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Exercise and Video Games

Like one of the other students stated in their post, I found that Ian Bogust’s How to Do Things with Videogames contained chapters that struggled to keep my attention, however defiantly had a lot of interesting and useful information in the chapters I could relate to.  One of the chapters that I found captivating and one that has pertinent material in my video game experience was the chapter on exercise and “exergames”.  I enjoyed how this chapter effectively summarized the history of incorporating exercise-type movements in various video games (Wario Ware, Wii Sports, DDR) and devices (Kinect, Move, Smartphones), while also discussing not just physical implications of theses types of video games, but also the problems and potential solutions to these issues.

I agree with Bogust’s argument seen on page 116, where he states, “To incite long-lasting, highly motivated physical activity, exergames do more than issue demands for repetitive physical gestures that produce latent exercise.  In addition, they both simulate and create the social rituals that make us want to be physically active…” essentially stating that without a sense of competition or some form of social interaction with someone else, the “exergame” will lose its value, and the user will tend to take shortcuts (i.e. Zelda Wii example).  Personally, I have defiantly taken shortcuts before when exercising through running / jogging by myself, but have recently found that after I downloaded the Nike+ app for my android, I want to run as far as possible each session to keep up on the leaderboard against my friends and siblings, adding an extra motivational element to what would otherwise be another monotonous run.

Comparing Bogost’s Prank Chapter to Minecraft

Personally I’m a huge fan with people who out do themselves with pranks.  That’s what chapter four is all about, big software game companies coming up with these hidden messages within their games, or also known as “Easter Eggs.”  Games systems as big as big as Atari or as big as Nintendo have all of these Easter Eggs that the gamers seek to find within their beloved games, as soon as they find this secret or hidden message it makes these individuals fall more in love with these video games.  Such as for Atari’s Warren Robinett included a hidden room within his best selling classic, Adventure that was released in 1978.  It took some time for someone to find, which happened to be a fifteen year old boy who ended up writing to Atari to confirm about the hidden room.  This is what gamers love.  They love to find these secrets, hidden dimensions, new rooms or maps, for them to explore in.  It’s even noted within Bogost’s book, “Atari would eventually use the gag to their own benefit, spinning it as a “secret message” in the first issue of the fan magazine Atari Age.  Soon enough, the company’s higher-ups embraced the Easter egg as a way to deepen player’s relationships with their titles.”  Right there tells me as a reader that players and gamers became more devoted to their software systems as these hidden messages or secrets or Easter Eggs came about.

This instantly made me think of the video game Minecraft.  Players go off into this imaginative world to create and build new things of their desire.  Within this game there is this hidden portal that takes the player to another dimension, known as the “Nether World”.  Here this gives players more space for them to play around in and recreate or create new things that comes up to their imaginative mind.  This whole new world makes players or gamers go crazy for this game.  Not only does this give the players more space to run around in, but this also gives them more to create new elements, make new fortresses, rediscover and conquer monsters or zombies.  With this, it makes more players devoted and gives the software company more customers to purchase the game.

Bogost’s “Pranks” and McGonigal’s “Happy Embarrassment”

Bogost’s chapter on “Pranks” in the video game world reminds me of McGonigal’s discussion of “Happy Embarrassment.” Both increase pro-social emotions. The risk of a prank contributes to the enjoyment, but also, it reinforces the relationship between the pranker and the prankee; both teasing and pranking intensifies positive feelings for one another, and plays an important role in forming and maintaining positive relationships. Teasing and Pranking “mildly provoke negative emotion, but confirm trust” (McGonigal).

Catchiness and Boring Guns

After reading Bogost’s “How to do Things with Video Games” I felt that each chapter was a portion f the whole but I found myself liking some of the chapters while being uninterested in others.  He has definitely researched the full gamut of video games from the classics to modern hits such as Resistance and World of Warcraft giving the reader a certain feeling of his passion and depth of knowledge for this media form.  He even goes into depth many times about classic board games such as monopoly as well stating the influence or the perception within the two different types of games.  I thought that McGonical’s book had more interesting details with each of he comparisons but I felt that the approach of Bogost was on a more empirical scale with less opinion.

