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Wheel of Fortune Analysis

William Casey
ENG 380 New Media
Professor Alex Reid
June 11, 2013
Real Life Game’s Transformation
In the world of computer games there is a genre that recreates real life games into a new medium. This can be achieved by taking a game that is already in existence and adapting it to the world of computer’s. Two games I have spent much time playing are Wheel of Fortune and Backgammon. Obviously these are not the only real life games that have been transposed into gaming but they work as perfect examples of how an already existing medium of gaming is transformed from reality to virtual. Other examples may include Jeopardy, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and any other TV game shows. TV game shows are not the only games that are adapted to video gaming. I have already mentioned Backgammon but you could include games such as Solitaire and Scrabble to fit into this genre. Any game that has ever been invented has probably been put into the virtual world. What the video game has done has taken a real life interactive process and made it an image on a screen that you use a controller to maneuver. In much way’s it is the same in the aspect of you interacting with a game but it has changed it into a new type of interaction.
The main focus of what I am trying to get at is that video games that fall into this genre cannot duplicate an already existing game exactly but turn them into a whole new type of game that has different parameter’s and rules. If you take a board game and make it into a videogame you have changed the whole concept of what it represents. Take Backgammon for example, it has made its way onto computer’s and even into the world of on-line play. If you would like to play a game with your friend in Hawaii then you may. From a social standpoint this is a success in you being able to hang out with a friend that you may not get to see often, even if it is simply a virtual experience. But is this the same as playing a game of Backgammon in the same room? I concede that this has hampered the relationship that is based on physical interaction and given it a new form in the way that the game become a new entity from the real life play of it.
It is far from the same thing and I will tell you why. When you sit with a person in front of a Backgammon board you can look in the person’s eyes. It is a battle between two people with the same drive and will to win. Even if you are using a video chat with someone it is not the same. You cannot smell the persons’ deodorant and see the frustration and worry that a person is exuding, the humanity has left it and the mechanical has entered. It is not the same game and no matter how you try for it to be it cannot. Take away the on-line aspect and just simply play against the computer; it becomes a simple thing to do on your own. You can play the computer and it is fun and exciting but the competitive spirit is not the similar. If you are losing you can simply stop it and start over. When you make your moves the possible places that you can move your pieces are highlighted for you. You do not have to strategize as much as when it is in front of you, you only have to make the decision of which of the moves to make. The aspect of human error has been minimized and the game has changed. The goal of the game and the skeleton of the rules are the only things that stay the same.
In the world of TV game shows there are two perspectives to take into consideration. The first perspective is on the side of the television watcher and the second is on the actual person playing the game. Let’s look at the watcher first. By having a virtual world to play Wheel of Fortune on I am able to play a game that I had only been able to watch. Sure a person is able to figure out the puzzles from home but only in the time that it takes for the contestants to figure it out. We are constrained by the camera man’s shots; we can only look at the puzzle when it is displayed on our TV’s. We also do not get the credit or the prizes that come along with solving the puzzle. In fact we do not even get to choose the letters that are revealed on the screen. In this way we are on-lookers who feel as though we are playing the game, but truly we are not. In this way the video game gives us an alternate way of playing and although we do not get the prizes we do get the recognition of winning and having our name displayed for us. The accomplishment is greater than when watching the show.
If you are the lucky person that is chosen to appear on Wheel of Fortune you are thrown right into the game as a contestant and have the ability to get all the satisfaction of winning prizes and getting recognition. It would be hard to describe the feeling that the person feels being on the show because I have never appeared on the game show. I would assume it is similar to gambling. You have the thrill and rush of spinning the wheel and guessing letter’s and puzzles. It must be exhilarating standing with Pat Sajack and Vanna White while fighting to win money and prizes. The change from standing on stage is that on the video game version you have more time to look at the puzzles and choose letters. The TV version is more time sensitive than the world of the computer, it is real life time.
As the games of the real world are moved into the virtual we create a new genre of that draws people in that would not necessarily be tempted to play video games. The reasoning for doing this is to create a market for people to spend money, just like any other game. The new form of an old game may not be the same on all levels but has a similar enough psychological enticement for people to not really know the difference.

Game Analysis

I decided to write my analysis on the Wii system and more specifically Wii Sports. I am not a huge gamer but I love my Wii! Wii Sports features tennis, golf, baseball, bowling and boxing. The best part about this is that you can play a realistic version of these games right in your living room; no driving, training, weather issues and no spending money!  All are played with your Wii remote and (at least when I bought mine) Wii Sports is included with your purchase of a Wii. Wii sports and the Wii in general were great advances for video game technology.

Once you set up your Wii, you have the opportunity to create your own avatar called a Mii. It can look exactly like you or it can look nothing like you. You can make your Mii have a number of different facial expressions. There are different eyebrows, noses, mouths, etc. You can control all of the physical aspects of your Mii down to what they are wearing. I have even seen Miis in Darth Vader costumes. This control over what your Mii looks like gives the game a personal touch. The player is essentially creating a mini, virtual version of themselves to play the game with, rather than just choosing from a few pre-loaded characters that the game gives you to choose from. You also can see your Mii level up as you increase your skills. It gives the player a more realistic feeling of success. This is just one of the many ways that Wii makes the player feel as if they are actually a part of the game.

Wii Sports is a very interactive game that is much different from other video games. Rather than just sitting on the couch with a controller and clicking buttons, you are (usually) standing up and actually using the Wii remote to replicate the real motions of whichever sport you are playing. For example, when you play Wii Bowling, you have to move the controller as if you were actually swinging the bowling ball; this includes keeping it straight, if you tilt the remote at all, that’s the direction the ball will go. It gives the game a more realistic feeling than one where you are sitting down hitting a few buttons on your controller. Same thing goes for the Tennis game on Wii Sports. You have to swing the Wii remote at just the right angle and even speed to have a successful serve or return.

