#Which: the issue of #gender in games and game #audience

{Posted as #rgmooc week 6 co-op}

The game “Which” offers a compelling gaming experience, effectively taking advantage of blurry visuals and two equally jaw dropping ending alternatives to create a dark atmosphere, paying homage to the horror / splatter genre. Along with its undeniable effectiveness, when it comes to delivering game content successfully, the narrative poses plenty of questions concerning  female character portrayal.

**spoilers**

Should the player find the key that leads to the room containing the dead body’s heart, the headless corpse decides to sacrifice itself to the benefit of the player, as the symbols written on the wall demand that only one of them shall eventually leave the premises. If, on the other hand, the player comes across the “head” first, the body becomes a ruthless female figure that stabs the player – one too many times – to ensure her own survival.

In both cases, one cannot fail to discern two extreme  predominant notions of a game character:  benevolent, caring, sensitive and life-giving, even to her own demise or sadistic, opportunistic and selfish. To serve the game’s purpose, heart over mind or vice versa becomes absolute. To procede with the analysis further, the “heart” ending hinges on the somewhat stereotypical notion of motherhood in the outside world; emotional and self-sacrificing, heroic and tragic at the same time. The ruthlessness of the “head” ending made many players scream out of horror for the unexpected.

Violent women and female characters killing off their opponents is certainly not a novelty in the gaming world, especially in MMO RPGs. “Which” captures the look of a wicked looking woman, determined to save herself by virtually slicing the player open. One could possibly insinuate that this is the “male” aggresiveness coming forth, of which the gaming industry is to blame. Games do allow for unperceived freedoms, concerning character depiction, environment and storyline. Taken to an extreme, violence is a relatively shocking, yet indispensable element of game narrative, especially for this type of genre. How is it that we would expect a male NPC to brutally kill players, yet we cringe in front of a woman doing so? Cyberspace enables game designers to form worlds “where gender is fluid and multiple“, hence taking a considerable amount of liberties; still the average gamer feels safer in a “gendered environment […], more more stringent and rigid than in real life” ( Christensen, 50)

What about the female audience playing this game?  The haunting effect of the game constitutes a persuasive rhetoric, regarding logic and emotion. If you have a heart, you ‘ll save others; if you don’t you ‘ll save yourself.  Thus, it is not a question of a female audience (that sounds awfully biased) but a matter of audience perception in general. People might become emotional with the sacrifice of the NPC, regardless if they are men or women playing the game. Others might feel vindictive against the cold hearted stabbing regime. It all depends on the gamer’s personality, not his /her gender.

Presenting the exact opposite choices, both endings call for a brutal dilemma: “Which” one will you come across?

Works cited:

Christensen, Natasha Chen. “Geeks at Play: Doing Masculinity in an Online Gaming Site.”Reconstruction 6.1. N.p., Jan.-Feb. 2006. Web. 15 Aug. 2013. <http://reconstruction.eserver.org/061/christensen.shtml&gt;.

Inel, Mike. Which. Computer game. Gamejolt.com. Vers. 3D. Lucent Web Creative, LLC, n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2013. <http://gamejolt.com/games/adventure/which/1523/&gt;

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#MrBree: Instructing the basics of #neuroscience through video #games

 

 

{Posted as #rgmooc week 8 co-op}

Our brain is admittedly a highly sophisticated organOne of its core functions is the human ability to store chunks of information – roughly up to 7 “items” at a time – storing them either in our short term memory or better yet our long term one. A successful input of information is not an automated process; we have rather trained ourselves, using various helpful strategies in order to achieve what we sometimes take for granted: preserving memories. But why is it that we forget in the first place?

Scientifically, experts indicate either neurological or psychogenic (Dubuc: 2005) types of amnesia. Suffering a severe head injury might lead to irrepairable brain damage, thus rendering crucial parts of the brain – such as the hippocampus – disfunctional or entirely useless. On the other hand, there seems to be the case of Mr. Bree. Suffering a psychological trauma, such as intense fear, stress or perhaps a life threatening experience might escalate to a broad memory loss, despite the fact that there is “no detectable brain injury or brain malfunction.” (Dubuc: 2005) In this way, people seem to lose what is called their “episodic memory“. (Dubuc: 2005)