Some of the final chapters were really interesting to me especially the habituation and disinterest chapters.  He stated that Bushnell’s or Nolan’s Law was that games should be easy to play but difficult to master which seems like a winning formula in my book.  But as i look into some of my favorite games over the last couple of years i notice that most of the games I currently play are very difficult to start playing to a degree.  For an avid gamer the controls necessary to play games like Assassins Creed or Call of Duty are relatively easy to get a hang of but like Bogost pointed out the idea of easy to pick up would mean that anyone even without prior knowledge of gaming would be able to pick it up and be able to get started.  My girlfriend would disagree greatly with this idea considering she spends most of her time walking around staring at the ground or the sky but as a big fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise she is not new to the gaming community.  She has stuck to the classics and has not kept up with the new controls that are standard with every new system with dual sticks and a multitude of action buttons.  This goes to show that what most consider to be an easy and “addicting game” to one might only provide stress and problem acclimating showing a possible reference aspect to Bushnell’s law. 

Another example is the hit Guitar Hero series where there seemed to be a steep learning curve for all of those except for the most dexterous.  With the easy setting and color coding beginners would plug along making it quick to be able to pick up.  But as anyone will tell you mastering “Through the Fire and Flames” was all but impossible further proving the fun of losing as well as providing that sort of longevity that gaming companies look to create. 

When Bogost started talking about disinterest I was wondering where this chapter would go but to think that there is more to the equation of fun than the shooting of a gun semed like an interesting point.  FPS are huge right now and are very engaging with the simple mission achieved with a little bravery and steady aim the user can be granted many accolades and bonuses.  For any game designer thinking that it was the act of shooting a virtual gun as opposed to playing super soldier that makes these types of games fun they were not paying attention to the games their children were playing.  It is immersing yourself in a universe where you can now run faster, jump higher and save the world that keeps gamers buying these games not the act of shooting.  I can say from my personal experience that Gran Tourismo was a rare game where it provided a more accurate atmosphere for driving and vehicle dynamics than the Need for Speed title of the time which ended up being one of my favorite games.  It was the graphical and mechanical accuracy and the ability to play real world courses that brought the fun for me as well as the tuning of the car to make them customized to my liking.

The concept of Bushnells law might be why games for the iPad and tablets may be becoming so popular in today’s game market.  With the idea of touch and swipe what you want on the screen even makes some of the more complex games easy enough for my parents to pick up and enjoy.  Look at the sister title of Injustice gods among us that was released for iPad after downloading the game my whole family was able to participate in the game taking turns beating each level using the simple touch controls to beat the opponent where if given the similar console title would not have had the same success.

Are controllers being phased out?  We have seen it with Kinect and Wii are games all going to change to more intuitive touch and movement controls or will there always be a place for a standard mechanical control?

On Bogost’s “Art” and “Proceduralism”

Art or media, through any medium, offers us new experiences of familiar worlds. It offers us a particular representation or perspective of real life. It “balances an obligation to accuracy with other aesthetic concerns,” (Reid) and that is exactly what Bogost’s exploration into the definition of art attempts and succeeds at telling us. Chapter one proves that certain video games can share the same status with art, as both incorporate aesthetic and psychological appeal.  Procedural rhetoric is not limited to just video games, but extended to all forms of art. The fundamental idea in both games and media is not the game itself, but human interaction with the game (or book, play, T.V, show, movie, etc…). Games that utilize proceduralism/ procedural rhetoric “say something about how the experience of a world works…, how it feels to be subjected to a situation… [marriage, mortality, regret, confusion]” (Bogost). When we are able to form meaning about our own lives, because someone else can make sense of it for us in a way we would have never been able to—from a perspective we never would have considered— we form and enhance the meaning of the initial expression. “We project [our own] experiences and ideas on [abstractions of real life roles] utilized in [games]” (Bogost). Any abstraction of basic human truths provokes consideration of those truths. In this sense, art does not become art until human interaction with the subject takes place. Bogost’s and McGonigal’s perspectives of video games differ greatly, but both understand the power of video games and media in relation to human interaction.

