The Passionate Gamer

Since the beginning of the course I have become a lot more passionate about videogames. So passionate that from now on if someone were to tell me that gaming is a waste of time, I would definitely give them a long academic argument about why they were wrong. Possibly even a punch in the face if they were to continue pestering me, although that would not be so wise as I risk being Jack Thompson’s next example of videogames being the cause of violence, not to mention possibly getting arrested and headlining in the local newspaper “Gamer girl gets violent over gaming debate”. Thus perpetuating common media discourses surrounding video gaming.
This passion has led me to be infuriated about these current discourses around gaming which are highly influenced by the media. Common media representation of videogames often use gaming as a tool to bring about moral panic. Just ask parents and grandparents all over the world and the common view of videogames would almost always be negative. It is this type of discourse which makes me so passionate about videogames. The fact that I have learnt just how credible gaming is and can be, it infuriates me that others who do not play games do not even slightly see that the world of gaming is not at all about encouraging adolescents to be violent. The Warehouse not selling R18 games is an example of this and it is something that legitimately angers me. It is proof that discourses about gaming within the media can have a huge effect on not just our thinking but also policies and legislations.
Like in any subject or university paper, when you start off you have your own perspectives of the subject, but getting into the work brings about a more intimate understanding, thus effecting the way you feel about it. Gaming is something I have always loved and the course has only made me respect and love gaming even more. Reflecting back on the first blog prompt there were varying perspectives on who a gamer is and how each person defined themselves. I personally defined myself as a gamer because I love to play videogames and it was as simple as that for me. It still is that simple, I still believe myself to be a gamer but now that the course has ended, I am just a more passionate and knowledgeable gamer. The course has increased my love for gaming because it has verified the importance of gaming and the power it actually holds in the sense that it can influence discourses and be a way to get across powerful messages, exemplified in games like Dys4ia. The concepts of affect, immersion and play are only a few of many things that define gaming as such a credible form of media. No other media allows for immersive narratives that can be playful and its abilities are so vast and complex, yet it does not receive recognition for it because its not recognized for it in other media.
Although I have uttered my utmost passion for the most wonderful medium that is gaming, I have also realised new passions which are not in favour of it. Representation is always important and the ways in which videogames represent women and different ethnicities is quite ignorant and often depicts these characters and their tropes in a very stereotypical manner. Just like other media, videogames are heavily influential and obtains a vast audience thus it has the ability to impact discourses. In terms of representation, it is important to tastefully depict women and different ethnic groups because, alike with the case of The Warehouse banning R18 games, videogames can effect discourses which can lead to changes in legislation. By representing minority or disadvantaged groups in stereotypical or ignorant ways, it is therefore perpetuating the disadvantaged positions within society for these groups.
The course has only increased my passion for gaming and the fact that there is even an academic course on videogames, is something that within itself gives videogames leverage. One thing I know for certain after taking this course is that my love for gaming has increased so much that if I see another debate on TV about the effects of gaming on the poor kids, I may just go mental.

Reflections

As I’ve already mentioned in my previous blog post, before I took this paper, I used to hold some negative views on video games and gaming that correspond to those which have been said and represented in the media. Because I didn’t play any games and knew what it was like, I just believed what they said without questioning it, not realizing how dangerous this was. Now I’ve learnt that many of these are mere stereotypes which are groundless and not true. As such, this paper helped me to challenge some of my views and gain insights into many aspects of gaming, discourses surrounding games and gamers and so on.

Another interesting change that I want to mention is that I have a growing interest in games now (especially those indie-casual games). I used to label myself as a non-gamer and have been rejecting to play games because I thought they were just not my things. But after being introduced to some interesting games in this course, I wanted to find out more games like that, because they are short yet powerful and really creative. Each offers different kinds of experience to the player and it’s so fascinating to see how agency and affect can function so differently in different games… Some games are really artistic and emotive and linger in my head for a while after playing the game, just like good books and movies do. These made me see games as an art form rather than just as a pure entertainment, and I can get enjoyment as well as artistic satisfaction from it. So thanks for introducing me to these lovely games for this course.

