Dating and Marriage in Online Games

While online dating sites provide the sole purpose of meeting a familiar, online games do not only give you the opportunity to date, and sometimes even marry  another character (Perfect World), but they also provide the chance to play at many other things. It is like you are creating a new life in some of these games, and by dating another online character, it takes gaming to a whole new level. I played perfect world for a very short amount of time before switching to WoW, and I was astonished to learn that players could actually “marry” other players (I think you can in World of Warcraft as well but I am not sure). Sure, it doesn’t involve anything legal, you don’t actually marry the person behind the character, but It felt very strange to me. Marriage is supposed to be the ultimate and final step in sealing a relationship, but in various games that offer this extension, they seemed to be treating it rather lightly. While online dating sites require you to post a picture and talk about yourself, online games allow the player to build a character and a persona. They can tell people whatever they want without having to worry about retribution, and perhaps this “rules free” lifestyle makes them think it’s okay to marry another player inside the game. Marriage within the game, from what I understand, will actually give your player many benefits and rewards, so I think it is safe to assume (to a certain extent) that some games like Perfect World encourage this sort of behavior. My question to you is as follows; how do you think online dating differs from dating within an online game, and what do you think about the option to marry another player? Would you do it if you were dating another character and they asked you to?

Minecraft – The Ultimate Sandbox

When discussing Juul’s essay in class about about narratives in games, some good points were brought up, including how with games, the story really depends on the player, and their experience while playing the game, even when the game itself has a story. One game that I found very interesting, especially regarding this topic, is the game Minecraft. Minecraft is a game which does not provide you with any sort of story, yet on the other hand, it does not provide you with any scoring system or ways of “winning” either. Initially, you may think this would lead to a boring game, or a game with no point, but in fact,  this is where the true beauty of the game lies. While the game does not provide any narrative of its own, this gives the players full control over any story they might want to put into the game. Want to build a small mine shaft and gather enough stone to build a giant castle, which you would then defend from zombies and other players? Sure go ahead! Want to make a floating paradise in the sky, safe from any harm? You can do that too! This is where the game gets it’s reputation as “The Ultimate Sandbox” from. It gives the players all of the control to do as they please, and make up their own stories as they go. This leads to players being more invested in the game, as the game is literally made around what they want it to be. I found this example very interesting because it seems like the absence of story is actually in essence the best story.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaMTedT6P0I

A fan made trailer for Minecraft showing off the expansive world and the creativity involved in the game. The point to keep in mind while watching this is that these are all things of the players own creation. The game is essentially a blank canvas and the player has imagined and created all the environments shown.

Do some games still have narratives?

Do games have narratives? I still think at least some of them might. I think that many games have a full narrative in them, and these stories are just expressed and experienced in a new media form. Compared to a story book, for example (which I think no one would argue is a narrative), where a reader may spend extra time on one passage, look for a long time at the pictures or disregard them completely. Maybe they will go back a reread a portion. These are all choices made by the reader and change the impact of the narration. However, it still constitutes a narration that was made before the reader read the book.

I think that a player can also do these things in a game, spending time at one obstacle, exploring the environment, or revisiting a past situation. I think that some games have a defined and preplanned story line that you cannot escape. You can only change the pace at which you experience it.  The Tomb Raider: Legend game for Xbox 360 has a distinct path, where you cannot progress in the game until you solve a puzzle or evade an obstacle. Furthermore, there are video clips between levels that push a plot through the game, and one ending (not counting the times you die and start again at the last checkpoint). Perhaps it could be argued that it is not a narrative because there is no ‘narrator’. But I would like to argue this point as well. I think that the tv screen is a narrator in itself. It tells, or rather ‘shows’, the story from distinct camera angles, lighting, music etc. This creates mood and perspective for the story.

You can learn more about Tomb Raider: Legend here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_Raider:_Legend

The problem with narrative

In order to better understand the relationship between narratives and games, it makes sense to take a look at a game which is meant to take on narrative undertones. Growing up, I was obsessed with the Harvest Moon series. This is a game which has a distinct storyline– you move to a town, inherit a farm, and then go through life until you grow old. I never finished the game because it became very tedious, but I was in love with the idea of being inside of the story.

http://www.hmfarm.com/ (This is a link to a website for everything Harvest Moon. It will give you an idea of what the game is like.)

It can easily be said that Harvest Moon has a story. But could one say that the game is a narrative? Originally, I would have said, “yes.” But after thinking about our discussions in class on Wednesday, I have changed my answer. I think the main distinction between games and narratives is that you can examine a narrative from the outside. It is easy to look at a text and analyse the different parts of it.

When it comes to games, one has to analyse from the inside and be a part of the environment. Watching Harvest Moon being played was a completely different experience from playing it yourself. There is a connection you make with the game play that changes the conclusions you can draw from it. With most other mediums, you can examine the text from the outside and still draw the same conclusions as those who participate in it– for example, analysing a movie or a book.

So after much deliberation, I think it is safe to say that games are not narratives. Games have stories, but they cannot be considered a narrative.

Japanese Animation Games and Fetishisation

In Brittney’s presentation and this weeks readings we learned about the “white male”, and how games are designed to appeal to this demographic.  This included letting the player (assumed to be a white male as a majority) feel powerful and dominant over all things, letting women be put in games as play things and other races as nothing more than an exotic element, and thus no challenge to the masculinity of the supposed player.  I would like to challenge this by bringing up the concept of japanese animation games.  This brings to light a style of game and visual culture that is native to japan (though it has seeped into North American culture), and lets us see the same pattern, but with the “asian male” targeted, rather than the white male.  This lets us see that it is a model applied cross-culturally, and that the white male is not always the dominant character.