Advertisement Implementation in Videogames

The first time I saw a real advertisement in a videogame was a billboard for Slim Jims in the background of Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2. I feel it introduces a new level of connection between game and player. For instance, if I’m playing NHL whatever year and my avatar skates past a Verizon advertisement as opposed to some made up product, it gives off a more real-world aura. Bogost said “In cases like these, realism usually implies visual authenticity – correct appearances” (54). I agree with this and realize the endless benefits from an advertisement that is permanently embedded into a videogame.

However, I am opposed to Obama’s virtual campaigning mentioned later on in the Branding chapter. Apparently during the last presidential campaign, Obama snuck in promotional ads in billboards on racing games and in the backgrounds of several sports games. This is different than advertising a product. It “made the former candidate appear savvy, current, and young” (Bogost 57). When I read this I couldn’t help but think of a part from the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury in which a disturbing future society burns books and spends all of their time in their TV rooms (entire rooms with walls made of giant screens in which mindless programs are set on an endless loop). The part which I’m referencing is when the main characters wife, who is a product of her environment, is discussing the presidential candidates. She talks solely about their appearance, how one is young and handsome and the other is old and fat, and how such superficialities are going to determine her vote. I feel like this is what Obama is portraying in his advertisements in videogames. In my opinion, being young and technologically savvy should not determine votes.

Atari Video Music. Mind Blown.

I was so intrigued by the Atari Video Music system mentioned in the Music chapter that I had to youtube it to see this thing in action. Luckily, not all of them were out of commission before the creation of youtube and some people caught some of the visualizations for all to enjoy. I sat for four minutes listening to a song I didn’t even like in an awe stricken stare which I snapped out of when I caught myself drooling. How was this wonderful creation not more popular?!

We’ve come a long way from this retro color box. My family recently bought the Kinect for Xbox, in which a camera is attached which has the ability to track your every move. My sister immediately became addicted to the Zumba videogame she received for Christmas. Unlike DDR, the Kinect not only traces your steps but your entire body movement and grades you on how similar to your avatar you perform. Not only is it exciting to see your actual movement in the corner of the screen via a live silhouette, but it provides a pretty intense cardiovascular workout as well.

Texture and Conditioning

Ian Bogost does a wonderful job of giving meaning to the use of texture and reality based movements in video games. I would like to expand on some of his ideas in respect to real life games and computer games. He begins by talking about the Chinese game Go and it not being the same when he plays it on a computer, I agree. His experience in enjoying the game is touching the stones and board which give him his intuition into what moves to make. I feel the same way about Backgammon. I love to have the dice rolling around my hands and almost need the sound of the dice hitting the wooden or felt board. This sound and the feeling of the round pieces in my hands as I move them around the board are the fun aspects of playing. When I play the computer version scenarios are mapped out according to the parameters of the game and no matter what the sound effects are, when I virtually roll the dice, the sensation is not the same. I feel ripped off in my experience. He discusses the fact of a games rumble and making motion to simulate actual experience through your game console. This may be better in giving life to the game but it is still not real life and no matter how real the rumble and sounds are in a game it is no replacement for the real thing. In fact some of the rumble that is made is not realistic but creates a trained response. “…rumbling is an instrumental kind of texturing: it makes the environment tactile only to allow the user to make better progress within it”. (Bogost, 81) The way I look at it is that gamers are in many ways like Pavlov’s dogs. If a person is playing Call of Duty and there is a fake gunshot that is heard and the controller vibrates like a gunshot the player knows that there is a person shooting at them. This is the same as Pavlov’s dogs drooling every time he enters a room because they associate him with food. This website gives a brief and accurate description of his experiment and findings. What do you think? http://www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html

Final Thoughts on Reality is Broken: Games vs. Isms

Before it’s too late to justify doing so, I’d like to get out a few final thoughts regarding McGonigal’s Reality is Broken. In general I enjoyed it, though it started becoming a pain to workthrough by the end. I ended up dropping my pen to the wayside and eschewing my usual underlining, so as to get through it faster. McGonigal is clearly better at game design than at writing. Now that I’ve exorcised those feelings of frustration, what of the arguments? I largely found the book compelling in content and the atypical ways she utilizes and suggests utilizing games seems like they could have real world benefits, small and large. It is also clear upon reading that it’s primarily a book about ethics. My reading of it sees the book as furthering a consequentialist ethics based around maximizing happiness. Unfortunately, I think McGonigal actually misses out on what the book’s thesis could maximally open up room for. By focusing rather one-dimensionally on maximizing happiness alone, she largely misses out on examining the ways in which social struggles could be helped by games and the general nuance which ethics require.

