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January 27, 2008

1/27/2008

Bitten by a mouse. A wild mouse, mind.

This is the second time this has happened in the last ten years. I keep having flashbacks to The Canterbury Tales and the sympathy for a mouse in a trap.

The good news: I got the mouse free from the trap and he scurried into the wilderness again.

The Bad news: he bit the Hell out of me and I bled for a while.

The good news: I was going to the doctor anyway for a TB test. Now it'll be a TB test as well as rabies and tetanus shots.


Oh, the lengths to which I go to protect animals. Damn mother using glue traps. Most inhumane things.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 1:34 PM | Comments (2)

January 22, 2008

Games in the Classroom: Morality Through Gaming

I had about fifteen various posts that I created, and then deleted, on this topic.

Originally, I had planned on writing about the new role of games in the classroom (ultimately what my paper is about), but that kept getting modified. I went from this idea to that idea back to this idea and then back to that idea. I kept changing my thesis and finding new material.

Ultimately, I ended up in about the same place I began.

Generational differences occur in the classroom, whether we want to believe it or not. We can all remember to a time in grade school (or even at university) where we have run into the difficulties of butting heads with a professor or classmate because of generational differences. I experience it on a daily basis at my job, as I work with people younger than me and people 45+ years older than me.

Think back to a time in your own education when you were faced with a generational difference. Maybe it was a squabble over music. If a teacher ever said about "you kids with your Pac-man video games and Dan Fogelberg records, well, you would look at them funny and ask who Dan Fogelberg was. Perhaps you experienced a difference with a teacher on politics. Imagine you were a raving liberal who went head-to-head with an Irish Catholic Conservative born after his/her daddy got home from WWII...

Whoa, I just had a momentary lapse into my own high school days.

These small moments can shape our opinions and our ideas about our teachers. That isn't to say we wouldn't mock a certain professor we've all shared about a his use of a certain pack that can be slung around the fanny. While the fanny pack may not stand as a great generational divide, it does, however, present an interesting point of, ahem, discussion. While some can joke and some take offense, it shapes everyone's minds about a person. Just as an ignorance to youth culture, when being wielded in front of the youth, can be a dangerous thing.

Consider the following: Did you ever play honest-to-goodness videogames in your classes in school? I'm not just saying things like Math Blaster and Oregon Trail (click here and see the updated version of the Oregon Trail, now starring college slackers!)

Do you feel you would have been more interested in the material being discussed if games had been involved? What if your teachers had used a videogame in lieu of using a video or filmstrip or PowerPoint presentation?

Maya Kadakia wrote in her essay, "Increasing Student Engagement," for TechTrends journal, she noted that simply by implementing videogames, specifically "The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind," the students were immediately engaged, if not slightly frightened and skeptical of a videogame being used as a learning tool. The students “asked questions about the game, the character and what we were going to do — far more questions than usual” (31), which is indicative of a higher level of involvement than a normal class would present.

Likewise, John Beck found similar themes indicating “games teach players that the world is a competitive place, and standing still won’t get you anywhere” as well as a somewhat carpe diem mentality, and when presented with an option or set of choices, “take one and see what happens. Whoever you run into along the way will either be a friend or an obstacle - it's up to you to try and figure out which one and what effect they'll have on you” (32).

In Kadakia's study, though, she found numerous useful instances of morality and the importance of choice in a game as a means of relating it to both personal life as well as academic studies. As she began to implement the games into the classroom, she assigned the class "to write a persuasive paragraph relating to the choice which had been introduced to characters in Morrowind that day. Three moral choices were covered this way: stealing, joining a group (i.e., cliques and gangs), and permanent choices (life has no reset button)" (30-31). One of the situations established was the idea of stealing, in which the moral dilemma was presented to class which became a discussion topic for the day: is stealing ever permissible?

If the class were entering into the unit on Crime and Punishment, using a game like "Morrowind" becomes the subject exemplar - the player can steal almost anything, but there is a price to be paid. You might get away with the theft, but you may also get caught by the Imperial Guards and be given yet a more significant choice: pay a fine, go to jail, or fight the guard until death befalls one of you. Obviously, one can relate this to the trials Raskolnikov faces in the text. Or, one could use a game like "Morrowind" when introducing a mythology chapter, as many of the various races and creatures and be likened to the creatures of lore in Mythology, only this time it allows the students to encounter them first hand.

