Archives for the month of: August, 2013

In last week’s article, the main conflict highlighted by the author was that the core of a game if a set of rules, not by an author-imposed narrative as is so common with modern video games.  To distill his argument down, you can’t just slap a message on a set of rules and expect the message to be better received.

I would mostly agree with that statement, with one caveat: association.  For instance, when I go out on the internet and look for a fanbase-beloved piece of video game music from a game I’ve never played, I usually listen to a few seconds and think to myself, “What’s so special about it?” or “This is pretty good, I guess, but not THAT good.”

Allow me to use some music from an example I’ll come back to in a follow-up post.

Even in linking to this piece of music, I can’t help but listen to it all the way through.  However, those who haven’t heard it in context of “yay, I just beat the game” probably won’t feel like it’s *that* special.  While a piece of music may not evoke conscious memories of that particular part in the game, the neural connections are there; the music evokes the emotions and feelings in the context we’ve heard it before.  (Of course, that’s not to suggest that the music didn’t play a part in forming those connections to begin with.)

Associations work in other strange ways as well.  For instance, Donkey Kong 64’s Frantic Factory level always makes me think of this comic strip.

In a similar way, I believe it stands to reason that a message associated with the game can have an associative effect… in certain specific situations.  Primarily, it has to be an issue that the player did not hold a strong opinion about beforehand.  If the player had a prior strong opinion about the issue, they will of course react to the message accordingly, to the point of enjoying the game more or less because of it.

Bioshock is a good example.  For many who played it, it was their first time hearing about Objectivism.  Bioshock Infinite was criticized for not having as “deep” of a message as the original, but I would venture that the original Bioshock’s narrative — while undoubtedly more complex than Infinite’s — may not have been as “deep” as people remember it.  A wider audience of people are familiar with the type of world portrayed in Infinite, so many who had knowledge of the era didn’t find Infinite’s messages to be as deep or moving.  That is, except for the Quantum Mechanics elements and the ending, which many found unique, confusing, and memorable.  (I myself have had experience in both Quantum Mechanics and endings similar to Infinite’s, so I hold a far less favorable opinion of those elements of the game).

There are a couple more conditions.  First off, the messages must be related to the themes of the game.  This is a tricky balancing act, because if the message and theme are too closely linked, then your only audience will be those who are interested in your theme and are in strong agreement with your message to begin with.  Finally, the game must be fun and the message must be well-presented.  Negligence in both these conditions will drive people without an opinion to reject the message, and perhaps sour the game as well by association.

With the spiraling costs of AAA blockbusters and the returning popularity of non-narrative games like Angry Birds, it all implies a new question of whether extensive narrative elements will coexist with video games in the future.  I believe so, although the narrative game model will have to switch away from the blockbuster format or be destroyed.  I’ll address that in a later post, where I’ll continue to examine last week’s article.

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Interesting Article: I Love Pandemic (and I Despair for Serious Games)

I’ll be back, possibly to analyze this article, in a week or so.  As I’m hard at work revising my manuscript to hand to my beta readers tomorrow, I haven’t had any time to post anything recently.  For now, I present this interesting article for your consideration.  A quote that sums it up:

For me, this is what a game is— a space to return to again and again to test myself, to engage with others, to have opportunity to do things that daily life does not permit. The average serious game lacks this depth, in large part due to the emphasis on content, and the product-oriented conception of games as medium and not a practice.

I recently bought Pandemic and became quite obsessed with it, and I do believe that many people look at “serious games” in an incorrect manner (or mistake certain games for “serious games”, particularly Bioshock and Infinite — I’ll likely devote an entire post to those someday).  At the same time, I don’t agree with the notion that games cannot deliver messages, though I do believe a game is not necessarily the best medium for such and the creator should not focus on the message above all.

The benefits of my strange experience are mostly gone, but I still have a little of that confidence it gave me.

Now, on to the news.

I’ve been reading more of the news lately — mostly BBC and ScienceDaily.  The latter helps me come up with new, interesting ideas, in addition to being a fun site to read.  The former helps me keep up with current events, which I had been turtling myself away from.