Mr. Bree (2012) is found in the forest, illustrated as a cute, anthropomorphic pig, sweating in agony, for he cannot seem to recall who he is or why he is there in the first place. Throughout the game levels, Mr. Bree is talking to himself constantly (personal, human-like countermeasure to his predicament); his thoughts depict his inner struggle to connect all the dots as to why this is happening to him. The first fifteen levels of this platformer game are appropriately called “bad memories“. Managing to finish one level adheres to a certain brain part being restored, through clever player feedback. Levels 16 to 20 are the notorious “Butcher” levels, designed in a scarlet pallette to match the gore. Game mechanics do allow for spots within the level, where one can go back to should one fail, without having to go through the level all over again. Similarly, humans combatting forgetfulness form points of reference that are familiar with, to facilitate the sense of comfort and awareness.

In his effort to understand what is going on, Mr Bree embarks on a fictitious journey through the forest where violent spikes and flying sharp metal objects threaten his existence. It should be noted that game difficulty progresses gradually. Everytime the player completes a level, Mr. Bree learns a new move or is reminded of something pertaining to his personal life. In either case, Mr. Bree’s monologue attempts to resurface what happened and eloquently draws comparisons between his past life and contemporary state, violence being the key link here.

In accordance to psychological treatment of amnesia, the patient is indeed forced to invoke the painful memories that lead to his / her current state of mind. The secret, however, is to attach those hurtful memoirs to realtively unrelated symbols in order to ease and soothe one’s psyche. Recent research suggests that being under psychological pressure anew actually enables the brain to behave in this way. Based on conducted experiments by Fenton and colleagues, Rachel Jones (2010) observed that:

“…stress can reactivate unrelated memories that are stored outside the hippocampus and render them labile through a mechanism that requires the hippocampus […] in humans, traumatic stress might reactivate non-traumatic memories and link them to the traumatic memory, thereby facilitating the pathological effects seen in post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.”

Therefore, one must gradually submerge into the subconscious, if one is to discover the initial source of blockage; hence the psychoanalysis retrieves information from a person’s past similarly to levelling this particular video game. Indeed, it turns out, that Mr. “Pig” was actually about to fall victim in the hands of a merciless butcher when he miraculously managed to escape in the forest. Treading the forest pathways, Mr. Bree reenacts his way to the slaughterhouse one step at the time, putting together the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Mr. Bree could be considered as a substitute for any nameless victim of psychogenic amnesia. Stressing over obstacles is a homeopathetic way of acummulating information on his individual, agonizing past and coming to terms with stress related amnesia. If so, one can honestly hope that progressively even the worst state of degenerative dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease will eventually become itself a bad memory in the not so distant future.

Works cited:

Dubuc, Bruno. “Types of Amnesia.” The Brain from Top to Bottom. N.p., n.d. 2005. Web. 19 July 2013. <http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/i/i_07/i_07_p/i_07_p_oub/i_07_p_oub.html&gt;.

Jones R (2010) Stress Brings Memories to the Fore. PLoS Biol 8(12): e1001007. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001007

Mr. Bree – Returning Home. Online PC game. Kongregate. Vers. 1.0.35. Taw Studio, 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 July 2013. <http://www.kongregate.com/games/TawStudio/mr-bree-returning-home&gt;.

“#DontStarve” #game: #Pathos over human survival instincts.

{Posted as #rgmooc week 7 co-op}

Appealing to one’s soft side is every creator’s ultimate goal, when it comes to entertainment. Hollywood may boast on gross revenues from major blockbusters; a movie that is critically acclaimed and considered to be a “great” film, however is an entirely different business. Just like in all things entertainment, the same applies to songs, works of art and even games. As Joseph Butler-Hartley eloquently describes this,

…the greatest feature a piece of art can have is the ability to provoke emotions” (zero1gaming.com).

The moment one transcends the boundaries of game mechanics and play, the instant when feelings blend in and influence game choices is when pathos holds the reign. It’s then and there that the game designer has achieved greatness.