Wii Sports is not a “lazy game”. I think one of the biggest problems seen with video games is that people spend hours sitting on a couch completely immersed in a video game and a lot of the times do not get any exercise. The interactivity of Wii Sports fixes this problem. This is not to say that playing a round of a game on Wii Sports is a substitution for going to the gym or playing a sport. However, for the many people that really just hate exercise and love video games, this is a good way to get them up off the couch and active. Playing around of boxing on Wii Sports is actually quite exhausting and you definitely work up a sweat.  You have to use the Wii remote along with the nunchucks in a punching motion to beat your opponent and at higher levels of the game it involves you to punch fast and hard. As I said, this is not a substitute for the gym but these games, sometimes referred to as “exergames” are a good step in the right direction. Especially for young children; so many kids would rather sit in front of the television and play video games and these games allow them to continue to do that but in a more physically involved way. Also, as kids play these games on Wii Sports, they may find one that they really love and end up actually wanting to play the sport in real life. When I play Wii bowling, I always end up wanting to actually go bowling because of how much fun I have. Wii Sports is extremely motivational for people of all ages.

There is also the social aspect to the game. With most video games it is a one or two player game or you have your own goals to reach. With Wii Sports, you can play against the computer but it is much more fun to play with a group of people. Playing with friends creates a friendly competitive atmosphere. People are generally happier when they are around other people. Video games can be very socially isolating and Wii Sports is a game that can change that. I think a big problem in some families today is that they have a hard time finding time to do things together or finding something that they all want to do together. Wii Sports is a game that the whole family can play together and have fun doing it. People of all ages can play Wii Sport and I think that it is a perfect game to be played at get-togethers or for a family game night. It takes away the social isolation involved in many video games.

While I’m not sure if this is exactly what an analysis is supposed to be, I took a game that I think is more than just a game explained why I think so. Looking at Wii Sports, some people would look at it as just another game that involves new technology. I look at it as a game with new technology that also fulfills a lot aspects that I think are missing in other video games. I think that for people who use video games as a break from everything going on in their real lives, Wii Sport is a healthy and fun game to do this with.

Game Analysis: Far Cry 3 and Race

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The racialization of people of color, as they are constituted in North America, has long had an ambivalent relationship with the whiteness that Others it. For example, blackness is often seen as a sign of being predatory, lazy or licentious and East Asian women are frequently considered submissive China dolls rather than human beings. However there is also an incredible fascination with people of color. The common literary tropes of the darkest Africa or mysterious Orient display a white fascination with people of color that, while still racist, is also strangely reverent. Whiteness finds something in the Other that it wishes to commune with in some way. These attitudes, while racist, are more strongly connected to appropriation than denigration. They are still prominent today across a wide range of media, whether it be white appreciation of black music forms such as hip-hop and jazz or fetishistic interracial pornography. Of course, as a growing media form, video games are a prime location for this white desire for people of color. No game better represents this than last year’s Far Cry 3, a first person shooter game developed and published by Ubisoft. Far Cry 3 was easily one of the most mechanically well designed games of 2012, yet had one of the most tragically problematic narratives. Set on the fictional Rook island somewhere in the vicinity of the Malay Archipelago, Far Cry 3 centers around a white man, Jason Brody, who becomes more and more enmeshed with a tribe of fictional native people named the Rakyat and their erotically portrayed leader Citra.

The game’s story begins with Jason and his yuppy friends and siblings being kidnapped by pirates. When Jason escapes, he is saved by a black man named Dennis who gives him tattoos which Dennis refers to as the Tatau. The Tatau provide Jason with mystical warrior strength which he uses to rescue his friends one by one. This introduces a role playing game-like talent tree, with each unlocking of a skill granting Jason a new tattoo on his arm. The skill trees are of course named after animals, Heron, Spider and Shark specifically. Mechanically this takes the form of learning new special “take downs” which allow Jason to swiftly and instantly dispatch unaware foes, as well as perks like harvesting plants or animal pelts more efficiently (crafting is also a core game mechanic). He eventually becomes enamored with the mysterious and voluptuous Rakyat leader, Citra, and quickly becomes an important figure in her tribe as he helps liberate the island from the pirates and return its various camps and compounds to Rakyat control.

The fetishistic nature of this fantasy is obvious. It is the White Savior trope meeting the Magical Native on a war-torn island. The Other is fascinating and powerful, both mystical and natural (the power of the Tatau and its connection to the nature of the island) and erotic (Citra is scantily clad and moves and speaks alluringly). This gives the Other an appeal that post-modern whiteness, which feels trapped in a technologically advanced society bereft of a connection to nature and the erotic, feels it lacks. Of course, the Other remains incomplete without whiteness, giving whiteness its power. Jason is needed to free the Rakyat from the scourge of the pirates and the drug lord who funds them and gains Citra’s personal and sexual favor. The gap between whiteness and the Other is bridged when Jason is given the Tatau, and its connection is consummated. But to prevent the Other from overcoming whiteness (untenable in our still white supremacist society), whiteness is given a unique status as savior and god. This allows the presumed white player to feel both a reverent and fetishistic connection to people of color while preventing any feelings of impotence or weakness in the face of that fascination.

This is of course not enough. The social order that produces these narratives is of course very racist, so sublimation is ultimately necessary. As the game reaches its climax, it is revealed that Jason’s former mentor Dennis is a useless drunk who fawns over Citra, and that Citra herself is quite mad. The game ends with Citra kidnapping Jason’s friends and expecting him to execute them with a ritual dagger. The final choice—stay with Citra or leave the island—is made with the blade at the throat of Jason’s girlfriend Liza Snow. If the player makes the morally bankrupt choice and proceeds to slit Liza’s throat, they are rewarded by Citra ultimately fatally stabbing Jason after copulating with him. If the player instead uses the blade to cut Liza free, Dennis comes and attempts to stab Jason as revenge for Jason’s betraying Citra. Citra, enamored with Jason in her own morbid way, jumps in front of the strike and becomes mortally wounded instead. Ultimately black masculinity is impotent in the face of white masculinity, and the excessively sexualized femininity of color is rendered pathological. The order of whiteness overriding the colored Other remains; the white savior, Jason, gets his experience of the dark island and the ones who pay are the people of color who granted him his power, as monstrous as it is.

