Friday, 9 March 2007

Just one more level then I'll eat, just one more.

The main problem with computer games is that they just aren't much fun. There are always nice moments, like when you finally score a goal in Pro Evo or when you eventually nail the drag in Need For Speed. The problem is the hours spent between each success. To be honest, this is what has most put me off playing computer games too often, though I'll admit to losing a month on San Andreas, probably chasing the same car up and down the say road. I guess at some point we really should ask ourselves why we keep playing.

There have been several suggestions as to why, like the desire to reach the point of zen-like flow or the enjoyment of iteration. In this section though I am going to focus on the idea that we play for those little rewards and that game makers cater to these desires.

Unlike real life digital games provide us with clearly defined rewards. In Civilization on most turns we receive some advancement in our civilizations technology or understanding, invent the wheel, develop the alphabet. If it wasn't for these continual little treats the monotony of irrigating your city would be almost unbearable (actually, I still found it unbearable, but thats beside the point). A similar idea can also be found in DOOMs continual 'power-ups' or the slightly less frequent unlocking of cars in Gran Turismo.

According to Hallford & Hallford (2001) these rewards can be split into four main categories:

; can be described as little more than bragging rights
Sustenance; like the health packs in DOOM
Access; like keys to new levels or new cars in GT
Facilities; this could be a weapons upgrade or perhaps a new tunning kit for your car.

The idea of reward is that it is of little matter which of these four categories our reward falls into, just so long as we get one. Its as if our brain is programmed to just seek out any reward. This is something that is uniques to digital games, perform an action and you will get a reward.


N., Hallford and J., Hallford Swords & Circuitry: A Designer's Guide to Computer Role-Playing Games (2001) Prima Publishing:Roseville

Being a good sport

What are the differences between games and play? In many languages the similarity between the words is striking and so perhaps it is just in English that we try to make such differentiation. Though we may try to argue that games are a subset of play or vice versa, there is a blur in the boundaries.

In his 1939 book, Homo Ludens, Dutch anthropologist Huizinga suggested that play has a far greater role in the human psyche than being just an aside from reality. He posed the question 'what is the point in play?' He found it to be a consistent phenomenon across both cultures and species. He suggested many possible uses;
The development of the senses and spacial awareness, as an outlet for aggression, a tool for developing social instincts and forming alliances, a form of relaxation, development of physical and mental focus, teaching the young pyhysical and social restraint, a form of energy restoration, a desire to fulfill an imitative instinct but above all an ability to exercise dominance through competition.

Huizinga suggested that the magic circle is an important aspect of playtime. By magic circle he meant that by entering we knew that we are in play mode, a moment separated from real life. This place can be divided from 'real life' either physically (for example a rugby pitch) or psychologically (the constraints of 'yes, no, maybe). In digital games when we enter this magic circle we can carve up the road at high speeds (Gran Turismo) or shoot our friends (multiplayer Goldeneye).

In entering the magic circle players agree to adopt what Haizinga called the 'lusory attitude', what we would call the 'players attitude'. We agree to abide by the often inefficient rules of the game. Its football so we use our feet, whether its easier to pick it up and run with it or not... perhaps William Webb Ellis was not so well know for his good sportsmanship at first, a sure sign of a poor lusory attitude. It could be argued that cheating is a symptom of this poor lusory attitude, players are often banned from MMORPGs for using macros to automate an otherwise mundane actions.


Homo Ludens: Versuch einer Bestimmung des Spielements der Kultur.
Jan Huizinga
Review author[s]: Eric Voegelin
The Journal of Politics, Vol. 10, No. 1. (Feb., 1948), pp. 179-187.
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Homo Ludens Revisited
Jacques Ehrmann; Cathy Lewis; Phil Lewis
Yale French Studies, No. 41, Game, Play, Literature. (1968), pp. 31-57.
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Manhunt made me do it!

A problem that has beset the video game industry over the years has been much the same as any new medium, that it has been blamed for almost every ill in modern society. Such mis-information regarding a so called 'game related murder' such as that of Stefan Pakeerah can lead to mass outcry from initially the media and subsequently the public as to the depravity and poor influence these games can have. The fact that the police later revealed that accused game, Manhunt, was infact owned by the deceased and not the murderer does little to stem the flow of blame. Interestingly though, it can do wonders for the games sales!