Week 7: A Cinematic Immersive Language Experience in Full HD

While I admit that I have not been the most active or participatory student, the course has still, despite my best efforts, managed to teach me a lot; particularly about the language that we use to talk about video games. I have always been critical of video game review sites, newspapers etc. and the language that they use to describe games because that language was never able to fit with my experiences of the medium. Reading something that talks about the performance of Troy Baker without relating the performance to how it is amplified and communicated through the game is not a discussion couched in video games, rather it is film criticism covered in the flimsy, bear-patterned blanket of “I also had fun shooting the people and the graphics were good”.

This course introduced me to a whole new world of media language that is particularly pertinent to video games and the conversations around them. I was enthralled to learn about the idea of mediality and how that works as a concept with regards to video games. There’s practically a whole chapter in the readings that discusses the idea of how to incorporate the different definitions of immersion into the criticism of video games. I had never thought of using the idea of the reader’s ability and engagement in a text as the basis of examining agency across both interactive and non interactive media. It is exciting stuff to read about the ways in which people look at video games from the perspective of video games as their own, new, relatively unexplored medium, and it gave me more than a small feeling of validation that there is a way to take this medium seriously.

So my thousands of hours sunk into Pokemon and Street Fighter have been rendered instantly worth it. Go team!

Part of learning the language of critical video game discussion, however, is being able to apply it in day-to-day life with both the consumption of the media and the analysis of the conversations that said media creates. For example, the idea of immersion and it’s place in both critical exploration and the Big Book of Hype Words. We can find a multitude of examples of where immersion is discussed all over the internet; Skyrim reviews, Far Cry discussions, GTA, Dragon Age forums, general Reddit/IGN/Escapist/et al topics, but not as a critical idea. Immersion in this context is often used as a shorthand for ‘is a good game’, both by industry professionals in their box-quotes and by the users of the video game related websites. Neither parties explore anything about what immersion is, or why it is valuable, or what purpose is served in striving for that immersive grail, or even what immersion could mean to different players. Hell, there are 33 pages of immersion’ tagged mods for Skyrim alone that are all about trying to make a fantasy world work kinda like real life. Things like immersion are treated like dictionary definitions in general discourse about video games; objective terms that can either be correct or incorrect with little regard to the context in which they are placed, and that isn’t really good when it comes to developing and explaining video game language in what should be a critical sphere.

This video game course has given me a different lens from which to look at these conversations and the way that we, as a society talk about video games. It isn’t that we do not have a language with which we can analyse them with; instead it is that ‘we’ (and by that I totally include me, myself, and I) have been too lazy to divorce ourselves from traditional film language to look at and talk about a medium that requires an entirely different perception of the audience.

Good luck, have fun, and thank you!

http://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/searchresults/?src_order=2&src_sort=0&src_view=1&src_tab=1&src_language=0&src_cat=78&page=2&pUp=1

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/6.851022-Immersion-in-Games-Are-You-Into-It

Week 6 // RE: personal reflection

If you were to ask me about my opinions on video games now, if I’m honest, my initial reaction would probably still be to cringe or scoff a bit. Maybe that says something about me or maybe it says something about how insipid stereotypes and pop culture reinforcements are, who knows. But I do also think that I’ve come out of this with a far greater respect and appreciation for video games as a medium. Not just in terms of the intricacies in programming the mechanics of a game, but in terms of what video games can offer: what we can do in games and what we can do with games, what engaging in play can allow us to do, think, feel or see in ways that we can’t (or don’t/won’t/refuse to) when we’re actively ‘at work.’