In light of Far Cry 3 and this year’s BioShock Infinite, which also dealt with race in an in depth way, it will be interesting to see how narratives of race evolve in video games. In Infinite, black people are an oppressed lower class in the floating city of Columbia, and the black revolutionary Daisy Comstock promises them freedom. As sympathetic as she is at the start, she eventually becomes nearly as bad as the power she opposes, ultimately threatening to murder a child because he is white and wealthy. As an increasingly mainstream and vital media form, video games will presumably prove to be a fecund place for discourses on the subject of race. Far Cry 3 shows that racism can often operate without malice, and it in some ways opens a dialogue of its own. Games like Far Cry 3 may very well prove as catalysts for the creation of games and characters which deal with race in a less problematic manner, or at least for discussions of the way race functions as both a narrative tool and a socio-political entity.

Game Analysis: Minesweeper.

Minesweeper

 

Minesweeper is a single player puzzle game. The game board is computer generated and consists of a grid comprised of square buttons. The player’s left clicks to reveal mine-free squares and right clicks to place flags over mines. Once revealed, mine-free territories display a number indicating how many adjacent squares contain mines. Victory occurs when all the mine-free territory is revealed. Loss occurs when the user clicks a square that contains a mine. Each round is timed, allowing players to record and compare scores with themselves and others.

When thinking of Minesweeper, it is difficult to imagine the game outside its most famous context. Minesweeper comes preinstalled on all Microsoft computers. During the PC boom accompanying advent of the Internet in the late 1990s, the Microsoft software became iconic way to kill time. In this light, Minesweeper can be looked at as an ambassador of PC gaming culture.

Though Minesweeper has been around since the 1960s, its juxtaposition with the work oriented PC offers valuable insight on algorithmic culture. During game play, the player becomes a processing system that analyses the board to make decisions. Solutions are sometimes readily apparent. For example, if a revealed square displays the number one and is only next to one unrevealed square, that square must contain a mine. This type of processing simply calls for speedy recognition and rapid action. Even simple processing tasks like this one familiarizes the user with the mouse, helping the player to acquire a mastery over one of the main operational tools of the PC. When computers began entering households, this process was not instantly familiar. In this early context, Minesweeper functioned as a tool that uses the enjoyment of a game to teach precision use of computer controls.

When problems become more complex the primary problem of reaction shifts from physical to logical. Players must develop more complex systems of analysis to navigate difficult situations. Players quickly learn how to stabilize chance as entity as real as a number. The certainty of particular variables can be exploited to make conclusions on intersecting occurrences of chance. By cross-referencing multiple self-contained system of chance the player can often eliminate extraneous options to find conclusions that are not available otherwise. These processes are all site specific, and the many possible shapes of the board offer seemingly endless combinations.

While playing minesweeper, the player engages in the act that the computer is designed to circumvent. The processing role shifts smoothly as an abstract representation because of its math based building blocks. Reversing these roles allows for the player to empathize with the computing prosing. In becoming the enactor of contained analytical puzzle, the player is objectified as a systematic solving entity.

With success bound to efficient processing and action, the user is pressured to strengthen and hasten patterns of analysis and tactical approach strategies. In Minesweeper, half the battle is to eliminate the time spent in between solving and finding what to solve. While a complex algorithm can be factored to solve a problem, it may be better to solve simpler tasks that could potentially demystify a tricky problem. This teaches the player how to navigate the abstract system efficiently, a skill reflects succeeding in the work place.

The machinic acts of Minesweeper make it a game that is dependent on the algorithmic nature of the video game. From randomly generation to rule enforcement, the game relies on the computer to create and enforce the constructs that make the game. The rate at which this is done is also vital to the games success. Beating an expert game in 240 seconds is an accomplishment, but the computer creates the structure virtually instantly. The relationship between machine and user in minesweeper allows the user to see into this relationship. Like an astronomer viewing stars, the player decodes the field.

During a good game, the mind should be constantly engaged, and strive to turn scanning into instant understanding in a way where action happens simultaneously. In this optimized state, the player becomes very machine like. Whether or not the player is optimized, their input can be reduced to a function representing the limits of processing ability that parallels their perspective on the game.

One conflict in the game that has very little to do with the diegetic components of play is discerning the visual field. Clusters of multicolored numbers and flags can make it difficult to distinguish what’s sitting on the board. The best way to combat this is to play with momentum. Like listening to music, one has to know what came before to understand what comes next. Without this melody of focus, the player is forced to waste valuable time revisiting past moves. In fact, the ability to understand action in a stream of time is crucial to success in the game. The more the player can obtain and process at once, the more success they will find.

What is the perfect game of minesweeper? A simple answer seems to point toward the fastest game humanly possible. But since board generation is random, there really is no way to standardize competition to measure an objectified level of human perfection. After all, it’s a game and not a test. Admittedly, that process gets confused because of the requirements to reach the objective. So the perfect game may be closer to the most fun game, which involves meeting the objectives in a more stimulating way than a particular player was able to accomplish before. On a larger scale, perhaps this question intends to ask what is the hallmark trait of the user in algorithmic?

There is a strong argument that feeling pleasurable is the perfect state of the Minesweeper player. In terms of enjoyment, the game offers two main rewards. Of course, pleasure can be had from high scores. This points towards the end result of the game. Then there is the gratification from successful selection, which is more concerned with the process. In this way pleasure becomes tied to efficiency. Minesweeper takes processing and makes it engaging and fun. If you need a quick break from real work, Minesweeper is a great get away that could come in handy when you decide to get back to work.