Of course, educational games, too, have their place. I don't wish to say they are only designed and should be used on younger children. A game like "Math Blaster," yes, is for younger audiences. Games like "9:05," or the "Colossal Cave Adventure" are much more in tune with more developed brains as they rely on syntactic systems, universal grammars, logical question/answer input/output, and a firm understanding of language.

As you may have noticed, my concentration has fallen squarely into the English domain. As I have been training in Secondary English ed, I tend to make these various synaptic connections, but one can easily find games for all variety of subjects. Games such as "Command and Conquer" or even online versions of old board games such as "Risk" can be used in a history class to help students understand the importance of strategy and deployment in war. Students can play a game like "The Oregon Trail" in a social studies or a math class, as it largely relies on the patterns that Koster so often discussed.

As videogames have moved into the mainstream from a niche market, it is becoming more and more difficult to ignore their importance. Even if you do not plan on becoming a teacher, you may plan on becoming a parent some day (if you aren't already) and there is a high probability that your child will have an interest in games. It is your responsibility to know what they are playing. There is nothing to say you can't play with them.

While the games have certainly developed a place in the mainstream, there is always a drawback, too. Not all games are excellent examples of high society. While games like "The Elder Scrolls" series can deeply develop critical thinking skills in the player, making them associate causes and effects, games like "Grand Theft Auto," while amazingly fun to play, do not necessarily encourage strong morals. When a game outright encourages the murdering of police and abuse of women and stealing and violence, it is hard to defend it as a pinnacle of society. However, that doesn't mean the game is a bad example all around, as it quickly can be turned into a "this is not how you want to be..." situation. Perhaps I am showing my age some, but one can easily turn a game like that into an ABC After-school special. Sure, it may not have that wonderful Scott Baio action in it, but it serves the same purpose when managed by responsible hands.

The danger lies in the hands, though. A new game in the hands of a generational deficient is just as dangerous as a gun in the hands of a madman. While an older teacher may feel they have caught the winds of change in their sails and begin bringing games into the classroom, they must understand what games they bring in.

Recently MIT hosted a conference on gaming in the classroom where it was "noted that kids he has talked to say they do well in school, but what they’re teaching themselves at home about digital software is "what will prepare them for the future."

A study conducted in the UK, sponsored by Electronic Arts and FutureLab, found "59% of teachers would consider using off-the-shelf games in the classroom while 62% of students wanted to use games at school." The study "surveyed almost 1,000 teachers and more than 2,300 primary and secondary school student."

Edutopia, part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, makes the claim that Video games, once confiscated in class, are now a key teaching tool. If they're done right.

Of course, as a young professional, it is easy for me to speak from my pedestal. I don't have a classroom all to myself (yet), and I am not setting the curriculum. It isn't as easy as a snap of the fingers to implement games into the classroom. In fact, it can be a downright logistical nightmare. That doesn't mean, however, that I should short-change my students because of a little adversity. If it can get the students to think more or deeper on a subject, then my job is done.

As Dr. Lettrich always reminds us - we are all agents of change. We can implement these changes. We just have to have the will.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2008

Blog Portfolio, Vol 10, edit 1.X - because jokes involving binary are funny and nerdy

The blogging portfolio, version 1.x. I couldn't help but go for the geeky joke in the title. The original being the old "there are 10 types of people in this world - those who can understand binary and those who can't." This is one of those instances where Wikipedia will be a great friend to you to explain it if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

I cannot help but express how impressed I am with the other student blogging portfolios. I had commented on Derek and Ashley's blogs, specifically, for their portfolio building skills. I cannot claim that I share the level of discipline that they do, and I tip my hat to the absolute depth and breath of their explanations and introductions.

While mine is nowhere near as dense, I like to think that my portfolio is perfunctory, if not pretty.


Coverage

While this section has grown some, it could still use a few entries I'm missing and just haven't had the time to run with between work schedules and everything else going on. I am, generally, proud of my entries, though. I am very appreciative of the feedback I have been getting from the rest of the class.

Opening Remarks
Shanahan's "Bow, Nigger"
Strongbadia is a wonderful vacation spot
Koster and the Glorious Revolution
The History of Videogames
A Return to the Source...
Jerz and Adams...
IF/if/id = Harmony
Cadre and Short
September 12 and Madrid
Are Games Art?
Plotkin's "Shade"
Laurel - part 1
Emergence and Stylization/Juul 2
Juul, not to be confused with Jewel...
Laurels for Laurel

Depth

I always feel as though I could just copy/past the coverage section here, but instead I pick the ones I really like and spend the most time with. They may not even be the most coherent, but they were the posts I had the most passion and vigor for writing.