Prior to the course, I don’t think I’d ever really considered video games as a space in which to challenge pop cultural dialogues and problematic discourses. I think, naively and maybe in part due to the way it’s vilified in news media, I viewed games more as a one-way kind of medium: that they only reflected and propagated issues that were already festering (misogyny, female sexual objectification, racial Othering, etc). That they were kind of the ugly mirror to reflect all that was bad in popular culture. That they made visible what was wrong in society without offering much of a combative solution. Not to say that ‘social justice warrior’ video games would be enough to solve anything, but what I didn’t really ever consider was that something as ‘petty’ or ‘low brow’ or ‘pure entertainment’ as video games could also function as spaces in which to facilitate discussion and negotiation in a generative way, and in doing so maybe offer a slow step towards some kind of reparatory solution. I think the example with Krem in Dragon Age Inquisition probably cemented my thoughts on that. I mean cynically, maybe it’s not much and maybe no great majority in society will ever see it or know what it’s about but I think that it offers a pretty promising or hopeful proposal as to what video games can teach us or rather, how they can teach us. Immersion, interactivity and agency are some of those defining and fundamental qualities of video games, and they are often precisely the qualities which make playing video games so enjoyable and thrilling. So given that games are fundamentally equipped with these qualities, doesn’t that also indicate that they can be great teachers? Games then offer us not just a one-way lecture about XYZ issue, as maybe an informative documentary might, but they allow us to enter the dialogue and explore every option in the safety of the ‘non-real’ world of the diegesis, where if things get too curly we can always log out or restart. Whether we tap out or not is irrelevant, what’s key is that we are given the chance to explore, ideally, without reservation precisely because we know it’s ‘just a game’ and as a result, we can be a bit more brave/daring/reckless with our choices. We get to live out all these different options or ‘lives’ and then exit the game and have the luxury of retrospectivity and omniscient knowledge to make a better evaluation on what might’ve been the best or most productive way to go about getting from A to B or achieving XYZ. So in that sense I think games can offer a really complex incubatory space for problem solving. I don’t know if we’re ready for it yet or if we’re going to be able to achieve it, but the prospects are certainly there and for now, that’s good enough.

The concept of the Alternate Reality Game (ARG) too, I find really interesting. It just seems like one of the most engaged and closest instances of immersion (itself a hazy term depending on what theorists you’re going to go by?) and seamlessness that humans have managed to orchestrate so far. And on another level, it just strikes me as an incredibly gripping, rich and nuanced means of marketing. And as much as the cynic in me might want to criticise it as ‘just’ an ad to generate media hype and social buzz for what is just another product of the great big churning machine of Hollywood/the industry/capitalism/whatever, you have to hand it to the creators for being able to not only dream it all up, but to essentially create something that they then have to facilitate as oppose to direct. The ARG kind of takes on a life of its own and only really works by virtue of its users becoming so incredibly invested in it and on top of that, being invested in such large numbers.

Bringing the ARG back to this idea of video games as some kind of discussion or exploration tool: a cursory Google and Wikipedia search of ARG’s also brought up this idea of the ‘serious’ ARG, with theorists and writers proposing games like the ARG as a legitimate means to solve systemic, complex real-world problems. Serious problems to do with natural resource consumption, to do with environmental issues, military conflicts, political tensions or impasses, collapse of national economies, issues of urban planning in light of our growing and ageing populations. And at first it might seem farfetched or a little naïve in hoping, but if you look retrospectively at the complexity of some of these ARG’s – made just for things like Halo 2 (I Love Bees) or a Batman movie (whysoserious.com) – surely you’d balk and think it would’ve been impossible to solve? Because some of these puzzles and things, their solutions seem so obscure or convoluted or complex that it seems a wonder that anyone solved them in the first place. Or bothered to solve them. And if human beings, in their masses, are willing to invest so fully and dedicate their time so devotionally to solving a fictional-yet-real puzzle, then imagine what could be done if we took that same sincerity and voracity with which people solve ARG’s and transposed it into ‘real-world’ problem solving.

