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.
Stable URL:

Homo Ludens Revisited
Jacques Ehrmann; Cathy Lewis; Phil Lewis
Yale French Studies, No. 41, Game, Play, Literature. (1968), pp. 31-57.
Stable URL:

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