According to Stanley Cohen (Folk Devils and Moral Panics, 1972) a moral panic is where the media fixates on some group or behaviour, (subcultures are always good scapegoats) seen as a menace to society and exaggerates reporting which leads to campaign groups, concerned parents, letters to MPs and statements in parliament.

Stanley Cohen then went on to describe what he calls Deviancy Amplification Spiral. In this instance the mass coverage can influence the groups behaviour and may actually attract similar group members.

So how do we get to this point? Where does the coverage begin? It is argued that much of the blame can be laid at the door of the rhetoric used by anti-video game campaigners. Anti-video game campaigns use subtle techniques to convince people that their message is true and just


S., Cohen Folk Devils and Moral Panics (2002) Routledge:London Retrieved 2/3/07 Retrieved 2/3/07 Retrieved 2/3/07

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

When does the game start?

One can't help but ask the question 'what constitutes a game?' Are there elements that need to be included for an activity to constitute a game? Does it have to involve skill? Luck? Be rule-based? Include competition? Wittgenstein (in Tilgham, 1973) argued that games don't have to share all these features but can simply involve a degree of overlapping characteristics. He argues that a game can be viewed as something more akin to family resemblances than following a hard and fast formula. B Tilgham (1973) points out that the word game itself is not taught through the learning of strict criteria but by providing various examples of what a game is. Interestingly, Tilgham notes similarities in the abstract categorisation of the word 'game' to the word 'art'.

Here is one of the more recent questions that have arisen 'Are games art?' Lets us take an example of a 'game' that crosses these boundaries. Samorost and its recent sequel, Samorost2, were created by Jakub Dvorsky, a Czech graduate of Arts, Architecture and Design (Adventure Gamer, 2005). The play is minimalistic style point and click in the vein of early 90s games such as Myst. It is clear that almost all of the time has been spent on creating the artwork with only a small proportion on gameplay. As such it has more of the feeling of moving through interactive art. Does it have the characteristics of a game? There is no competition, very little skill is needed, no luck as all 'baddies' are automatically avoided but it is certainly enjoyable and does require interaction. One thing is certain, Samorost does highlight the ambiguity of the notion of game that was highlighted by Wittgenstien.

Bibliography,593/ - Retrieved 28/2/07

Wittgenstein, Games, and Art
B. R. Tilghman
The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 31, No. 4. (Summer, 1973), pp. 517-524.
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Further Reading

Playing Games with Wittgenstein (in Commentary)
John M. Ellis
New Literary History, Vol. 19, No. 2, Wittgenstein and Literary Theory. (Winter, 1988), pp. 301-308.
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Tuesday, 13 February 2007

What do you have in there? Doom!

Please note, this post should not be included in the marking. It is more a general interest post.
"There is a scene in "The Color of Money" where Tom Cruse [sic] shows up at a pool hall with a custom pool cue in a case. "What do you have in there?" asks someone. "Doom." replied Cruse with a cocky grin. That, and the resulting carnage, was how I viewed us springing the game on the industry." - John Carmack, 2005
Doom is considered by many as the breakthrough first person shoot-em-up. Created by John Carmack in the 1993 for Id Software, Doom made all the impact on the gaming market that Carmack a hoped for. The game was highly touted for its 3D rendering engine (which isn't strictly 3D due to an inability to look up) but perhaps more importantly, for its extensibility by the users. The program was initially released as shareware which allowed it to spread to and estimated 10million computers. Perhaps one of the key points for its continued success is that the engine that it was based on and subsequently other derivative engines, such as the Quake II engine, were released under GNU/GPL licenses. This continued openness and interaction with the fanbase has not only helped develop an entire subculture but given the game a life far exceeding that of a normal product cycle and has created sequels, spin-offs, comics, novels and even a Hollywood movie.

As with much in the games industry it wasn't all fun and rendering engines. The freely available nature of the game and the introduction of multiplayer Deathmatch mode over networks meant that productivity in many companies was impacted with both network clogging and staff spending all their time playing each other. Though that may have caused a headache to network admins, the real controversy surrounding Doom was the gore, gibs, satanic imagery and general level of violence. Some described the games as simulated mass murder but nothing could have been more harrowing than the line "It's gonna be like fucking Doom man" spoken by Eric Harris before engaging in the Columbine High School massacre.