Game Analysis: Final Fantasy VII

The Final Fantasy series is the flagship RPG franchise of the global gaming landscape, and while everybody has their favorite it’s hard to argue that any of the entries are as important as 1997’s Final Fantasy VII. With the possible exception of the original’s company-saving success, the arrival of the series’ seventh installment made the biggest and most lasting impact in the gaming world. VI‘s story and characters are still held tight in the hearts of many fans, IV and IX have the sentimental votes of others, while others still point to the landmark gaming achievements of V and XII—the latter of which was the only entry in the series to garner a perfect score from the notoriously harsh grading Japanese publication, Famitsu. Still, for most fans it’s arguably Final Fantasy VII‘s box art image of Cloud Strife staring down a looming black and white background that comes to mind first when thinking of the revered series from an overall standpoint. The game broadened the scope of what could be accomplished in an RPG, with characters and events that continue to be discussed today, over fifteen years later. By this point almost everything to be unearthed has already been discussed, but something that merits further examination is the deep environmental stance the game takes—a dominant theme in the title’s plot that appears throughout and, most profoundly, at the game’s epic conclusion.

At the outset, Final Fantasy VII puts you in the boots of cold mercenary Cloud Strife, immediately dropping you into action on a mission for a rebel group of eco-terrorists called AVALANCHE. Thrust into this role, the central conflict at first appears to be between AVALANCHE and the mega-conglomerate Shinra, Inc., an immensely powerful corporation that harvests the planet’s Lifestream—literally a stream of green life-force beneath the planet’s surface, essentially the blood of Gaia—for energy and financial gain. The planet is slowly dying because of the effects of Shinra’s exploitation but the corporation continues, malevolently and without regard for the consequences of their actions. Cloud’s participation is at first simply as a sword-for-hire, but soon more is revealed about his history and his overall role in the grand scheme of things. Shinra’s tremendous wealth and power gained from their monopoly of the Mako energy harvested from the Lifestream has made them the dominant political and military force on the planet, and their private army SOLDIER is the oppositional force versus AVALANCHE for the first half of the game.

The ideological strife here mirrors an obvious—and also often ignored—issue in the real world. Fossil fuel consumption, global warming, and ongoing pollution are problems that have gone on relatively unchecked since the Industrial Revolution and have continued to increase in severity as technology and a growing population demand more use of coal and gasoline. Furthermore, Shinra, Inc. is representative of a belief already shared by conspiracy theorists the world over—that the heavy hitters in the fossil fuel industry are the ones calling all the shots from behind the scenes, and that it’s the money from oil that makes the world go round (or sparks wars) rather than anything else.

SOLDIER, of course, is the difference here that separates Shinra from any real world corporation such as ExxonMobil. Final Fantasy VII raises an interesting theoretical, though: what if, in the near future, a company like ExxonMobil discovered a more powerful and altogether world-changing resource like the Lifestream, and were the only ones with the technology to effectively harvest it? What would stop them from almost immediately becoming a world superpower? It would require some brutally ambitious leadership, but could a private army raised with that kind of unending financial reservoir challenge or render obsolete the dominant governments in place?

The answer is probably no. Final Fantasy VII‘s cyber-punk setting is heavier on mysticism than our world but doesn’t quite compare in terms of sheer numbers or brute technological force. Still, statements are being made, here. Gaia is dying, the people are loosely aware of it, and pretty much no one is doing anything about it. In many ways, the same thing is happening on Earth.

The plot later deepens and a force even more powerful than Shinra comes to the fore. A mysterious and thought-dead warrior Sephiroth—since regarded as the most memorable villain of the entire series—emerges and eventually proves to be a threat on an even greater scale than Shinra, SOLDIER, and all the other enemy forces combined. The game’s storyline is densely layered and to explain it all would require more space than available here, but to understand this final point—and specifically, Sephiroth’s plot—the concept of Materia must be explained.

Materia are magic orbs—essentially crystallized Mako energy. Many exist naturally on Gaia, though Shinra has also found ways to mass produce many forms of common materia. As such, many of these orbs are widely available throughout the game and are, from a gameplay perspective, very important to your party’s success. Some materia are rare, some are one of a kind, but two exist in legend as having uniquely incredible power: The Black Materia and the White Materia.

To put complex plot devices in barebones terms, The Black Materia summons a spell called Meteor that can destroy the planet and The White Materia gets its strength directly from the full power of Planet and casts Holy, a spell for supreme planetary protection. Sephiroth, already a super-powered being with godlike abilities, plans to summon Meteor at the north pole and—while Gaia’s Lifestream storms to the resulting crater to try to heal the wound—absorb all the Planet’s energy himself.

Sephiroth succeeds in using the Black Materia, but is then defeated by Cloud and his party who in turn cast Holy to counter the impending doom of Meteor. The resulting clash in the stratosphere between the two almighty forces is the meat of the game’s conclusion, the results of which are up for debate. Holy does not disintegrate Meteor outright; instead parts of the giant meteor break through and tremendous destruction still rains down on the surface of the Planet. For example, Midgar—the world’s largest urban metropolis—is entirely destroyed.

Holy, by ancient definition, exists with the sole purpose of protecting Gaia from its greatest and most powerful threats. The most interesting analysis of the ending with regards to the overall point of this essay is that Holy allowed parts of Meteor to reach the Planet. The most powerful threat was us and our greedy, Lifestream-draining ways. The Planet struck back against us, destroying cities like Midgar and forcing us to rebuild without the power of its Mako Reactors—hopefully, this time, the right way.

Similar ideas permeate films like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. While Final Fantasy VII is certainly a more critically-acclaimed effort, the shared theme is a profound one. We live on a beautiful, lush world and are doing very little to prevent its decay at our own hands. Maybe one day Earth will strike back at us—there’s no way of telling if our planet has some sort of cosmic sentience beyond our ability to perceive or understand and perhaps one day it will just say, “Alright, enough is enough.”

What does all this say about us? Why, both in real life and in this game, does mankind do nothing but harm this amazing world for our own selfish, myopic purposes? Maybe that’s human nature—maybe that’s what we do. Despite all the good-natured and kind-hearted people out there, maybe humans—as a race—are just here to fuck shit up.