Shanahan's "Bow, Nigger"
Koster and the Glorious Revolution
IF/if/id = Harmony
September 12 and Madrid
Are Games Art?
Laurel - part 1
Emergence and Stylization/Juul 2


Timeliness

This is, if nothing else, my weak point. I'm trying to get in front of the proverbial eight-ball, instead of constantly being behind, but I haven't been doing to well here. Maybe I can finish strong.

Are Games Art?
Shanahan's "Bow, Nigger"
Laurel - part 1
IF/if/id = Harmony
Emergence and Stylization/Juul 2
Laurels for Laurel

Xenoblogging

The comments I have been receiving have been wonderful, and I can only hope the comments I leave are equally as helpful. I understand that I tend to leave more questions than comments in the other student blogs, but I hope they are constructive questions that could spark discussion.

Derek
Ashley
Brandon
Zach
Ashley
Ashley
Derek
Derek
Ashley
Ashley
Brandon

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 12:09 AM | Comments (1)

January 14, 2008

Emergence and Stylization/Juul 2

I have come to find a strange kinship with Juul, as it appears both he and I are men without countries. He makes a claim and then changes his stance. Maybe he should be running for President.

Dr. Jerz pointed out that there are varying and differing opinions on games - if they are art, if they are worthwhile, what makes a "good" game, etc. The culture of games journalism has come to fit more into the traditional and the new media style, whereas game academia is split into all types - those who feel story is important, and those who don't. Those who feel the actual playing and "rules" are important. Those who study how the player interacts. Academia, as with just about everything else, does it's proverbial damnedest to break things down into the smallest, most measurable parts.

Juul speaks at length about the use of stylized representation and I can't help but draw some distinction from his comments.

While I agree, almost wholeheartedly, with his approach to the emergent and progressive narratives and games, I can't entirely go with him in regard to stylization (though I do agree to an extent). The emergent narrative is a grossly underrated form of entertainment. Well, no. It isn't underrated, just under acknowledged. As this type defines almost all board games and sports (small rule set that allows for variables and creates a large variant pool of outcomes), it is commonly used, but nobody knows to define it as "emergent." A game such as "Grand Theft Auto" or any of the familiar sandbox style games falls into this, as there is a small set of rules, and the rest is open-exploration variables set in motion by the player.

Juul insists, though, that stylizing of games is not reality. While I agree in the idea that a game is not a reality, it doesn't mean it is not affective on the player. The games are not reality. He even goes so far to describe something such as an artist's rendition of "cup" not being a cup, but instead the "idea of a cup."

This works in the same way that Lara Croft is not actually a woman, but an "idea" of a woman. This, of course, is just cannon fodder for those who feel there is a gender disconnect in the game world because of the terribly disproportionate and unrealistic "idea" of what women are/should be/etc. As with gender, the same can be said about violence. It isn't actually violence, it is the idea of violence.

While I appreciate the view that Juul has taken with the text, I can't entirely agree with him. His stance is too pointed in saying that because it isn't reality, it is just an imitation and therefore has no basis in our actual reality.

I know I made a point in another entry that someone has to have a predisposition to a certain behavior or whatever to act on it, but the games (as any form of media can do) have an influence on an unstable mind. I know from my own personal experience that I exploit weaknesses in people and systems to my advantage (if not personal financial gain, which it rarely is, usually for my amusement). A buddy I work with is prone to giving into peer pressure, and I can get in his head easily when it comes to what he wants for lunch. All I have to do is keep saying "Double Stacker" and he'll give in. He's a great buy, but can be influenced. He, however, is not an unbalanced character. When he plays Halo, he knows it isn't real. He doesn't go out and kill people.

Stylized simulations are exactly that - a simulation, an imitation of reality. Video games are Romantic. They attempt to recreate reality without actually immersing the player in it so deeply that they lose their basis of understanding. While VR helmets were all the rave in the 1990s, they never took off because they didn't even remotely look like a reality we knew and were too expensive. They were, however, a stylized simulations.

All simulations, though, are stylized. They are, invariably, an artist's interpretation of life. Until "they" can create a VR sim that places you in a situation where you have dishes to wash and kids to clean up after, and it becomes so intense and realistic that you can no longer tell what's real from what isn't, it will always be stylized. Until we are living in the film "Strange Days," these games will always be stylized simulations. This isn't the Matrix - death in one realm does not equal death in another. When our characters die, we keep on living. When we crash the car into a tree, we put in another quarter and keep playing.

