Refusing to Play the Game (The Stanley Parable Log #3)

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.


Works Cited

Sarian, Antranig Arek. “Paradox and Pedagogy in The Stanley Parable.” Games and Culture. 22 March 2018. Web.

Source: Refusing to Play the Game (The Stanley Parable Log #3)

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,

Source: Mario the Bully

League of Legends: The Dramatization of Competitive Play

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.


Source: The Well-Played MOBA: How DotA 2 and League of Legends use Dramatic Dynamics by: Chris Winn,

Source: League of Legends: The Dramatization of Competitive Play

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-

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

Source: Being a Superhero

Doubt the Obvious

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).”


Kuma/War Episode 107: Killing Osama bin Laden Scene (

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.

Hitchens M, Patrickson B, Young S (2013). Reality and Terror, the First-Person Shooter in Current Day Settings. Games and Culture. Vol 9, Issue 1, pp. 3 – 29.

Hollingdale J, Greitemeyer T (2014) The Effect of Online Violent Video Games on Levels of Aggression. PLOS ONE 9(11): e111790.

O’Connor, Tom. “This New Video Game Lets You Kill ISIS While Fighting as Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 28 Feb. 2018,

Totenberg, Nina. “Calif. Pushes To Uphold Ban On Violent Video Games.” NPR, NPR, 2 Nov. 2010,


Source: Doubt the Obvious

Game Log 3 – 3: Moral Sensitivity and The Witcher 3

The Witcher 3 is always praised for its immersive storytelling.  For me, part of what makes the game feel so compelling is that the narrative is dynamic.  In a dynamic narrative game, the story responds to the player’s actions. I have always loved games like this as they require you to really consider the choices before you and how they may impact the narrative as you play.  Some of my favorite examples of these types of games are Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the Fable series, and Jade Empire, just to name a few.

RPG Classic, KOTOR (Knights of the Old Republic)

Despite playing numerous titles like these throughout the years, I never considered how a lot of times these games were, in a way, evaluating my morals.  In a journal article in Games & Culture titled ‘Training Moral Sensitivity Through Video Games’, the authors engage in a study of 20 different games and how well they encourage ‘Moral Sensitivity’ on the part of the player.  Basically, the authors see a game as excelling at employing MS when it successfully pushes the player to make decisions with regard for the moral implications of their character’s actions and how they align with their own values.  In the study, the authors point to a specific quest in The Witcher 3 where the player catches an arsonist who attempted to burn down a blacksmith’s forge in retaliation for his working with the invading army. The player is presented with the choice of turning him in, resulting in his execution, or letting him walk free.  The authors see this as a fine example of MS because the player is able to immediately see the results of their actions and the moral ambiguity of the arsonist’s motives encourage the player to evaluate the situation. An additional important thing that the authors failed to mention is that this quest takes place relatively early in the game, so in my mind it kind of the sets the stage for the rest of the game.

The arsonist, after being turned in

It’s interesting to think about how games can be bad at compelling moral sensitivity.  For me, a game like Grand Theft Auto doesn’t have great MS. When I play that game I act like a madman and absolutely do not consider the moral or ethical implications of my actions.  My goal is to just have fun. However, I think it’s important to recognize that Rockstar, the studio behind the GTA series, doesn’t seem too concerned with encouraging MS. Their games are filled with camp, such as cartoon characters and over the top storylines.   In my mind, this is all an effort to disconnect the player from reality so they can act uninhibited by their morals or values. This reveals a key distinction in the goals of TW3 and GTA. A game like the Witcher 3 wants to you to get into the mind of the character Geralt and make the character your own by making him act as you would.  A game like GTA wants to provide you with a total escape from reality and your own responsibilities.

A player escapes from reality by beating someone up as Princess Peach in GTA


Playing Around With Morality: Introducing the Special Issue on “Morality Play”

Malcolm Ryan, Paul Formosa, Rowan Tulloch

Games and Culture  

First Published October 31, 2017

Source: Game Log 3 – 3: Moral Sensitivity and The Witcher 3

One With Nature: The Witness as an Environmental Text

Besides its mind bending puzzles, most players praise The Witness for its vivid, beautiful open world. With expansive bodies of water, lush greenery, and colorful flowers, the graphics of the game are breathtaking However, I argue that this world does more than simply look pretty; rather, it encourages players to contemplate the beauty, importance, and enormity of the natural world. I read the game as what scholar Alenda Y. Chang calls an “environmental text,” encouraging the player to work with the environment, appreciating its beauty and value without plundering it for resources.

