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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Twisty! A response to a response…

Something of a stream of consciousness post; sitting down on a Saturday night to do a bit of catch up as it were for Uni, and I decided to start off with Networked Media. Here’s what I’m listening to while writing (a 30 minute EDM mix by Knife Party, some ripper tracks in there).

So I started by catching up on the subject blog, and as per mentioning in my blog assessment I stated I wanted to do more of the networking thing, so I endeavoured to engage with somebody else’s blog and right off the bat I found something wonderful! Something I hadn’t thought about before either, as the network is best as revealing.

This post by Alois Wittwer responded to the question put to us last week, “What would it be like to read a story that changed it’s shape every time you read it?” with some observations on the “toxic notions” of a portion of society that like to ‘get something’ out of their lives. I’d agree that this is a rampant desire for pretty much everyone; it can be boiled down to the Meaning of Life thing. No, it isn’t 42 – 42 was the computational error by the Earth of 6 multiplied by 9 and not the answer to the ultimate question – I fancy Douglas Adams was making fun of arbitrary end goals we set ourselves in life when, and as is my main point; the concept of nihilism. Continue reading

“What would it be like to read a story that changed it’s shape every time you read it? What would you need to know to write such a story?”

This question was put to our class and immediately I thought about video games (crazy right?!). There are a good number of games that use morality alignment systems (think Dungeons and Dragons type alignment systems ie. neutral good, chaotic evil and so on) that change based on the action you take. I’ll use Mass Effect as an example. Yes I’m aware I’ve used it as an example before but quite honestly the game excels in so many faculties.

What I want to reference specifically is one of the final sequences of Mass Effect 2. To save you a wall of text the short version is, based on what missions you completed and for whom earlier in the game determines who survives the finale gauntlet run. Should you not help any of the characters’ requests, you do not gain their loyalty, and they will die, but if you do help them, they will survive. Survival is also dependent on picking the right characters for the right roles. For my first time playing the game I neglected these missions and my entire crew was killed (including my favourite character of all time) during the finale sequence. proceeding onward my role in this role playing game was vengeance for my fallen crew members. On the flip side my second time playing it I meticulously completed everything I could (with the help of an online guide, of course) which lead to an immensely more favourable outcome where everybody survived with plenty of time to spare.

Now in terms of a story that changes every time I read it, this is exactly what I think of. It’s outcomes – or shape – tangibly alters based on choices you made earlier. What was required of the writers and developers to write this though? Take a brief trip through the Mass Effect Wiki site and you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed with information about millions of details of the diagetic universe (there are some fantastic examples of design fiction mixed in too, such as I referenced in a previous blog post). The writers of these characters, and the universe that contains them, would have had to think of the various ways a single event could pan out. Who would survive in different situations, and what would change further under different circumstances? How realistic is it that this character survives this event? Would these two characters work well together? Many details would have been planned out for this to work without any plot holes or errors.

But lets take it closer to the narrative side of things. Dear Esther – another game I’ve mentioned previously – is designed by The Chinese Room and written by Daniel Pinchbeck. Dear Esther tells am ambiguous ghost story, and until you play the game through you really can’t define what the story is. What it does do however is provide a story with multiple meanings, not only due to it’s ambiguity, but the order of how the story is told.

You simply move across this island landscape, but depending on which direction you choose to take and at what point you make this decision the story’s fragments will be told in a different order. This can quickly change how the story is perceived. The game almost embodies Hyper Text, it only lacks being able to enter it at any point, and I were to give the developers any suggestions it would to have that very choice available; to have all of the chapters unlocked from the start and allow the player to enter the already fragmented story at any point. I highly recommend this game and if you at all enjoy poetry, mystery prose or anything of the like you will love what the developers did with this game. The narration by Nigel Carrington only amplifies the mood of the whole game.

I do trumpet it often but when it comes to discussing media (at least, entertainment media) I find video games set new standards. They provide such versatile platforms for techniques from film and literature which make for some potentially amazing ideas.