Games are dissociative by nature. They give most players a disconnect from reality so they can escape for a little while and think about things other than daily life. They are escapist. They are meant to by stylized. If there was a game based on my job of moving furniture and rummaging through Grandma Betty's old clothes, I would never play it. I want to swing swords at Ogres, dammit. I want to drive around Miami at 95 MPH and run over people knowing that I didn't actually run someone over. So help me, I want to find the goblin cave and set fire to every last one of them.

I'm not running around the woods behind my house searching for an entrance to an underwater cave which will lead me to a treasure chest filled with magical armor.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 10:56 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2008

Juul, not to be confused with Jewel, the Alaskan pop-singer with bad teeth.

I am about to do something that I know I should not. I am about to break many rules (Dr. Jerz's rules, common decency rules, academic rules, etc).

I want to talk, for a moment, about style.

I will delve into the text a little, but I have to get something off my chest. I understand that Half Real is a far more academic text than other texts we have been working with (how could it not? It has a hardback to it!), but I have had such a difficult time getting into the actual text itself because Jesper Juul has, in my personal opinion, one of the driest writing styles. As I said, I understand that this is far more of a technical writing example and far more academic than Laurel, but I also find it terribly, terribly inaccessible to those who don't have an intense interest in the material.

I had made a point in one other class (I don't remember which, at this point) that the physical construction of a book makes a large bit of difference to me and how "readable" it may be. As terrible as my eyesight is, when texts (such as Juul's) are created with the wide margins, smaller text, and easy-on-the-eyes light print, I find it incredibly difficult to read for any long period of time.

On to the text:

I love, absolutely love, the idea Juul presents in the first few chapters of the text that "game" is a very open-ended, difficult-to-define idea, but mostly can be seen as a dichotomy between the ideas of rules systems and inputting of information. Juul notes, too, that "a basic dichotomy concerns whether we study the games themselves or the players who play them." This, I think, is one of the most important things to examine in this course - the roles of player v. game.

Consider a few things: think back to the old, 8-bit Nintendo days. When a parent or older person would play these games, they would, almost invariably, move the controller as they played thinking it would have some effect on the game (for further reference: see the film "The Wizard" starring Fred Savage, Christian Slater, Beau Bridges, and Jenny Lewis - Beau Bridges plays the old "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" game and is constantly flailing about because he "got the scroll weapon" and almost "beat Mecha-turtle at the end of level 3").

Look at the Nintendo Wii. Really, the input has not changed much. Instead of moving a little stick or pressing a bunch of button, we swing a remote to achieve a desired action.

Videogames are, to an extent, rather Pavlovian, as they are almost all experiments in conditioned responses. Juul makes the claim that we can examine the actual game or the people who play them - watch any major news media outlet after a tragedy, you will invariably see someone talking about the videogames the person involved was playing.

There is, of course, the post-modern debate over whether games are important and have any level of major affective results on the players. Some say they do, some say they don't. It may not ever be known definitively, as it is something that can only be evaluated in case-by-case scenarios. Playing first-person-shooters may be one person's favorite, while real-time strategies may be someone else's cup of tea. However, playing FPS games does not directly indicate that the players are more likely to run out and shoot up their school or workplace. Playing the game is not indicative of the actions that follow - the personality, however, is more determining. The argument can be made that people who are...erm, a little imbalanced to start with...prone to violent tendencies, will be more likely to play violent games, like FPSs or fighting games. The game can, possibly, influence a person, but they must already have a preponderance to fall into certain types of behavior.

This falls into Juul's statement that we can observe the game or the players.

Juul's ideas about rules really piques my interest, though - the rules of a non-electronic game, such as Scrabble or Scatergories, can be interpreted by the players, changed, modified, ignored or enforced. The "rules" of a videogame, however, cannot be amended or ignored in their normal state. The only time people can change the rules of a videogame is when they utilize certain types of hacks or modify the source code themselves. Anyone remember that whole "hot coffee" incident? The rules of a videogame are unchangeable. You can edit options, which can have some effect, but the "rules" remain the same. You can't jump into the sky and stay there as long as you want. Mario only has a certain level of height and distance to his jumps. He can't stay up there forever without something "cheating" by changing the code.

Of course, there are people who make a profession of changing the games. Game Genie. Game Shark. Action Replay. Mods. All of these are means of changing the rules and therefore changing the playing field.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 10:54 AM | Comments (2)

Laurels for Laurel

Not to limit the second half of Laurel's text to one section, but I think the most effective part came in the section called "...doing business..."