Maybe it’s to do with the nature of it being a game. Is that what I’ve taken most out of this course? That play can be frivolous and childlike and freeing or freeform, but play can also provide a really powerful arena for investigation and learning. Maybe we are more willing to invest so devotionally, methodically and heavily in games because they are games and games stand for fun and that lets us lower our guard. By being in that mindset of games/fun, then maybe that makes us more open (subconsciously or not) to new ideas and unorthodox ways of solving problems, more welcoming to the idea of working co-operatively with other people because there’s some unspoken understanding of being a team or being many, many individual players in the framework of something much bigger – the game. Who knows who ‘runs’ the game or why it’s there, but there’s some kind of mutual understanding that we’re all living in it and that equalises us all somehow, removes any pretensions of trying to be ‘cool’ or whatever. Maybe in knowing that we are contributing to/playing a game, we’re a bit more uninhibited, a little more willing to go all out? Maybe we’re more willing to invest – and invest more – because we’re doing so under the pretence of play and so we equate it with being not-work, not labour at our own expense. And being intrinsically linked to games, there’s also the underlying presumption or end-goal: that someone, somewhere, must win. And God knows everybody wants to win.

Videogames Killed the Radio Star

Despite playing video games, I don’t know if I consider myself a gamer. In my first blog post, I described games as being an enigma to me – a fascinating, almost abstract concept beyond my understanding. Games transported me to new worlds, and at the points they failed to keep my immersion, my imagination was enough to fill in the rest.

I clearly had, and still do have, an appreciation for what games can do. Why don’t I consider myself a gamer?

We’ve gone over in class several times that there’s a stigma attached to the term ‘gamer’. Stereotypes have played their part, as the media reinforces depictions of gamers as some sort of obscure subgroup of teenagers with their own secret handshakes and coded messages. If there’s one thing that has become very, very clear throughout this course, it’s that “gamers” aren’t a part of some kind of satanic cult hidden away from the masses. Games are everywhere. They saturate many aspects of modern society, and like any other art medium, they have valuable contributions to make to us. Their interactivity and user agency (or, at least, the illusion of agency, depending on whether or not you subscribe to Steven Poole’s ideas) mean that they can explore ideas in ways that aren’t possible with, say, a movie or a painting or a song playing through a radio broadcoast. Games such as Freedom Bridge and September 12th communicate messages in ways that are far more visceral than is possible via mere spectatorship and passive listening alone.

Even so, I’m still hesitant at ascribing myself to the label of “gamer”. Maybe it’s because of the negative connotations loaded into the term; even though I’m aware that these connotations are problematic, it’s probable they still have some sort of subconscious effect on me. Or conversely, maybe it’s because while I have a newfound appreciation for videogames, I still feel a sense of intimidation at identifying myself with a group of people who most certainly feel much more passionately about games than I do – what if they think I’m belittling their hobby? Or worse, what if they think I’m just a filthy casual?

In the first tutorial of the semester, when asked whether I considered myself a “gamer”, I didn’t raise my hand. If the same question was asked today, I wonder how I would respond.

Reflection: How FTVMS 328 Helped Me Make Sense Of My Own Ideas.

As our course draws to a sudden end, it is time for a reflection. Throughout FTVMS 328 I have learnt a lot about numerous discourses surrounding video games, had my preconceptions challenged and had my entire perception of video games and “gamers” irreversibly altered. From my perspective, however, it was not the kaleidoscope of information, opinions and theories surrounding video games that benefited me the most (though they certainly did.) Instead, it was the learning of and understanding of a few specific concepts and theories which allowed me to reshape and reframe a number of specific half-baked theories and ignorant preconceptions of mine into a (reasonably) coherent understanding and communication of such ideas.

For my last blog post, I want to give a specific example of how FTVMS 328 facilitated my re-framing of and understanding of a particular concept that is not only relevant to the course, but was also of particular intrigue to me even well before I enrolled in FTVMS 328. Essentially, this is an example of how FTVMS 328 allowed me to turn an uneducated hunch into and “educated opinion.” Personally, I cannot ask for much more from a university course.

