Cognitive Development in Real Time Strategy Games

Total War Warhammer 2 features turn based actions on a world scale but real time strategy based combat, this prevents it from being defined as a true real time strategy game but it this aspect features heavily in my experience. This Keeping track of several things at once is not an unusual feat for the average gamer, tracking ammunition, health, progress, timers, and mini-maps are all standard additions to what is happening on screen. Total War Warhammer 2 and other games with real time strategy properties take this multi-tasking to another level according to Glass, Maddox and Love in their paper,”Real-Time Strategy Game Training: Emergence of a Cognitive Flexibility Trait” (Glass  et. all 1). While true real time strategy games like Starcraft or perhaps more appropriately, Warhammer 40k Dawn of War 3 that include economy as part of the real time processing were likely the focus of the study, Total War Warhammer 2 likely has similar effects, even if mitigated. The importance of the real time strategy game aspect is that instead of keeping an eye on several things at once the player is required to rapidly switch and almost simultaneously process the progress of several scenarios playing out at the same time. In Total War Warhammer 2 during a battle this may play out by applying buffs and debuffs that are time sensitive to certain areas, gauging the process of an infantry brawl, and moving calvary or other fast movers into a more advantageous position, while making sure that your ranged units have not got line of sight issues or been engaged by melee units. While playing multiplayer matches in Total War Warhammer 2 it is not uncommon to play somebody that mismanages their units and leaves one aspect of their army forgotten and ultimately useless, as a response players will often limit the amount of things that require micromanaging and focus on quality over quantity. Ultimately this kind of gaming challenges the players cognitive skills, and improves them through exposure and use.

 

Work Cited

Glass, Brian D., et al. “Real-Time Strategy Game Training: Emergence of a Cognitive Flexibility Trait.” PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 8, 1 Aug. 2013, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070350.

 link to article

Source: Cognitive Development in Real Time Strategy Games

The Last of Them

In the article Get Real: Narrative and Gameplay in The Last of Us, author Scott Hughes makes an analysis of the impact of gameplay mechanics in narrative driven games using The Last of Us as a case study. Hughes acknowledges the success and critical acclaim of the game stating that it is in many respects an entertaining game with many great features (Hughes 150). He claims that the immersion of the game is broken in two distinct ways. The first being that clunky gameplay systems such as an unrealistic inventory system and having superhuman abilities detract from the immersion to the point of ruining the story (Hughes 151). While I disagree with Hughes on this point, my disagreementlargely stems from a difference of opinion on what is worth nitpicking in games. The main point I wanted to address would be in his discussion of the players vulnerability in comparison between narrative points/cutscenes and gameplay. Hughes argues that throughout the game Ellie is portrayed in narrative scenes as a young girl in need of constant protection from the dangers of the post apocalyptic world. Meanwhile during gameplay she is for the most part able to hold her own without the constant protection of the player (Hughes 153). He states that this confliction undercuts the dangerous feeling of the world and breaks the immersion for the player. I would argue against this and that throughout the narrative of the game there are several scenes where Ellie seems experienced beyond her years. Whenever Joel is either incapacitated or weakened in some way and Ellie always steps up to defend him. I feel that moments of vulnerability described by Hughes are actually more of a contrast to Ellie’s character instead of defining them. These moments serve to foster a bond between Joel and Ellie instead of demonstrating the differences in their ability. With that in mind it makes sense that the developers had intentions beyond convenience for the player when they made Ellie something other than a helpless escort mission. The goal of the developers was to provide a companion that, while needing help from the player, was not a mindless drone incapable of either defending herself or making simple logical decisions. I felt that by making Ellie more capable in the actual gameplay of the game, they lended even more agency to a character that was already established as a useful protagonist in the narrative.

Gazzard, Alison. “Unlocking the Gameworld: The Rewards of Space and Time in Videogames.” Game Studies: the International Journal of Computer Game Research, vol. 11, no. 1, Feb. 2011.

http://compaso.eu/wpd/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Compaso2015-61-Hughes.pdf

Source: The Last of Them

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)

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