In this section, Laurel listed the numerous bits and snips of advice she has accumulated over the years working in the various industries she has. I made a point, I believe, in the J-web exercises to note that these statements and points she makes are not always specifically related to the gaming industry.

Laurel offers nuggets such as "trust yourself," "be a realist," "avoid adversarial relationship[s]," to "live healthy; work healthy," and that "this is not your last goo idea." Think about these simple phrases in the semi-abstract. It is possible, sometimes easy, to apply these ideas to daily life, academia, love and friendships. How often have we, as students, been working on a paper or project and suddenly we have that flash of brilliance and everything comes together? That was not our last good idea. Have you ever been taking an exam or reading a text and not really understanding what is happening? Be realistic in your approach - you don't know everything. If you knew it already, you would be teaching the class.

Laurel writes these as a means of directing those in the industry to better their company and ensure a better working environment. These are invaluable bits of advice that would make a tremendously more enjoyable working environment. Of course, there is a little of the whole Hippie-commune thing going on with some of her ideas, but isn't that ultimately the ideal of a "Utopian Entrepreneur" - to create a perfect environment for their respective businesses?

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 9:58 AM | Comments (1)

Unrelated

Good to see the blogs working again.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 9:58 AM | Comments (0)

blog portfolio


A world without blogging is a world that wastes paper. If nothing else, I appreciate the fine art and science of blogging from a somewhat-positive environmental viewpoint. While energy is still being used to run our computers, at least we're not using up a bunch of paper, too.

As such, I present the first collection of works for the blogging portfolio. It only gets bigger from here.

Coverage

Opening Remarks
Shanahan's "Bow, Nigger"
Strongbadia is a wonderful vacation spot
Koster and the Glorious Revolution
The History of Videogames
A Return to the Source...
Jerz and Adams...
IF/if/id = Harmony
Cadre and Short
September 12 and Madrid
Are Games Art?
Plotkin's "Shade"
Laurel - part 1


Depth

Shanahan's "Bow, Nigger"
Koster and the Glorious Revolution
IF/if/id = Harmony
September 12 and Madrid
Are Games Art?
Laurel - part 1


Timeliness

Are Games Art?
Shanahan's "Bow, Nigger"
Laurel - part 1
IF/if/id = Harmony

Xenoblogging

Derek
Ashley
Brandon
Zach
Ashley
Ashley


Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 9:05 AM | Comments (2)

January 10, 2008

Laurel - part 1

I thought the questions that Dr. Jerz asked in the J-web assignments were excellent...insofar that they were the main points I wanted to discuss in my blog.

I didn't really know what to expect when I first saw this book. When it arrived in the mail a few days ago, I was even more confused. Once I picked it up, though, I was hooked. Laurel's style was both unique and inviting, but also biting and sarcastic. She somewhat reminded me of, well, me.

I enjoyed the discussion on the concept of a "Culture worker," as I found it to be interesting terminology. Laurel identifies that being a "culture worker" is not a simple, one-dimensional concept or idea. Being a "culture worker," instead, is acting as an agent of change within a society. Specifically, Laurel takes charge at the game industry, with talking heads and elder-statesmen defining what boys like, just as Matel Corp. had decided, and thereby defined, what girls like.

The idea of the culture worker is not one of power and prestige, but instead it is a position where the individual attempts, not always successfully, to create positively influencing forms of popular culture, either through music, games, or movement (in the abstract). These "culture workers" are not simply business people attempting to tap into the market of positive lifestyle changes to turn a quick profit, but instead they are people who would be willing to continue their work without making a single penny of profit, as the reward transcends monetary need.

The importance is that it establishes the needs and wants of a people by actually speaking with people, instead of being told by market researchers and "pencil pushers." Instead of a middle aged male telling the world what kind of toys girls wanted, culture workers speak to girls of all walks of life.

Laurel also brings up the point about values and morals in games. I have been a large proponent that games can, and do, teach invaluable lessons in life for the player...as long as the right hands are at work, both in coding and in moving the joystick around.

As is the case with most forms of media, "values are everywhere." When one decides to use a certain medium, however, to evangelize, it becomes a question of tact.

For the father who worried that Laurel was attempting to evangelize through the game, one must consider and take charge to what he says, as he makes a valid point, but is also terribly wrong in his defense.

While trying to impress values upon someone overtly is not the smartest course of action (all the time), it is not necessarily a bad thing. One must ask what type of values are being pressed upon these children. If the game was teaching his daughter that killing was good (as Mortal Kombat does), or that all people are inherently evil (also, as Mortal Kombat does), well, that would be a cause for concern.