As I got back into reading the news, I was immediately confronted with the reason I stopped reading it to begin with.  Many stories are on recent, developing situations with much of the information missing, meaning that it would be pointless to form an opinion on them.

And yet, most people do, forming opinions from their own life experience.  One example (and I hate to use this, since I tend to stay away from celebrity stories) is Oprah’s accusation of racism in Switzerland.

Was it or wasn’t it?  Some say it’s racism while others say it’s snobbery.  The information that I would need in order to form an informed opinion simply isn’t present.  However, people (myself included) form opinions on such incidents based on their own life experience rather than the facts of the situation in specific (which, even after they all come out, can be interpreted either way).  In the end, there is an objective truth about what really happened, but all we can do is guess what that truth is based on our own experiences.  When it comes down to it, unless one is a practiced people-reader, it is difficult if not impossible to rule on the situation objectively, and the sheer volume of misinformation at the start of many high-profile cases skew opinions in one direction or another based on that first impression, sometimes prompting people to action over the internet.  An excellent example of such were the rumors that were reported as fact following the Boston bombings earlier in the year.

Perhaps a wider variety of life experiences and meaningful encounters with others brings one closer and closer to the truth?  If so, then I’m definitely not one who should express an opinion on this.

Of course, I could just read the news without forming an opinion, right?  Nope.  Part of the fun of reading the news, I believe, is forming that opinion of the events and/or opinions contained within.  It strengthens or weakens our mental predispositions, giving us a high of experiencing strong emotion in a context divorced from our everyday lives, kind of like a good book or movie.  To judge the situation is an automatic response, and even if one suppresses it consciously, it takes strong mental discipline to walk away without forming any opinion at all — stronger mental discipline than I have, for sure.  I don’t doubt there are those out there who can do this, as I’ve seen that a great many interesting things are made possible by the brain.

In the end, I decided it was fine to read these things despite my automatic judgments.  It is, after all, part of being human.  Or at least I think it is.

For a long time now, I’ve been pretty jaded about the idea of unexplained and unexpected events from out of nowhere changing a person’s life.  Yeah, that’s how these stories always start, right?  Skeptic, undergoes strange experience, blah-de-blah blah blah.  Hasn’t happened to me for 8 years now.

Though in this case, I’m sure there’s a perfectly valid biological explanation for it.  I just hope it’s not a tumor.

The short version is, I was in the middle of the mall last weekend when I had the most interesting experience of disorientation and dizziness, followed by a feeling of sheer euphoria.  When it passed, all of my social anxiety was gone, I experienced a new clarity and sharpness of thought, and I felt happier than I’ve ever felt in a while.  The feelings of euphoria and mental sharpness (mostly) went away over the next few days, but since then, I’ve actually been able to hold conversations with people without feeling out of place.

Now, one week later, the feeling has mostly passed, but the reduction in fear seems likely to stay.  It’s a good thing, because I’m at a critical point in both my software and writing careers right now.  Software-wise, I’m at an internship where I really want to show what I can do.  Part of that is in interaction with co-workers.  Writing-wise, I’d really like to ask someone to beta-read story once I’m done with this pass of editing.  Before the Event, the thought of such filled me with absolute terror.  Now, I can live with it just fine, even if the response is absolute rejection.  I can see the bright side of everything at last.

I’ve also noticed some other things from my happier mood.  For one thing, I’ve been eating healthier and smaller portions recently.  I just don’t need to eat to feel happy anymore, and I’m quite glad about that.

It seems that miracles do happen — seizing the moment comes naturally when it happens.  I firmly believe that certain types of brains require outside assistance or lucky events to make sweeping changes in their lives, no matter what sort of advice is popular these days.  I just want to say that if you’re one of the people out there who doesn’t feel uplifted by the “inspirational stories” and “inner power” self-help advice that gluts our society today, you are not alone, and you need not feel ashamed for being unable to act on that advice in your own life.

If fear is the mind-killer, then shame is the brain-killer.  The less shame you bear, the more ready you’ll be able to seize an opportunity when it finally presents itself.

Stay strong out there.