What is interesting about most Japanese animation games is that there is usually not an option to be a male at all. This could be great in the way of female power, if it were not for how the majority of the characters are deigned. Instead of powerful, respectable women you have the choice of different females, usually falling into two major fetishes: The young innocent girl, or the busty promiscuous female.  It is the usual case that there is very little clothing worn (an extremely short school girl skirt for the young innocent girls, and practically a body g-string for some of the promiscuous characters), and in some cases there will be sexual gratification after making a correct move (such as in the white male comparison of SSX Tricky).  Not only this but often there will be a bisexual female theme included in these games, most obviously for the male to consume. Race also comes into play, as if there are any characters of colour it is almost always a white female, and usually blue eyed, blonde, scantily dressed, and leads to the fantasy of what a white girl should be like.  Any girls of other races (except Japanese and white) are almost always omitted, and the white male is almost never seen which may be for the same reason that men of other colours are never put in the same rank as the lead white player: so that there is no real challenge to their *insert race* masculinity.  So though quite a lot of video games are targeting the white male as discussed in class, I think it is important to remember that this is just a model, and can be applied cross-culturally.

A great example of a japanese animation game would be “Arcana Hearts”, which is a fighting game (reinforces masculinity), where all of the characters you can choose from are female, highly fetishistic, and have promiscuous background stories to boot.

Arcana Hearts Preview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eIv53o2wII&feature=related

Interactivity and Narrative in Fallout 3

Jesper Juul’s essay, “Games Telling Stories”, offers insight into the relationship between narratives and games. Juul’s central question revolves around whether or not games tell stories. However, he notes that ‘something can be presented in narrative form [but that] does not mean that it is narrative’ (383). Most games will have a back-story or introduction to a story on a manual or introduction, as Juul notes. Narrative cannot be straight, structured, or linear; Fallout 3 offers players the chance to decide the ending and choose their own path throughout the game.

Fallout 3, a role-playing game (RPG), is set in the year 2277, 200 years after a nuclear apocalypse tore through the world. The player character is forced to escape Vault 101, a survival shelter, after their father disappears into the ‘Capital Wasteland’, an area outside the Vault. The game starts with your birth and the creation of the player character (I believe the game asks you what you’ll look like when you’re older; here, you can customize your appearance). Eventually, it moves to your 1st birthday, where you can choose base attributes that will lead you through the rest of the game known as S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck). These base traits influence your player’s identity and skills. Would you rather use your Strength and pummel/beat your opponents? Or would you rather be Charismatic and charm them? From there, the game moves to your 10th birthday.

Then what?

Then you decide. Fallout 3 is unique in that, while there is a thinly set narrative (based on a main storyline seen through the player character’s progress in main quests), your decisions will determine the outcome. As the game manual says, ‘you’re completely free to make your own destiny’. The game incorporates ‘karma’ based on your player character’s actions and choice of words. For example, when talking to other characters, you as the player can select what to say. When talking to your father, you may say something like, “There’s my dad, I’m happy to see him, I’ll help him save us all.” or “Thanks for leaving me to die in that hole. I’ve got my own thing to do, I can’t help you now.” Fallout 3 stresses that it is YOUR actions and YOUR story. You can choose to do or say things that give you ‘good karma’, ‘bad karma’, or ‘neutral karma’ (which all add up). You can shoot someone and rob them, or help them out of the goodness of your heart. In the end, the cut scenes that play reflect what your character’s karma level is; this is the cornerstone of how the narrative will turn out.

This game has been the most interactive game I’ve played in that they gave me the chance to play the way I want to play and make the choices I want to make. The producers have done an excellent job in guiding players through the basic narrative by offering choices that are good, neutral, or bad; these are pretty much the only choices available, but this meant the producers did an excellent job at anticipating what players might do. The environment itself is interactive in that players may go anywhere in the game and find quests to complete at their own pace. In the end, though, the idea of a linear, structural narrative does not exist in this game. There is also no continuously interactive story (once the game is over, or the quest is over, you can’t do play it over anymore!).

Interactivity and player decision have made it much more enjoyable for the player. This is not a new concept but one that is continuously refined and remediated (Fallout 3 itself is remediated by its own creators in Fallout New Vegas). If this is the direction that games are going, Fallout 3 is a giant step forward for player interaction and player influence on the ending of the narrative.

Spatial Game Link

I came across this blog post detailing someone’s experiences at the 2008 Hide & Seek festival in London: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/06/27/the-hide-seek-festival-social-gaming-uk/.

Hide & Seek, for those interested, is an organization dedicated to using social media tools to enable pervasive gaming.  Their website is here: http://www.hideandseekfest.co.uk/.

I brought this post to the class’ attention mainly because its focus on the smuggling game.  The game itself is almost minimally related to digital media, but it still qualifies due to its use of UV detectors.  (A loose connection to technology, but a connect nonetheless.)  And with a very low-tech device, it still manages to radically transform the way people view their local space.  And it follows the basic elements of a game: it’s got clear objectives, a competitive element, and a set of both intrinsic rules, and rules that are socially negotiated.  And yet it’s still pretty far away from what most people think of as a game.  Why is that?

 

–MH

 

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