Experiencing the game “Don’t Starve” is actually true to its title. The survival genre calls for decisions that ultimately simulate tough choices, cold logic and strategic planning. Personally , according to my “green” environmental credo, guilt plagued a lot of my actions. Although I didn’t hesitate to make my – otherwise perfect – gentleman torch a couple of trees, in order to be able to see, when darkness fell, I soon feared I might start a fire (also that trees are extremely flammable when approached by fire, but that insinuates I should recheck my brain functions). I also realised that my first and foremost priority was to eat anything my avatar could get its hands on: from seeds and petals to butterfly wings. I felt happy that Willson could fill up its stomach depositories (a clever illustration of game feedback, to be honest) and yet I really pitied every creature that I laid my hands on, so I could prove I was top of the food chain. Birdies in particular were too cute to become prey (and annoyingly evasive I might add).

Playing the fifteen minute demo is hardly time enough to assess the majestic Tim Burtonish atmosphere of “Don’t Starve“. Nevertheless, I managed to dwell in a compelling storyline within those minutes. Still my emotional responses weren’t enough to keep me from sacrificing my basic survival instincts. Scientist Wilson eventually killed that pretty little butterfly; I felt remorseful, of course, and yet I chose to comply with the game rules. I didn’t “feel” a certain bond reflected in my avatar. I just knew I had to do certain things to beat the game, no matter how they would seem in real life circumstances. I did sympathize with my struggling little human; does sympathy qualify for pathos? Hardly.

That is where the plot thickens. Violence in-game leaves the player with a strange gut feeling but in the end it’s overshadowed by the ultimate game goals – you need to kill lots of enemies / zombies, etc. in FPS and similar genres in order to survive. Does anyone regret that? Did anyone stop to think how cruel our characters are or how many critters we have killed in MMOs? Until we discover a way to create

…interactive dramas where it’s possible to form deep, friendships with virtual characters” (Loftus)

we have a long way from achieving Pathos in the game entertainment industry (with the exception of Lady Croft, perhaps…).

Works cited:

Butler-Hartley, Joseph. “Art, Gaming and First-Person Emotions.” Www.Zero1Gaming.com. Zero1Gaming, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 14 July 2013. <http://www.zero1gaming.com/2013/03/27/art-gaming-first-person-emotions/&gt;.

Don’t Starve. PC game. Vers. Demo. Kle

Entertainment, n.d. Web. 14 July 2013. .

Loftus, Tom. “Bringing Emotions to Video Games.” Msnbc.com. Nbcnews.com, 10 Nov. 2005. Web. 14 July 2013. <http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4038606/ns/technology_and_science-games/t/bringing-emotions-video-games/&gt;

#CLOUD: presenting persuasive #rhetoric in a #game

 A rhetorical situation occurs when an author, an audience, and a context come together

and a persuasive message is communicated through some medium.

(OWL purdue)

{posted as #rgmooc week 3 co-op}

Introduction

The game CLOUD features a dreamy landscape, where a boy, flying through the air, manages to collect clouds and then use them to create various shapes or induce rain upon a heavily polluted city (puzzle / adventure free-to-play PC game).  The game was created by students at the University of Southern California in 2005 and by 2006 this indie game amassed huge admiration and a considerable amount of downloads.  Journey‘s Jenova (Xinghan) Chen is credited as the lead designer of CLOUD, which was inspired by the creator’s childhood memories; as a child he suffered from asthma and spent a lot of his days in a hospital daydreaming, much like the boy in the game (Wikipedia “Cloud“).

Audience

Thatgamecompany“, which was created by the founders of CLOUD shortly after their graduation, made it clear that their target player body are the so-called “core” gamers, meaning that CLOUD is not intended for the average hardcore or casual gamer alone; preferably even a non gamer would appreciate its artistic concept and serene minimalistic design. It doesn’t take too much of your time to grasp the basics – the first stage is perceived as a tutorial –  and the actual focus is rather on creating emotion and a “powerful interactive experience” (Thatgamecompany, “About” section). Chen himself quoted the necessity of creating “mature” games (gamesindustry.biz) that have little to do with short-term lasting, basic instincts, such as enthusiasm or rage, which mostly apply to teen gamers; instead, the game industry ought to seek enhancing its emotional rhetoric to adults by fortifying game elements accordingly . A game can become a work of art and have similar impact as a good film or an exceptional painting. That, according to Chen is not only art but also entertainment in its purest, most long-lasting form:

“what I realized during the development of Cloud was that entertainment is about feelings”. (Gamasutra)

