Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Rewards are always fun

There are many different reasons why people play digital games but people would assume that the main reason is because they are fun, because we enjoy them and because they stimulate us. Although Steven Johnson (2005) suggests that perhapse games aren't always as fun as we want them to be. Sometimes they can be repeatitive if the player can't get past a certain level or section and sometimes the can be frustraighting because there are only certain choices you can make.

The key aspect of why games are fun and stimulatng that I am going to consider is Steven Johnson's theory of Reward. That we play games for the rewards that we are offered. These rewards can vary from the abilty to enter a new realm or level, recieving information to help you, recieving weapons and ammo or simply aquiring new skills to help with your mission. These are often referred to as 'power ups' and 'power ups take the form of physical objects in the game world but functionally they remain the same sort of animal as the large blobs in PacMan' Poole (2000, p. 194). The 'power up blobs' in PacMan allow the player to move on to new levels and also to regain strength and build up points.

As well as this, these rewards are also 'signs of possible symbolic relationship changes in the game' Poole (2000, p.194). As the player continues to collect their rewards their relationship with the game increases. For example, by being given a more powerful weapon the player can expect to challenge more powerful enimies.

The game that i can best relate this idea to is Crackdown, a cop shooter game where your character must protect the city from gangs at all costs. There are stages in the game where the player must drive the police car around the city, firing at enemy cars and racing to their destination. Jonhson's theory applies here becase this is an example of reward of faculty. The more driving you do, the better you become at it. The same applies to shooting, at the beginning of the game it is likely that you will miss your target but the more you shoot the more accurate you and your weapon become.

Word Count: 383
Poole, S., (2000). Trigger Happy - Videogames and the Entertainmnt Revolution. USA; Arcade Publishing Inc.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

We Are Homo Ludens

'Game play is its own reward and is clearly distinguished from ordinary life' Huizinga cited in Newman (2004, p. 22). This is one of Huizinga's four characterisitcs of play, that it is seperate from ordinary life and in terms of digital games this is true. Although there are asspects of his characteristics that could be argued against. Farley (2000) cited in Newman (2004, p. 23) suggests that play is not always volentary, what about a 'disgruntled recollection of a beaten player keen to improve'?. The addictive nature of games can sometimes mean that a player cannot bring themselves to admitt defeat and therefore play is not volentary, they are being driven on often by their ego.

Huizinga describes the place where we play games as the Magic Cirlce, which is 'essential in seperating the game from the real world' Newman (2004, p. 78). This is an enchanted area where new rules apply, often magical rules that dont apply in the real world.
Castronova described the magic circle as 'a membrane protecting the fantasy world' (2005). This membrane ensures that the players fantasy world is not subject to the laws of natural physics or culture. This can be applied to a number of digital games such as The Mario Bros. where gravity is defied and enemies can be destroyed simply by jumping on their heads. If the laws of the real world were allowed to interfere within the magic cirlce then Mario would not be able to jump over creatures the same height as himself or jump over gaps in the floor that lead to death.
Newman offers a clear way to explain how the magic circle works within a game itself, consider the 'Boss' puzzle of a Mario game. The Boss comes at the end of a level but it is not something you can see coming. The Boss is 'set in a seperate area with walls preventing escape - the puzzle is made discrete from the remainder of the game world creating an inner magic cirlce' Newman (2004, p. 23).

The Magic Circle also has its own attitude called the Lusory Attitude, Huizinga explained that this is the gaming state of mind that a player enters when playing a game within the Magic Circle. For example once a player has entered the cirlce while playing Super Mario Bros. their attitude will change. They are likely to become competitive and consumed in the game.

Word Count: 414
Castronova, E., (2005). Synthetic Worlds, The Business and Cuture of Online Games. London; University of Chicago Press.
Newman, J., (20o4). Videogames. London; Routledge.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007


The Oxford English Dictionary states that rhetoric is 'language designed to pursuade or impress (usually with an implication of incincerity or exaggeration)'. This is often always true, take the Daily Mail article 'Ban these evil games' as an example, the information presented was exaggerated to imply that the boy's involvment with the game Manhun was more extreme than it actually was.
Rhetoric can be what is said about games such as in the Daily Mail article but also what is said or implied within the games themselves, this is the angle I have chosen to look at further.
The representation of sexuality is a good example to show how certain messages and ideologies are expressed through games. 'Heterosexuality is promoted to "evoke desire and identification"' Leena-Maija Rossi cited in Wolf and Perron (2003). Gives a clear example of sexuality being promoted from a certain view point, is the game The Sims, where 'the goal of the game is to develop a neighbourhood of healthy and happy simulated people' Freidman and Miklaucic, cited in Wolf and Perron (2003). They also suggest that the game provides 'ideological biases' as there are certain 'tasks' and arrangements that are fobidden.
As the aim of the game suggests, you are expected to find your 'sim' a mate, a partner with who they will fall in love and marry and have children. This is what is expected but is also the only option allowed by the game. Same sex couples are allowed but they can only live as roommates with their own bedrooms and are very rarely offered the adoption of a baby. As well as not allowing couples to live together unless married, your 'sim' is also not allowed to have a baby before marriage or adopt a baby on their own. Clear emphasis is put on getting married and having children to make the family complete and there are no options to stray from this set up.
Therefore then, the ideological messages being subconsiously omitted by the Sims is that a person should marry and have children to create a nuclear family that is healthy for a functioning society. Although this is also the concnesus in most 'real' societies' the fact that all other variations of living have been ingored or intentionally disallowed suggests that the creator (Will Wright) wants his players to follow a similar view on life, to promote heterosexuality as the 'norm'.

Word Count: 404
Perron, B., Wolf, J., (2003). The Video Game Theory Reader. London; Routledge.
The Oxford English Dictionary (1933).

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Wittgenstein's Family Resemblance

It is almost impossible to give a definite definition of what a 'game' is as there are so many different types. "A game is a structured or semi-structured activity, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes also used as education tools." This was the best definition that Wikipedia could generate and still it is vague and doesn't tell exactly what a game consists of.
Since is is so hard to find a definition of a 'game' it is also difficult to find 'what is common to all these activities and what makes them...' Wittgenstein (no date). In his work Wittgenstein explains that games to not have a set of characteristics that they all must follow but that if studied you will find a mixture of characterstics that appear through games, that overlap with each other and that follow certain trends. He called this the 'family resemblance' as certain members of a family may hold a certain family 'trait' that connects them to each other.

This can be applied to two of the module games, Doom 2 and Manhunt. Although they were created at different times, by different companies and are based on a different 'plot' they both hold the characteristics of violence, menace, death, destruction and self gain by killing. They each have their own characteristics such as Doom 2 being set as a battle against creatures that do not exist whereas Manhunt is set against actual human beings.
Some characteristics here are unique to the game while others such as the level of violence overlap. Wittgenstein explained how these characteristics functioned as 'a complicated network or similarities, overlapping and criss-crssing' (no date).

Word Counts: 368