Being a Superhero

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.

Papale, L. (2014). Beyond identification: Defining the relationship between player and avatar.Journal of Game Criticism,1(2), 1-12. Retrieved September 11, 2017, from http://gamescriticism.org/articles/papale-1-2/

Source: Being a Superhero

Physical Story Arcs in Journey

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.

Source: Physical Story Arcs in Journey