the change in his appearance seems unnecessary and doesn’t do much but reinforce the idea that dark-skinned bodies are inherently villainous, and light-skinned ones are in some way more pure or more worthy of redemption.

Though these are thoughts I’ve had for quite some time, Anna Everett’s Power of Play article reinforced my thoughts, particularly when she said: “these games draw heavily from racist discourses already circulating in popular and mainstream culture and arguably intensify these messages and lessons of racial difference through the power and allure of interactive gameplay” (142). Though she was technically talking about a different kind of game entirely (the urban street game vs. a JRPG), I think the statement is still very much applicable to Kingdom Hearts. It is not an uncommon trope for dark bodies to be demonized in media, and seems particularly potent in a game aimed at younger audiences. Though the game is pretty dated, it’s unfortunately very unlikely that this is a problem that will be fixed in the long awaited Kingdom Hearts 3.

Works Referenced: 

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: Questionable Representations of Race in Kingdom Hearts 2

Kingdom Hearts 2: New Perspectives on an Old Favorite

I thought this class would be a great opportunity to replay Kingdom Hearts 2 before the long-awaited release of Kingdom Hearts 3 at some point this year. On top of having many years of separation from this game, this play-through will likely be a completely different experience for me in that I’m playing the revamped version: Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix for the first time rather than returning to the original Playstation 2 version. This means I am likely to encounter slightly different mechanics, visuals, and bonus story content that I am unfamiliar with.

 Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpYm-frIhJ0. Promotional photo for Kingdom Hearts 2.5 Remix

To start off with, something that has always been unusual to me (and to most people) about Kingdom Hearts is how it blends two incredibly popular and very different worlds with an entirely new one. From the image above, many characters are easily identifiable to nearly any audience: Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Jack Sparrow, Mickey Mouse, Mulan, etc. These core Disney characters are ones that most people either grew up with or had their children grow up with. Similarly, characters such as Cloud Strife and Zack Fair are just as identifiable to an audience of gamers, since they’re both major characters in the iconic Final Fantasy 7. With these familiar characters and franchises in mind, my first question about my replay in regards to our class was to wonder whether or not Kingdom Hearts as a whole is dependent on “Evocative Spaces” as defined by our Game Design as Narrative Architecture reading. In the specific case of Kingdom Hearts 2, I would say no, but the familiar imagery plays a major part in making the game even more strange than it already is.  Since the franchise in general was released out of chronological order, adding two vastly different universes to an entirely new plot line creates seemingly endless plot-holes and points of confusion.

Based on the very beginning portion of KH2, neither the Disney or Final Fantasy worlds do much but fluff up the Kingdom Hearts world. The first two to three hours of the game require that you unwittingly play through a summer vacation simulation from the perspective of a never-before-seen character (Roxas) while receiving flashbacks from the first game’s protagonist (Sora) – it becomes obvious fairly instantly that these two characters are related, but none of the other connections between characters of universes is immediately clear. This being said, it almost seems as though the “evocative spaces” present in Kingdom Hearts are almost pointless to understanding the actual plot.

I’m also interested in how opposite all of these worlds are thematically. In general, based off Jasper Juul’s interpretations of a game’s “fiction”, Disney is very positive, Final Fantasy has a tendency to lean into a darker, more negative zone, and Kingdom Hearts is overwhelmingly vibrant and colorful to disguise an overall depressing plot about darkness engulfing the human heart. Though I don’t believe Kingdom Hearts falls into either the “casual” or “hardcore” game categories by the polarized definitions, I think it’s strange to consider it as somewhere in between – especially since it’s technically a game aimed at a longer audience but is completely stocked with dark themes.

Source: Kingdom Hearts 2: New Perspectives on an Old Favorite

FMS 321 Blog Post 1: Violence, murder, rape, political corruption – Is this real life or a videogame?

The world is chaos.  Violence and rape are rampant, politicians are corrupt, and civilians feel helpless and hopeless.  Is this real life?  No, but it is Persona 5’s game creators’ reflection of the current state of the real world. Persona 5 opens with a gameplay scene where the player, a masked teenage boy, intrudes on a grand party in a casino, and is guided through simple mechanics like “jump” and “hide” to (unsuccessfully) escape the police.  It cuts to the police interrogating the boy, but he is unable to remember why he was arrested.  There is a mysterious voice that speaks in between cuts scenes that says, “For the sake of your world’s future, as well as your own, you must remember.” This voice seems to foreshadow one of the goals of the game – save the world by discovering why you were arrested.

In the tutorial, the player is dropped into a neighborhood in Tokyo and tasked with finding his way to his new residence with Sojiro Sakura. It is a helpful level to learn the game mechanics, as well as to orient yourself in the context of the game’s story.  The left joy stick moves the player, while the right joy stick changes your point of view of the player.  Additionally, although you can only see a part of the game space in one view, a small grid-like map with icons indicating important markers makes it easy to navigate in and out of the game space.

By exploring the tutorial’s neighborhood, you can overhear other characters’ conversations.  These embedded conversations do not seem necessary (so far) to success in the game, but they do provide important information to understand the state of chaos and corruption that is the game’s world.  Some couples speak pessimistically about the economy being down and the aging population, or how “things won’t get better because of politics,” while another old man reads the newspaper and says, “Another string of rampage accidents.  I just hope none of them happen around here.”

So far, though I have played little of the game, but I am intrigued by its story and very curious how it will unfold.  Lastly, as an inexperienced gamer, I appreciate that Persona 5 gives the option of how difficult you want to make the game (safe, easy, normal, or hard), each not affecting the course of the story itself.

Source: FMS 321 Blog Post 1: Violence, murder, rape, political corruption – Is this real life or a videogame?