Friday, 9 March 2007


Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 1973
Johann Huizinga, Homo Ludens, 1938
G.T.W. Patrick, Psychology of Relaxation, 1916


Lecture 4: Pain and Pleasure

When we were given this lecture we discovered that there were 3 main theorys about play. These were; reward, flow and iteration. Since I don't have enough space here to write about all 3 of these, I have chosen to look at just one and that is iteration. When I think of iteration, the first game that comes to mind is Fable, a truly iterative game where you can change the outcome of events directly by your own actions, the storyline is not completely preset, and yiou can change it and set it along new paths as you choose. You could choose to be saintly or devil-like, and the storyline and reactions of the people will change accordingly. Everyone starts the game as the same character with the same backgrond, but from ther it continuously diverges according to the choices and decisions you make. You could actually go from one save point in the game and continue the adventure in several different ways, each with a completely different result.

Another game that is similar to this yet not quite so open-plan is Tales of Symphonia. Throughout the game you are given chances to change the final outcome of the game, and depending on several factors, mainly your relationship with the other characters, and your actions in some events. As a result several different endings for the game are available, each one affected by your earlier decisions. This is very different to how games used to be when they first started out, games your to be very linear and clearly defined, with one storyline and a definitive, complete ending with only one way to get there. Today games developers have realised that diverging storylines and sprawling stories are the way to go to further involve the gamers in their products.

I have played many games and with all of them have experienced both pain and pleasure. Pleasure when you complete a particular goal or quest, or simply after beating a difficult boss, it's the excitement of achievement. Similarly I have also experienced frustration upon encountering and absoloutely impossible enemy, or a puzzle that I can't figure out and I end up throwing the controller across the room in frustration. At other times a game has simply become so repetitive, cliched and predictable that I have simply given up out of boredom. That is why today people are demanding more and more depth and interaction in digital games, in fact, I think it may actually be a reflection of what these people want in real life, to be able to see all the possible decisions they could have made, and all the results of each possible decision.

Lecture 3: Homo Ludens

There's lots of games that could relate to this subject but I've been playing and thinking more about this particular game than most others recently, and that is World of Warcraft. Johann Huizinga investigates the reasons behind play in his book Homo Ludens, such as the reasons for which play evolved in the first place, and what its use is in the world of today. He theorised that play is voluntary, no one can be forced to do it, , that it is outside normal life but yet still has fixed boundries seperating it from the real world. One purpose of play could be to learn, as Huizinga said "Let my playing be my learning, and my learning be my playing" (Johann Huizinga, Homo Ludens, 1938), as well as helping to develop social skills, team games and such like help to develop this. Physical games help with strength and agility, as well as teamwork. Humans are programmed to play, just like all other animals, we learn through play our skills that we use later in life. The games we play when we are younger help to teach us some of the boundries that we will use later in life, such as perhaps a rough, physical game of wrestling, teaches us that the level of violence in that game is not acceptable in normal, everyday life.

One such digital game that most certainly heavily involves social skills (more than you might expect) is World of Warcraft, as first glance this game may seem nothing more than just a game, where people compete against one another, not where social networks are developed. But underneath the surface there is a whole other level of social interaction between players. The guilds which players can create in-game extend beyond just being mere groups of people, the people within the guilds talk to one another and form their own communities, just as they would in real life. They help one another with difficult sections of the game, and several areas within the game, such as the Molten Core instance, require that players work together to complete them. A single player alone entering one of these areas would die almost instantly. But together, a guild can overcome these obstacles with strategy and teamwork. Many guilds also use voice tools to communicate with one another whilst they are playing, and this adds a whole other dimension to the relationships between people in the guild, because rather than just simply talking in text, you are speaking in real time to other players. It allows for much better communication and co-ordination. Yet the social ramifications of playing this game extend even beyond that, into real life. Many guilds organise real-world meetings so that players can get to know one another in real life too. Some people have even met their partners through the game, one couple even giong as far as to get married in-game.