Studying “Immersion,” “Agency,” and “Databases,” in FTVMS 328 helped me to conceptualise, understand and build upon one of the undeveloped and misunderstood ideas that have been swimming in my mind for the last few years. I have always had a “hunch” that the “worlds” which exist in video games are, despite the fact that they are fictional, still “real worlds.” For example, when playing games like The Last Of Us on PS3, I have always felt as if those fictional worlds exist. Actually exist. For real. I was convinced that if the characters and events in The Last Of Us felt so real and mattered to me so much (as well as millions of other people around the world), then surely those worlds, in some twisted form of thinking, actually exist in the same way that real people and events do. And surely, considering the world in The Last Of Us is experienced and lived by millions of people around the world, then the “fictional” world is as real, if not more real, than an actual “real-life” world or life-experience. If more people have experienced the life of “Joel” (in The Last Of Us) than the life of Andrew McEwan (that’s me), then who am I, or anyone, to say that a fictional “world” or “life” is less real, or less meaningful than mine or anyone else’s world or life-experience. If we were all actually experiencing, actually living this “fictional” world, then surely this world is something more than fiction?

After taking part in FTVMS 328, I now understand that the confusion and incoherence surrounding my theory is a result of an ignorance and misunderstanding of the concepts “Agency,” “Immersion,” and “Database.” After studying and understanding these terms, I am now able to properly make sense of my half-baked ideas and reframe them in a way which makes sense to myself (and hopefully others)…

Firstly, studying Immersion has helped me to understand why I felt so involved in “The Last Of Us.” During this course, there were two specific definitions of immersion given, which helped me to understand why I felt as if these fictional worlds truly existed.

1: Immersion. “The experience of being inside the world of the image.”
2: Immersion. “Where the audience becomes unaware of the creation and relation of elements within the text.

The first definition tells me that, when playing “The Last Of Us,” the experience I was feeling is called “immersion.” In fact, not only was I experiencing “immersion,” I was experiencing “situated immersion.” This is basically a special kind of immersion in which you are both mentally and “spatially” immersed in the “world of the image.” The second definition, essentially, tells me that I was simply, for the time being, unaware of the fact that both the show and the game are merely constructions of a fictional world. Basically, I was just enjoying myself so much that I forgot it was all a “have.”

And what about agency? All the decisions and choices I made? Surely those were real? Nope. Turns out they weren’t, seeing as agency is video games is “illusory” since the “frame-work” of the game world is “pre-determined” or “coded.” Damn. It was all a lie.

So was I wrong? Are the fictional worlds just that? Fictional? Or is there a possibility that I was right? After learning about the way in which video games are created and operate, I realised that I might still be (sort of) right.

Video games are a type of “database.” A database is a “collection of information stored within a digital memory.” Databases exist. That is a fact. The information within a database exists. That is also a fact. So who are we to say that the worlds within a database do not exist? Just because a digital world is digital, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. How is the creation of a database (or digital) world any different from the creation of a house? Digital worlds and houses both have structures which limit and allow a certain amount of movement and freedom. Leaving a digital world and leaving a house offers a similar escape from the structure and limitations of being within either of these constructions. If a house is a creation of humankind, and we concede that a house exists, then we must also concede that a digital world, which is also a creation of humankind, must also exist.

Wow.

So if the existence of digital worlds proves that I was immersed in an actual, real world, then perhaps the agency i felt was also real? What is it that makes agency in a video game supposedly non existent? Structure? Rules? Physical and mental limitations? We live with these very limitations every day in our own lives. Is this to say that we have no agency in our own lives? Of course not. We are just so used to our own lives, that we forget that “agency” and “structure” are both contextual.

Let me give you an example.

Imagine you are an astronaut, living hundreds of years in the future. One day, you decide to visit an alien planet millions of light years away (by now, such speedy travel is cheap and readily available.) When you arrive at this planet, you realise that the physical conditions of the planet are far different and more restrictive than what you are used to on earth. The gravity is much greater. You are unable to jump, climb trees, or walk up steep hills. You are limited by the structural, or physically “coded” limitations of nature and physics. Do you feel as if you have no agency? If so, do you think you would still feel this way if you were born on this alien planet? Likely not. Agency and structure are contextual. It is the same with the digital worlds in video games. Just because there may appear to be more structural limitations doesn’t mean there is no agency. It simply means that there is less agency in the digital world than in the life you are accustomed to on earth. The difference between the natural, physical “codes” of an alien planet and the natural, physical codes (for example, gravity) on earth is contextually comparable to the difference between the digital “codes” in a video game and the natural, physical “codes” on earth. With the rise of procedurality in the creation of video games, it is likely that agency in video games will one day supersede the agency we have in our own lives, on earth. When this happens, will we suddenly believe that we have no agency on earth? No. Because agency is contextual.