Injustice: Gods Among Us

Set in the DC universe of heroes and villains NetherRealm Studios has created a game that allows gamers to play as their favorite heroes or villains against all who dare challenge.  This is a fighting game that focuses on the battle situations in different live arenas from popular locations within the universe from Gotham City to Metropolis.  Underneath this simple fighting game is the idea of the lines between hero and villain being blurred and the public’s reaction to change.  Society shows its inability to see this corruption due to its trust in those in power as well as lack the power to stop it, mirroring our own weakness when compared to those in power.

This game is based on the DC universe created in the 1960’s where there are multiple parallel time lines that contain various versions of each hero and villain.  It is described as a “multi-verse” where every decision taken in the original world would create a separate universe where the person performed the opposite decision.  Some of these worlds are very similar to the Earth where others are almost a completely backwards representation where good is evil and vice-versa.  With the discovery that a universe exists where Superman has conquered the world the Justice League decides to intervene and sends a group of heroes to put an end to his tyrannous reign.  When arriving in this parallel universe the battles ensue with each hero trying to discover what could have led to this occurring.  They soon find out that a plot perpetrated by the Joker ended with the death of Lois Lane and Superman’s unborn child.  This event proves too much for the alternate Superman to take and he kills the Joker and begins issuing martial law on the planet to ensure this never happens again.  With the support of other various heroes the world becomes a place of peace with no faction daring to wage war with “The Regime” (Alternate Superman’s group of heroes) except for the “Insurgency” which is led by the Alternate Batman who could not stand to be a part of the Regime’s actions.  With the world’s most powerful heroes no longer practicing the restraint they had once shown with little regard for the common man the population cannot help but cower in fear hoping to not fall onto the Regimes radar.  Teaming up with unlikely allies as well as the Insurgency the Justice League fights the reclaim the planet for humanity but when pitted against the most powerful being in the universe what chance do they stand?  It isn’t until Earth’s Superman arrives that balance is reestablished and alternate Superman cannot prevail learning of this Superman had succeeded where he had failed and managed to save Lois and his son without becoming a murderous tyrant.

Throughout most of the history of these comic book characters and what is displayed in popular media is a core separation between good and evil based on whose life they are interested in making better.  Underneath all of the plots and plans there is usually a selfish goal that motivates these villains making them evil.  Look at the most common criminal in pop culture or from cowboy movies, the bank robber, looking to steal from others in order to improve their situation at the expense of others.  This concept shows two parts of a criminal’s psychology, the first is there placement of themselves before others, and secondly the lack of effort in which they choose to achieve their goals.  The criminal wishes to be rich and powerful at any cost but wants it immediately.  The hero is displayed normally as the polar opposite of these ideals with their hard work and tenacity to get the work done while placing the lives of others in front of their own.  This is where this game begins to make its criticism of society in its idea of the blurred lines between good and evil.  On alternate Earth the local Superman kills the Joker after having a tragedy occur, an event that most wouldn’t have blamed him for given the circustances.  Then there is the fact of who was killed, a notorious villain who has killed thousands over the years and has no regard for others or the classic model of evil.  With the intent of creating a world in which people will no longer lose their loved ones senselessly he forms a new type of group called the Regime which by definition is the “authority from above maintaining a planned system”.  They are saving the world by taking crime and war out of the equation which would normally be viewed as an act of good since it would help others but with the way it is imposed the people also lose their freedom.  There is also a fear of incurring the wrath of the new “authority above” which comes from the lack of due process.  What can society do when their sacred protectors turn into the evil they sought to eliminate?

Another comment on society that a storyline such as this explores is the potential of corruption of those in power.  The fears of the people that have been entrusted to protect society have a change of heart and begin to manipulate the system for their own gain.  With the expulsion of the British monarchy from American soil there has been a constant fear of one powerful person looking to put an end to the liberty that this country has fought to achieve.  With this turning of the protectors of our society to tyrants is just such a nightmare.  In this game the tyrants are those with inconceivable powers that emphasize just such an event.  This game plays on the fears of the system that has been built to ensure the safety of its people has been turned to controlling them.  Even with this universe of little hope there is still a resistance that is called the Insurgency which attempts to fight this rising power.  Although they seem to have little success until heroes from our dimension come they show the tenacity of the people to stand in the face destruction and fight for what they believe in.  With the use of alternate-Superman as the person who subjugates the world it makes a comment on the absolute corruption with power, with his character always being the embodiment of power.  Also his ultimate power cannot be stopped which possibly shows the weakness that society feels towards governmental power and the lack of ability to change the system by being only one person.  Unlike life this game uses your ability to command super powered avatars to provide the power required to make a difference allowing one person to change the lives of many.  With the general gameplay being stuck in the arena the movies and cut-scenes are where the plot unfolds and the player is given the feeling of a world controlled by a tyrant and the heroes desire to put an end to it.  These devices help with the immersion of the player as well as allow the player to understand the gravity of the situation and the comments it makes about our own societal fears.

This games ability to make perceptions and play on societies worst fears certainly adds to the gravity of the games message.  Although the player may not directly recognize these ideas while progressing through the game the player will gain satisfaction from restoring the balance of power to this corrupted world.  It is this ability to change the world as well as the power granted through the super avatars that create the appeal for this game giving that one person the power to fight back and stand against evil even if it wears the mask of a hero.

Interactivity in Skyrim

Sometimes the real world is a little lacking with interactivity between human and the world surrounding the individual.  There are so many times when we enter a building, only to really be allowed to walk in one direction to a certain spot.  However, this rule of interactivity, or rather no interactivity, does not apply to the video game world.  This is especially true with role playing games like Skyrim.  Skyrim gives the player complete access to the world, and this opens a lot of doors to the person holding the controller.