Game mechanics and elements

To achieve attracting primarily a non gamer, adult audience, CLOUD employs several game elements that contribute to structuring a beautiful, escapism dreamland. Music ought to be mentioned first, since the exquisite sound of Vincent Diamante achieves supreme levels of eliciting feelings. Flying through the air becomes something more than a childhood fantasy; it literally relocates the player to a domain free of angst and hardships.  Despite the simplicity of in-game graphics – it was after all a student project – the design is up to par, with a clever exploitation of light and dark shades to symbolise “friendly” clouds vs rainbringers. Nevertheless the strongest advantage of this endeavor is the narrative itself. The boy is held up in a tedious, depressing hospital room much like we are trapped in a daily routine; his only wish is to fly, something to which any child or adult can easily relate. The touching connotation of the boy’s illness, clouds being presented as “friends” and the original motto of the game – “Let’s make more friends” – raise expectations for a social message, larger than life. Chen and his team prove that constructing a successful narrative can make games tell a story in a most artistic – dramatic even – way. Thus, narrative aimed at arousing human emotions becomes a core game mechanic, rendering CLOUD an “art game” to be emulated.  As Brice puts it:

If game mechanics are meant to provide players with experiences such as fun and anxiety,

then narrative actually is a game mechanic, as much as game mechanics can also be narrative elements. (popmatters.com)

Consequently, it would seem that mature or non gamer audiences deem persuasive narratology and rhetoric as key to opt for a well designed gaming experience. CLOUD is definetely one of those.

Works cited:

“About.” Thatgamecompany. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2013. <http://web.archive.org/web/20100723142221/http://thatgamecompany.com/about/&gt;.

Brice, Mattie. “Narrative Is a Game Mechanic.” Web Blog post. PopMatters.com PopMatters Media, Inc., 31 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Aug. 2013. <http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/153895-narrative-is-a-game-mechanic/&gt;.

“Cloud Game.” Cloud Game. The Division of Interactive Media at the University of Southern California School of Cinema and Television, 2005. Web. 15 Aug. 2013. <http://interactive.usc.edu/projects/cloud/game.htm&gt;.

“Cloud (video Game).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Aug. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_(video_game)&gt;

Irwin, Mary Jane. “The Beautiful Game.” GamesIndustry International. Eurogamer Network Ltd, 19 Feb. 2009. Web. 15 Aug. 2013. <http://web.archive.org/web/20090429105251/http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/the-beautiful-game&gt;.

Kumar, Mathew. “Thatgamecompany’s Chen On How Emotion Can Evolve Games.”Gamasutra.com. UBM TechWeb, 15 July 2009. Web. 15 Aug. 2013. <http://web.archive.org/web/20100810013800/http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/24442/Develop_2009_Thatgamecompanys_Chen_On_How_Emotion_Can_Evolve_Games.php&gt;.

Pepper, Mark, Allen Brizee, and Elizabeth Angeli. “Elements of Analysis.” OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab. Purdue University, 30 Sept. 2010. Web. 15 Aug. 2013. <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/725/02/&gt;.

Retrieved 15th August 2013 from http://interactive.usc.edu/projects/cloud/

Summertime…

Summer reflection post

 

So it’s been a while since my last post but this MOOC winter and my MA finals took their toll, I guess… Living in Greece also makes you want to spend the hot summer by the sea sipping “frape” -i.e. cold instant coffee – and casually hanging out …

Vacations are almost over, though. During my summer break it was time for some inner reflexion. This blog helped me immensely, since I understood a lot of my strengths and weaknesses in writing. Using English as a foreign language is still hard even after practicing for years.

 

During this summer I also started using Pinterest, which is a visual torrent of goodies for educators, tech, fashion and whatever you can think of, really. Social media are on the rise and here to stay, as I ‘ve said before.

 

Regarding MOOCs I am almost to a close with a cMOOC this time. Despite the fact that I enrolled in three of the kind, this one kept me going – my forthcoming posts will include homework realted to game studies.

When I first started this blog I thought I could have a place of my own to reflect on e-learning, distance and lifelong education and MOOCs.  I could swear, I wasn’t up to keeping a blog, much less update it frequently and yet I did – now onwards to new inspirations, novel writings and many lovely things to come…

So, dear WordPress, thank you for making me  stay…

 

Image

took this one during my trip to Thessaloniki… **so deep**