Narratology vs. Ludology

During my continued adventures in learning about video game study I came across this ongoing debate. I was immediately curious because I love – seriously, LOVE – diffusing conflict using the power of raw logic. I won’t be able to ‘solve’ it per se considering how ill knowledged I am when it comes to the field, so it’s something I’m very interested in following. For now I’d like to map out my understanding of it.

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What is it to “Play”?

I feel like this is something I need to address for myself since I play video games, well, a lot of the time, but with so many conflicting ideas of what a video game is  and what defines it, I’m a tad bewildered.

I recently read Brendan Keogh’s article in Issue #5 of five out of ten and he describes “play” not only as the physical input into a controller or keyboard but simply being “engaged”, “I am still playing Grand Theft Auto IV, even if I am not pressing any buttons”. For most simple approaches to what video games are as a medium, this is very new; as Keogh also notes the idea that ‘playing’ is simply the user inputting commands via buttons, keys, or analog sticks is an assumption that sticks with us.

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Video Games; ‘Winning’

I can say with certainty that games exist to be won is not true any more. Prani finishes her short response by saying, “…to be a game, a game doesn’t have to have a narrative.” which holds true. Games like the classic arcade cabinet ones – Pac Man, Tetris, Street Fighter etc. – are simply fun and do not use a narrative to engage with their audiences.

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Hearthstone; ‘Just one more game’

On the eve of the mid-semester break I was given a very magical gift. From the good folks at Blizzard Entertainment I was bestowed beta access to their new free-to-play card game Hearthstone. Boy was my break productive after that.

For clarification I have never invested a lot of time into card games – bar my old Pokemon card collection, and an old deck of Yu-Gi-Oh cards I used to own and only ever use with my neighbour – so Hearthstone is the first time I’ve really explored the true multiplayer aspect of the genre. Even before I started playing it last week I was already hooked watching the numerous live streams and coverage of the game everywhere.

Right off the bat the thing that impressed me the most is the simplicity of the game. It revolves around a basic “Beat up your opponent before he beats you up” objective. Apart from that the mechanics of the cards are very simple, intuitive even. You have Taunt cards that force the opponent to remove them from the field before being able to target anything else, cards that heal you or your own minions, cards that allow you to draw extra cards from your own deck; all very simple.

The best thing about this simplicity is that it allows the developers a lot of room for aesthetic polish and that is where Hearthstone really shines. The use of sound and movement makes for a lot of visceral actions including anything from stomping on an opponent with a powerful minion, shaking the board and throwing shrapnel everywhere, to opening up your Collection which has a large tome swing open to reveal your cards. After playing the game for hours over the break I realised it’s been a very long time since I’ve had that ‘just one more game’ feeling. It was beautiful, in it’s own procrastinatory way.

There’s a lot more to talk about the game which I hope to cover in a ‘First Impressions’ video sometime soon, which I will definitely share when I get to do it.

Review and Criticism; Reaction and Analysis

This is something I’ve felt quite strongly about recently although I had trouble defining what exactly I meant. Ian Bogost – a Games Designer and Professor at Georgia Tech. University – put it quite eloquently in a string of 8 tweets in response to modern TV “criticism”, summed up best in the one embedded above; shouldn’t critiques be kept to a less reactive, more analytical view to explain, rather than be a tool for the ‘critic’ to express themselves? Before you go on this is partly an argumentative piece, partly my own inner discussion to better concrete my own ideas. If you disagree with me by all means voice yourself because what good are ideas without opposition, eh? Continue reading

Dear Esther: A Brief Look

This is a brief analysis of the game Dear Esther I wrote a little while back but forgot to publish, originally meant for a website I contribute to I wanted to have a go at breaking down it’s elements and how the game works to motivate the player to try and give it a little more credit as a ‘game’.

Dear Esther is an experimental game/visual novel by UK development team The Chinese Room. It’s solemn and poetic, but somewhat controversial amongst players as to whether it should be called a game or not due to it’s stark lack of ‘features’. This isn’t rhetoric meant to persuade you but I’d like to break down the few techniques and mise-en-scene as it were that act within it. Continue reading