It seems as though Skyrim’s world map was created for purely for the use of the ability of the player to interact with his or her surroundings.  When traveling across the map, say from Riften to Solitude, one is going to pass through many things.  These include, but are by no way limited to, other major towns such as Whiterun, crazy networks of tunnels and caves like Labrinthian, and many other little details in between.  The player is meant to stop, maybe not at every single landmark found, but at least a couple times on the way to the destination.  There one can find monsters, people, and treasure left behind.  This is something that clearly is not going to happen in the real world.  If one was to travel on foot from Amherst, New York to the city of Buffalo, not nearly as much excitement would happen.  Sure, the person would pass through Kenmore, but there would be no treasure and it is likely that not a single person will stop to talk on the way.  The land of Skyrim was made to be a place that can be explored and the player will be rewarded for taking the time to pay attention to every single place found.

On top of the specific locations of the map, the entire ground and sky can be interacted with.  There are constant ingredients that can be picked up along the way in the form of herbs, plants, and fungi.  Along with that, butterflies can be caught, birds can be shot out of the sky, and deer can be easily hunted down for other potion ingredients along the way.  This is simply not possible in reality.  Even if one was able to use everything found to cook with or have use of, there still would not be much.  I cannot say that I have ever randomly came across even one fruit, vegetable, or any sort of plant that bare some sort of object on it that can be picked, simply by casually walking around.  There is simply not nearly as much detail that I could interact with in my own personal life.  Even if I was to walk in a forest, I would find mostly grass, trees, or bushes that do not even have any flowers or anything worth picking.  This does not even include the fact that I simply would not be able to fit thousands of herbs in my pockets without them filling like one can easily do in Skyrim.  The land that the game takes place on is meant to be paid attention to.  It is meant to be looked at, analyzed, and interacted with, unlike each individual thing found taking a stroll on planet Earth.

Even when going into a town, there is still more to interact with in the game world.  This is because there are much less social rules going on in the land of Skyrim.  When walking the streets of the real world, it is simply not socially acceptable to stop and talk to every stranger one sees, and if anyone was to try this, they would be seen as bothersome and would anger people very quickly.  In Skyrim, the player can stop and talk to every single person and almost every single one will stop what they are doing to have a conversation.  Some may have pointless small talk, others will tell gossip about neighbors, while others will give tasks to do that the player knows will be followed by some reward that can be very valuable depending on the difficulty of completion.  The game promotes attention to detail of people through a system of rewards.  Some of the most interesting and exciting items can be found by completing quests given by random NPCs on the street, so the player is encouraged to speak to everyone.  This type of behavior is considered crazy by real world standards.

Once out of the street and into any form of building structure, the same rule of interactivity still applies.  Every item sitting on the floor, hanging from the wall, sitting on a table, or inside a chest or cabinet can be interacted with in some way even if only in the matter of taking it and putting it into your own personal inventory.  This makes it worthwhile to take a look inside the houses around you.  You never know who may have some iron ore that you can use to smelt into a sword or possibly some potions to take that will heal you in battle.  The player can just walk in and the world is still theirs to interact with.  Many of the NPCs that own the house will not even object to you walking in their house as long as you did not pick the lock to get there.  This is something that obviously cannot be done in reality.  A person cannot just walk into a random house and expect nothing bad to happen.  We walk by or drive by a new neighborhood and all the houses lined up on the side of the road are not there for us to interact with and explore.  To the stranger, they are only there for scenery, and that is all they will ever be.

It seems to be that one of the points of Skyrim is to allow the player to roam free in an entirely different world.  There are very few places that are completely off limits and the player is allowed to interact with as little or as much of the world as he wants to.  They key, however, is that the player has the option.  Our own real world is full of limits.  We can only interact with what belongs to us or what others allow us to.  Everything else is for the eyes only.  Skyrim lets us explore the curiosity in us that reality does not.  This seems to be a major point of the game.  The player is allowed to learn and grow in a world that is limitless, and because of this, knowledge of that world also becomes limitless.

The Assassin’s Creed Series: An Analysis

Instead of analyzing one game for my game analysis, I would like to analyze five: the Assassin’s Creed series. I believe that each of the games are important in the context of each other and I would like to examine how the games have grown in both content and game play since the release of the first Assassin’s Creed.

The first game in the Assassin’s Creed series was very linear and predictable. It’s biggest asset almost has nothing to do with the game play itself, as the driving force in the game is the actual backstory. It takes place in the Middle East during the crusades. Altair, the character who the gamer controls, bounces between Masyaf, Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus, dodging guards and crusaders as he makes his way around the map.

At first, the games seems to be a simple, the Assassin’s are good and the Templars are bad. Altair earns his weapons back after losing them due to a reckless decision that nearly killed another Assassin and as he completes more missions he learns more and more about the war between the Assassin’s and Templars. Also the more he learns the less things seem to add up. The game retells the history of the era a little bit differently than it has been recorded in our history books, an observation that the present time character Desmond makes.

The game conveys that although both the Assassins and the Templars kill and kill in the name of the same objective (freedom) they kill very differently. With each important assassination, there is a cut scene in which the victim explains their role in the greater context and then Altair says a prayer for the lost life. This is some conveyed through all the Assassin’s Creed games, that life is precious and Assassins resort to murder only as a last ditch effort in preserving the order of the world. Further the game encourages the player to think about the way they were taught history and to pick up on the slight nuances that are different  in the real world and the virtual world. It isn’t just the cut scenes that help the game designers convey this, but also the player’s interactions with normal civilians and Altair’s quest throughout the game to prevent those in positions of power to abuse that power, whether it be guards or drug lords.

The next three games in the series, Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood and Revelations are the games that made the series popular. These games are much more complex and longer than the first game but maintain the same strong story line. All three games tell the story of Ezio, a native of Florence in the late 15th century. Ezio’s father and two brothers are killed by corrupt officials who are Templars and thus sets off his quest for revenge. The storyline in this game is much deeper and more complex then the first and features more historical figures like Leonardo Di Vinci. The Templars do less killing in this game and more dictating, but the premise is similar to the last game. In their continual last ditch efforts to prevent the Templars from creating freedom by expunging freewill, the Assassins murder their way through the Templar ranks. Each death is meaningful though, and Ezio learns that killing is not an enjoyable act, even though he thirsts for revenge in the beginning of the game.