In many video games, such as Minecraft, players are encouraged to treat the game’s environment as an infinite provider of usable resources. The actionable parts of the environment, Chang writes “are most often things a player can use immediately… acquire for later use… or destroy,” such as power-ups or supplies (60). Chang then proposes that “games are opportunities to create entirely new sets of relations outside of those based on dominance or manipulation” (60). This relation to the environment, one of collaboration and respect, is present in The Witness. In my last play session, the solutions to the puzzles were imbedded in the natural environment, the trees in front of the puzzle boxes serving as clues to the puzzles’ answers. Hiding the solution to the puzzle in the environment serves two important functions. First, it requires the player truly to examine and appreciate the natural world. If the player is focused myopically on solving the puzzle without considering her environment, she will undoubtedly be stumped. Paradoxically, to solve the puzzle, the player must look at the world beyond the puzzle. Second, hiding the solution to the puzzle in the game’s environment models a way of working with nature that is not predicated on directly taking or using natural resources. Instead of taking from nature, the game encourages the player to learn from it, which is a pretty significant environmental message.

The solution to this puzzle is hidden in the tree pictured

Additionally, The Witness encourages players to contemplate the vastness, power, and beauty of the natural world. In discussing the parser-based interactive fiction Adventure, Chang writes that the game encourages the player to consider “the sheer scale and complexity of its natural environment” (66). The Witness is much the same. Isolated on the island with no NPCs to distract her, the player’s focus is solely on the world around her. Even while sitting inside and looking at a screen, the enormous, beautiful world of The Witness encourages players to consider the vastness and splendor of nature.

While a video game is no substitute for time spent outside, environmental texts such as The Witness nevertheless instruct players on the value of nature. Interacting with the environment without plundering it and considering the beauty of the open world, players of The Witness are met with timely themes of environmental respect and appreciation.

Works Cited

Alenda Y. Chang. “Games as Environmental Texts.” Qui Parle, vol. 19, no. 2, 2011, pp. 56–84.

Source: One With Nature: The Witness as an Environmental Text

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,

Source Website:


Source: The Rewarding Nature of Super Monkey Ball 2

Every Corner Means Death

When I played Dark Souls for the very first time I felt a sense of anxiety that I hadn’t previously experienced in any other game. I had felt anxious while playing horror games such as Outlast or any of the Resident Evil games, but this was different. I had never played a game that made me work so hard for few (and far between) signs of progression. The smallest misstep or poorly timed attack would almost certainly lead to a black screen with the blood-red words “You Died” being thrown in my face. When entering new areas I would always feel a slight sense of dread because the game itself had instilled within me the understanding that I was entirely at its mercy. Letting my guard down at any moment greatly increased my chances of death.

The simple statement implies that the death was entirely the player’s fault for making a mistake.

As Tom van Nuenen argues in his article, “Dark Souls features post-Panoptical gameplay mechanics of both continuous surveillance and playful exhibitionism and hybrid gameplay experience of both subjectivation and empowerment” (1). As with any video game, the system itself has to keep track of the player to ensure the proper mechanics are triggered at the correct intervals, whether that be enemies being spawned, items being acquired, or boss fights occurring in the proper locations. In this sense, the player understands and accepts that the world they are inhabiting adopts certain roles ascribed to the Panopticon.

They are not, however, prisoners within Lordran. It is true that Dark Souls refuses to help the player learn the rules of the world and punishes them indiscriminately for their lack of understanding, but this is not intended to discourage the player from attempting to empower themselves. This is instead meant to encourage the player to quickly learn the limits of their abilities and methodically plan out their next move. For example, there are two forms that a player can take on, a hollowed and human form. When in the human form, the player can summon NPCs and other online players to help them defeat a particularly challenging boss. This is, however, a double-edged sword because it will also leave the player open to invasions from the online community. When this occurs, the player cannot move on until they either kill the invader or are killed by the invader. The player will once again become the subject of a form of punishment within the game except for this time the punishment is not coming from the game, but other individuals who were once subjected themselves.


Nuenen, Tom van. “Playing the Panopticon: Procedural Surveillance in Dark Souls.” Games and Culture, Sage, 2016,

Source: Every Corner Means Death

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:

Erik Kain:

Ina Fried:

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