So what am I saying? – Or more importantly, what was I saying before FTVMS 328 and what am I saying after FTVMS 328?

Before FTVMS 328, I was attempting to communicate my “hunch” that the “fictional” worlds in video games were, in fact, more than fiction. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I had a “feeling” that a digital world existed just as much as a physical world.

After studying FTVMS 328 and learning about, in this particular case, “Immersion,” “Agency,” and “Databases,” I am now able to frame my argument in a way which uses and employs ideas and opinions that I learnt throughout this course, whilst using clearly defined concepts learnt throughout FTVMS 328 in order to simultaneously challenge and disagree with some of the assertions about “agency” and “immersion” made throughout the course.

So what am I saying now?

If my opinion began as an “uneducated hunch,” and I have since been educated, then I should now be able to relate the nature of my “hunch” in the form of an “educated thesis statement.”

Here goes!

While immersion and agency may appear to be, respectively, a product of visual mediation and an illusory, pre-determinedly coded cybertext, the acknowledgement of databases as a “real” creation of humankind suggests that the digital worlds in video games, as well as the immersion and agency that result from the digital worlds, are contextually real.

How was that? Hmmmm. I’m not so sure. Certainly better than I could have done before enrolling in FTVMS 328 (believe me. I find logic and reason painfully difficult)

If my communication is not as concise, clear and coherent as that of a formal essay, then please forgive me. After all, this is only a blog. Actually, I change my mind. My favourite part about this course is the ability to write blog posts. I enjoyed nothing more than being able to write freely, openly, emotively and casually about serious topics. After studying FTVMS 328, I now believe that Blog Posts are the most effective way of communicating complex ideas. Thank God for the blog!

Thanks for a great year!

Andrew McEwan (2919467)

Brand new point of view on video games

After six weeks ‘study on video game culture, I have a different view on video games now. Before I viewed video games as purely entertainment, while now I can think about video games in terms of race, gender, and sexuality representation other than just games. I have been given more cultural meanings to video games, and have a better understanding about how games design and work. Before, I never thought that a game can have so many different meanings, in terms of race, and gender, now I can understand why the game is designed like this and what messages the game is trying to send to its audiences.

Looking back to what I have written in the first week, I have a different understanding of my own gaming experiences. I said I like the feeling of accomplishment when I was playing Super Mario, and I felt like I was Mario while I was controlling him in the game. Now I can give it a definition of immersion, and I understand why I have such feeling. Moreover, I just like other gamers, while I am playing games, I can escape from real life for a while and search for hope and confidence in games.

On the other hand, as I play more mobile games than console games now, I have understand that mobile games are defined as causal games, because they demand less time and being more flexible in terms of time consuming and place restriction. Getting to know that casual games have five important components: fiction, usability, interruptibility, difficulty and punishment, and juiciness. I have a better understanding of why the mobile games are designed in such way. They are easier to learn and play, because they are trying to attract a broader players compares to hardcore games. Moreover, the quality of interruptibility enables users to pause and resume the games without hassle, which makes casual games popular among players. In term of juiciness, I now can understand why the game is designed in vivid colors and send out the reward messages directly to players, because the games are creating a positive gaming emotion and enhance the gaming experience for users. In addition, casual games can be treated like hardcore games as well, they can be addictive, some people can play Candy Crush for hours unstop. It depends on how you play the game. You can play it like a hardcore game, if you devote a large amount of time and energy into playing, while you can also treat casual game as kill time joy, play it when you have time. Overall, I have a brand new view on video games and gaming culture after studying this paper for weeks. Now I have a more constructed and cultural understand towards video games.