Despite the similarity between the Assassin’s Creed games and games like Grand Theft Auto, large wide open games where the player is free to do basically whatever they want and draw as much attention to themselves as they want, the games actually sit in different genre’s. Both are role playing games in the third person, but Grand Theft Auto is a game that promotes violence and criminal activity as a way of life. The characters pride themselves on their control of the criminal underworld and the tough guy mentality.

Although I often bragged to myself as being the most badass killer in the city while playing Assassin’s Creed and took on hordes of guards at once and prevailed, the game itself is inherently different. If you use your character to kill civilians, or animals, you desynchronize, the games version of death. While story lines in both GTA and AC take liberties with historical accounts, the Assassin’s Creed games have a deeper meaning. While the first game provokes the player to look deeper into history, the second, third and fourth provoke the player to look closer at high profile historical figures, like the pope. Assassin’s Creed 3 forces the player to come face-to-face with an almost dead culture (Native Americans) and humanizes them. AC3 also doesn’t shy away from the issue of race. In a time that was obviously very tumultuous racially (i.e. Native Americans being driven from their homes, pre civil war America and the revolutionary war) the game does not make some out to be heroes and the others to be villains all in all. Every character has apparent flaws and presents these flaws in a way that most mediums cannot. Connor, the main character who is half white and half native american, is not as straight cut as the last two Assassins were. Connor is a loose cannon in the beginning of the game. The player does not play as adult Connor for a few hours of game play and it takes even longer still for Connor’s character to reach the level of maturity attained by Altair and Ezio. Similarly, where training was easily acquired for the two original characters, Connor has to pester his mentor, the african american Achilles.

Although Achilles character grows on you, he is in many ways a grumpy old black man. The game does not avoid the issue of his race, as a young Connor has to go shopping for materials in Achilles stead because he is lighter skinned (and actually half white). Achilles grows as a character and grows nicely into the mentor role he is given, and stands up to Connor on more than one occasion. He never lets Connor forget that he is the reason he has become an Assasin.

The white characters in the game are portrayed in a variety of ways. The Templars are essentially seen as evil and, being british, spend most of the game either trying to buy native land or attempting to quell the revolution. Most of the revolutionaries are portrayed as smug, and although they align with Connor, it is clear Connor doesn’t trust them because he believes they will attempt to drive his people away as soon as they get rid of the British. And there are a few white people that are Connor trusts.

What is interesting about the Assassin’s Creed series is that that games themselves are the mediums the designers make a point with. Viewed in a vacuum, most of the individual events of the games mean nothing, but when viewed as a finished product, and even more so as a series, the games tell the story of oppressors and the oppressed and through the player’s interactions with both groups it is the game teaches us about our own past with a slightly altered version of it.

 

 

Game Analysis: Doom

Fear is the most common emotion shared by almost every animal on the planet. It is built into everything from rodents to humans as a survival instinct; let’s face it, if you are faced with a lion and don’t fear it, you’re probably going to be lunch. When we experience fear, a chemical cocktail is released in our brains pumping us full of adrenaline and speeding up our heart. When the fear ends, or you escaped whatever posed a threat, endorphins or feel good chemicals follow the adrenaline rush. This results in quite an exciting sensation that many people are actually addicted to. Some people sky dive or watch a horror film, and some people play video games.

The Doom series began in 1993 and was originally designed as a computer game, but later moved on to the Microsoft Xbox game console for Doom 3. For this post, I’ll be focusing on this one as I have played it most recently. The plot of the series is set in a settlement on Mars in which doctors are testing portals to other dimensions. Something goes horribly awry and hellish monsters infiltrate the settlement and kill everybody or turn them into zombies. That’s where we come into play. Of course, we are the last ones left who must defeat all the demons in order to return back home to earth safely. Doom is one of the most successful games ever created. Why? Because it supplies its players with that overwhelming sensation that makes you jump out of your shoes and scream at the top of your lungs.

As if the storyline wasn’t scary enough, Doom 3 utilizes the technological advances in video games to make the ride even scarier. What is the most common fear every single person has experienced at least once in their life? The dark. Our instincts tell us to be afraid of the dark because we have no idea what could possibly be lurking in the shadows. Naturally, we want to keep living for as long as possible. There are things that could kill us that are definitely capable of hiding in dark places, thus our tendency to fear darkness. Doom 3 takes advantage of this fear. The player is forced to navigate through the many horror-filled levels of the space complex in almost complete darkness. Luckily, those nice guys over at id software supply us with a flashlight that never seems to run out of batteries (must be one of those where you shake it and a little metal cylinder charges the battery). But this is a horror video game, and what fun is it if you can just shine a light down that dark ominous corridor, reveal and dispose of any creatures from hell that may be waiting for you. In order to limit our comfort level, the designers force us to choose between our light and our weapon. And by the way, the monsters are really fast. So when you think, ‘Psh, I’ll just waltz around with my flashlight out and should something appear and attack, I’ll just switch if over to the trusty machine gun and take care of the matter,’ think again. When an 8 foot tall roaring demon fresh out of hell leaps at you, basically into your living room, it’s rather difficult to keep your calm, back peddle/duck, switch to your weapon of choice and take it out. Instead, what usually happens is you immediately press the ‘fire’ button which comically swats the giant with your six inch flashlight. I think you know what happens after that.

Another aspect of Doom 3 that makes it even more thrilling is the fact that it is played entirely in the first person point of view. The first person POV or subjective view does a much more convincing job at putting the player in the character’s shoes. This can be quite disturbing when the character is trapped in a bloody zombie-monster-hell fest on Mars. In Alex Galloway’s Gaming, he relates this feeling to the film industry, particularly horror flicks. Imagine you go to see a movie called Super Yeti, and in one part, scene cuts to a far away shot of a group of teenagers hiking through the wilderness. The camera is unstable, and a couple tree branches are coming in from the edges of the screen. What do you automatically perceive? Perhaps there hasn’t even been a sign that a super yeti exists, but the subjective point of view, or predatory view as Galloway describes it, forces you to see yourself as the attacker, whether you like it or not. Therefore, when you play Doom, the emotions one would experience while trapped in a space tomb seem that much more realistic. Another point of suspense this adds is that fact that you can’t see if there’s anything sneaking up on you from behind. The designers new this, and torture the player by constantly throwing in sneaky little surprises. Monsters that weren’t behind you five seconds ago conveniently pop out of a vent behind you, and all of a sudden your face down on a metal grate with a deformed beast on top of you.