G.T.W. Patrick also has theories on the role of games in life, he theorises that games are used for relaxation (G.T.W. Patrick, Psychology of Relaxation, 1916) and that they provide a welcome escape from reality for people. They give the mind something else to focus on after a hard day of concentrating and working, providing relief for a tired and overloaded mind. I think I have experienced this on some occassions, and I agree with this theory, although I think there are also other contributing factors.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Lecture 2: Ban these evil games!!!

In the Daily Mail several years ago, there was an article on this very subject, entitled, oh-so-surpisingly, "Ban these Evil Games" after there was a violent killing which the paper claimed the game Manhunt was responsible for. As it was, it was merely the media blurring and distorting the information, in reality, whilst the style of the killing closesly resembled one used in the game, the game actually belonged to the victim, and his murderer killed him for drug money the victim owed him. As it was, this sparked off a whole media furore against video games, with articles coming out left, right and centre, and people coming forward to talk about their bad experiences with games. In short, it was....a MORAL PANIC! This was one of several moral panics that have occurred in recent years over video games, each one starting over one incident, then growing and growing until the entire media is after the blood of the games industry.

Another such "panic" occurred last year over the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas when it was discovered that someone on the internet had unlocked secret porn scenes in the game, this would have been bad enough, but what caught the media's attention was that some children in the US had a copy of the game, and had found the game hack on the internet. The parents decided to sue the developers of San Andreas, and the story was widely reported in the news. However, what no one seemed to question was that the game was rated 18+ in the first whilst the porn scenes should not have been in the did the children get hold of the game...? The answser was : their parents bought it for them, but the media seemed to ignore this little fact, and instead zoned in on the "awful" fact that the poor children had seen these scenes. Oh no! Perhaps the parents should have considered the fact that in an 18+ game there were likely to be things that weren't suitable for their children! Perhaps the parents should have been told this rather than being allowed to create such a fuss over something that would not have happened if they had not bought their under-aged children an 18+ game in the first place!

Perhaps what the media and society should consider is that the games themselves are not what is causing the problems that games are blamed for, it is teh people who play them. The average gamer would not play a game like Manhunt and then suddenly decide that they wanted to go and kill someone. Games have age ratings for a reason, if a game is rated 18+, then it should be pretty obvious that it will contaqin scenes of a graphic and perhaps violent nature. The games industry is not to blame for how its games are abused. The people that should be looked at are the people who play the games, rather than just using the games industry as a scapegoat for the problems of society.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Lecture 1: Wittgenstein on Games

Recently I've been playing several games which have seemed to bring me back to the idea that all games are different. As Wittgenstein theorised, the concept of games is like a rope, all twisted fibres, no single thread (Philosophical Investigations, 1973) . Even games in the same genre or even within the same series can be wildly different. For example, Fable and Pokemon, both games are well wihin the RPG (role-playing game)genre, yet both very different from one another. Fable has a wide, diverging storryline where you can choose to be good or evil, the story changes according to your actions in the game. In Pokemon on the other hand, there is a set storyline, which may diverge a little if you decide to go off and do some quests or something, but lacks the depth of a game like Fable. Pokemon is turnbased in battles, relying on a little strategy from the player, but not very demanding.Fable is an action-RPG where every action you make affects the rest of the game, and where every battle requires you to target your opponent and then unleash your attacks, timing them correctly to defend yourself. The two main factors which both these games have in common at all is that they are both competitive, setting the player against other characters in the game to compete for superiority, and a main plotline leading you to the end of the game.

As Wittgenstein mentions, even though all games differ in some respect, there are "families" of games, not just genres, but also other types such as competitive and non-competitive. Also he mentioned that all games have blurred edges, no one game or genre can be completely and definateively defined. This can be seen in cross genre titles and the fact that new genres are being created all the time. An example of this is the RPG genre, once, it used to be quite clearly defined, with most games within it consisting a main sotryline, a hero, a quest and very little else. Today the RPG genre has evolved into many different categories and cross genres, such as action-rpg, MMORPG, first-person rpg etc. This is also the case with other genres and families of games.