The book’s focus on maximizing happiness immediately brought to mind Utilitarianism and as such Todd May’s The Moral Theory of Poststructuralism. He argues for an ethics based on a principal he calls antirepresentationalism, which is defined as follows:

People ought not, other things equal, to engage in practices whose effect, among others, is the representation or commendation of certain intentional lives as either intrinsically superior or intrinsically inferior to others.

The basic meaning of that mouthful, as I recall (I’ll warn I read this a few years ago), is that we ought not condone or be involved in practices that create or reinforce structures of power, such as racism, sexism, the medicalization of sexual “deviance” and so on, which enforce oppression based on the valuation of certain types of identities, bodies, etc. over others.  By making this the target of a consequentialist ethics, rather than simply happiness, it creates a more nuanced space for confronting oppressive power structures, as well as -isms (sexism, racism) and -phobias (homophobia, transphobia) that come with them.

This is where I feel McGonigal’s book is too broad (or too myopic, depending on how you’d like to view it). I would have imagined that, as a woman in a very masculine focused industry, she might comment on the way in which games might subvert gendered stereotypes, but there was no mention of that. I think it’s very important that we address the various ways in which certain identities are devalued or assailed in our society, and if games are to address social issues, they must address these things too. The fact that the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games kickstarter made over $100,000 is a sign that other people are interested in more egalitarian games.

As proof of the plausability of applying McGonigal’s concepts to identity politics I would like to point to two short and easily playable games that might be of interest to the class, Auti-Sim and dys4ia.

In Auti-Sim, you take on the first person perspective role of a child with severe autism in a playground environment. As you get close to other children the screen fuzzes and shrill noises screech out of your speakers or headphones. Even if you escape the playground and surrounding forest, you still can hear the din. This represents the way in which typical social situations can cause sensory overload for people with autism. By placing the player in a first person position and encouraging them to empathize with people with autism, the game can help combat ableism, in this case discrimination against those with autism.

Likewise, dys4ia is a short, semi-abstract flash game which autobiographically describes the experience of a transgender woman with her gender and the process of receiving hormone replacement therapy (HRT). By presenting and confronting the individual and social difficulties trans women face, the game fosters understanding of trans* issues and transphobia.

If you play the games, you will notice one other thing that these games bring that are contrary to McGonigal’s vision. They aren’t particularly fun, difficult or exciting. Auti-Sim is in fact incredibly uncomfortable to play. I explored the playground quickly and then ran far away before closing my browser. Like other forms of media, gaming may be able to learn a lesson from this: not all games have to be fun to provide an enriching experience.

Chivalry and McGonigal

This past weekend, Steam released a new game called Chivalry: Medieval Warfare.  At first this game seemed clunky and poorly thought out, almost as just a teaser ‘hack and slash’ duel game.  After diving further into the game play I noticed something amazing, the fantastic ways to kill or be killed.  This game exemplifies McGonigal’s idea of ‘fun failing’.  It truly immerses the user into the game and provides for a great experience.  The first thing you see when you start the game is the first person view of your weapon, then you hear the battle cries of your allies, followed by your battle cry (if you so desire) and then the team charging into the light to start the game.  The one thing Chivalry does though is work in hundreds of ways to die, be it beheading, disarming (literally), or taking a javelin through the chest; it makes the player more excited to try again and gives an optimistic outlook due to the fun ways to die.  The more a game utilizes immersion the more of an impact the game can have on the player.  In the game mode ‘Last team standing’, the user feels as though his one life can make a difference.  In ‘team objective’, he bravely defends his castle from the onslaught and his work is making a difference.  The game gives feedback to show motivation, optimism, and advancement.  It visually shows the user’s character rank up and the battle-cries evoke an adrenaline rush for the player.  The game exemplifies some of McGonigal’s ideas of what a game is and how it can change people.