The designers also added a lot of false alarms that come pretty close to causing cardiac arrest. Pieces of the ceiling will fall right in front of your face, an eerie demonic laugh echoes through the hallways, a hanging body gets snatched up into the ceiling by an unknown being. Things like these add to the aura of the game. This not only makes it fun for the player, but for the group of friends cowering on the couch beside him as well. I remember the first time I ever played Doom 3 was at a friend’s birthday party. I had at least ten other people screaming ‘watch out!’ and ‘get him shoot it kill it!’ which made the experience that much more exciting. Needless to say I went out the next day and got a copy of my own to scare the crap out of myself.

Game Analyses

A game that I would look through for a game analyses is more of series.  I would personally like to take a look through the Grand Theft Auto Series.  These games have been around since 1997 and I’m sure the creators are going to continue with the series.  What do gamers usually think about when playing this game? Are they trying to create a whole new identity for themselves?  Does this create any type of game war like situation at all?  Are there hate crimes?  What social category did the creators exactly aim for when creating this series?  Growing up with these type of games, I remember the first Theft Auto game I purchased, which so happened to be Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.  I never came into contact with the other games, but I do know enough of what kind of world I tried to create or even recreate for myself to live in.

The background of the game pretty much sums it all.  In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the main character is brought up in the world of the gang life.  Just like any of the other Grand Theft Auto games where the main character is brought up in gangs, mobs, or being a mobster.  This game is supposed to have the reflection of the gang life of the Bloods and Crips, a crack epidemic, and the LAPD Rampart Scandal which are all held within Los Angeles.  The creators had something to base this video game out of.  The games protagonist is Carl “CJ” Johnson, who grows up in the life of gangs.  The plot of the game is rather long, but mainly the main character is seeking vengeance on who murdered Carl’s oldest brother.

Going on what kind of identity does this create for the gamer?  The game can choose his path of righteousness that eh or she wants to choose to go down.  The gammer can make Johnson go to the gym, where he can become a toned beast that is a lean mean money making machine.  I know that’s the identity I gave myself when I played.  The player can bulk CJ up to the point that he looks like Ronnie Coleman (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSMaI63H9hc).  A player can make CJ have the appearance to look like Fat Albert where he’ll be too big that he won’t be able to run away from anyone.  Something that I also think that players loved to play with while playing the game was the outfits that they had the option to choose from.  Like girls playing with their barbies and ken dolls by choosing what type of outifts they can wear for the day, this was the manly or gamer version to make CJ look cool, hip, or have any type of swag at all to his appearance.  Another way to create some sort of swag for their character was give them some sort of haircut style.  Whether it was to have an afro, a mo-hawk, different colored hair, a goatee, and so on and so forth.  This also game also gave gamers the opportunity to have an automotive of their choice, whether it was a tricked out car with hydrolysis, a race car that can speed up to over two hundred miles per an hour, and or even a jet plane that can shoot out missiles.  Lastly another big thing that this game had to offer was CJ’s sexual appearance.  Also lets not forget about the cheats that come and go with these video game series as well.  An individual can have a cheat that can have the character use weapons of their choice, have any type of transportation that they desire, and or have a certain amount of money to make them feel rich.  A player that controlled the protagonist could make the main character into the ultimate player or just do the missions as he or she please.  If one was to look through this game and tried to analyze, one could say that gamers would try to create the life style that they have always desired.

Something that I personally think that people should look at is the type of lifestyle that is played through this game or series.  Is this game teaching their consumers that it’s okay to use violence to restore peace?  In any of the Grand Theft Auto games, the main character is going to have to face off other gangs  or mobs through violence.  Eventually when the violence begins, this then usually starts one huge mob or gang war between two different subculture groups.  In San Andreas, there were two different African American gangs, a Latin Hispanic gang, a Chinese gang, a Vietnamese Gang, and the list can continue.  When players come into contact with these other gangs or mobs, the usual outcome that normally comes out is violence.  Personally I believe that this type of situation or ordeal is teaching individuals that “it’s okay to use violence to regain the peace that has been lost”.  But with these violence, this also teaches the game that it’s going to be okay to use out in the open of the game as well.  Whether the violence is being used on a women, different cultures or races, and or even cops.  When violence is generally used on cops, that’s when things really go down.  As soon as one police officer is hit, hurt, or murdered by the protagonist it’s as if the whole world is trying to chase the main character down for revenge.  Personally I believe that these type of games are teaching the gamer that it’s okay to use violence to gain balance within life, or to even use the language that comes out of the video game as well.

Recently I read Chapter Three of Gaming by Alexander Galloway.  The chapter was titled, Social Realism.  At the beginning of the the chapter is proposed that players gain the experience through these type of videos games and to try to use them in the outside world of reality.  However, I personally believe that this is one thing that can be noticed as a flaw.  I think what is gained from these video games is knowledge rather than experience.  Like in the game series of Grand Theft Auto, what is generally going to happen when a player makes the protagonist assault an individual and or a police officer?  For a real life instance we gain the knowledge that it will generally create a situation of violence.  There can be more experiences through out these games that can help the gamer learn or to gain more knowledge about what can happen through the real world if these crimes are committed. Another situation that can come up in this game is the thought of the main characters sexual orientation.  Players learn the consequences through prostitution if they do choose to try that through the game, which is generally against the law in the game and in real life itself.  All of these instances help players gain knowledge for reality, they don’t gain the experiences for real life.  That’s what I gained through grand theft auto in this game analyses.