When a game encourages strong values, universal values, such as compassion and friendship, caring for the less fortunate, well, isn't it the responsibility of society to enforce these values in daily life? The saying that "it takes a village to raise a child" certainly applies here.

One must also consider how involved this parent is when he claims that fighting games have no values. Specifically the games of "Mortal Kombat" and "Killer Instinct." If nothing else, these games enforce the values to violence and gruesome murder are perfectly acceptable means of resolving problems. Sure, it may not be overtly presented, but children are perceptive of subtle things.

Laurel presents the argument, to which I agree, that the father's responses are illogical. He took a stand that openly showing positive values (being a culture worker) was far more damaging, because, as he said, "whose values are these?" Well, they fall in line with numerous doctrines. You can choose whichever you like, be it Pacem in Terris or the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The secular and the spiritual both aim for the same goals. So do these games.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 12:36 AM | Comments (2)

January 9, 2008

Plotkin's "Shade"

I do not want to repeat the same sentiment I have had about interactive fiction, but I feel I must.

I remember, very vaguely, hearing about this game from some of my extremely techno-geek friends.

I was not, however, prepared for the mind-job waiting those who play through Shade. Of course, as with all good works of art, the title is active - as the player is living in the shade of reality.

I think the most difficult part was figuring out how to begin. It never really crossed my mind to get off the futon (just as most college students don't want to get off the futon). Where Shade differs, though, from some of the others is that it is inherently and terribly psychologically a thriller. While there is a feeling of being trapped in the "Colossal Cave Adventure" as you enter the maze, "Shade" instead starts slow and then very quickly becomes this mounting feel of apprehension and urgency.

While finding your way through a maze is difficult (no matter how many dwarves you must kill), it doesn't really trap you, like the flowing sands. Of course, we are not expected to find ourselves trapped within our own minds, in our own vacations, etc in the cave adventure.

Of course, this opened up yet another avenue of exploration in IF games - the psychological thriller. You can get so engrossed in the game that it is both affective and effective.

I had never really played anything like this before I played the game Eternal Darkness on the GameCube. "Eternal Darkness" also played with the player's minds by using insanity effects - as your character continued to witness things that shouldn't happen, your sanity meter would decrease. As it dropped down to nothingness, your character would be afflicted by various visions or...whatevers. The insanity effects would vary, of course, from things like your head would fall off and you would die...or you would slowly sink into the floor as you walked...or, the best, is that a "blue screen of death" would appear on the teevee screen indicating a system failure....only for a flash of light and everything would right itself.

The game would mess with your mind. So did Shade.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 11:26 PM | Comments (2)

Are Games Art?

I appreciate what Mr. Ebert has to say about a lot of things, however, I cannot say I always agree with him.

Although we are all consumers of media, the old adage that one man's trash is another man's treasure certainly applies to games.

As we have come to discuss at some length here, the definition of "art" is as malleable and ever-changing as our definition of "fun." Can it not be said that art is an entirely subjective word? Art, as a concept, is abstract. To abstract it further, we (the editorial we) begin to evaluate something outside of the perceptive level as being "good" or "bad," which are also highly subjective and abstract terms.

If Ebert wants to make a claim that games are not art, I want to know what evaluative measuring stick he is using to define "art" and what makes "art" an art.

Ebert describes games as inferior because they require choice on the behalf of the player. Is that to say, then, that the art installations that can be found in Pittsburgh at the Mattress Factory, which necessitate user interaction, as inferior forms of art?

If we are simply going to qualify art as being dictatorial of the creator, well, then there is very little true art in this world. Most paintings, novels, stories, sculptures, etc have been influenced by many hands.

Ultimately, though, can't it be said it is up to the viewer, the consumer of art, to determine for themselves if art is, in fact, art? By creating a dictum that the "authorial control" is what defines fine art, couldn't it then be argued that the consumer has every right and option to accept or reject the artist's intention?

Is it not, in a way, more valuable for someone to critically evaluate a situation, determine the available options, make significant choices, and determine their own fate within the game...but that really isn't too different than looking at a painting, which was created by someone else with a locus of control over the work, and evaluating it to come to some conclusion, some significant choice, about the work?

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 12:17 AM | Comments (1)

January 8, 2008

September 12 and Madrid

When I first saw that the names of the games were “September 12” and “Madrid,” I had a fear that they were propagandizing “games” created in the chest-beating pride of America's “war on terror.” Thankfully, I was wrong, at least, partly wrong.

The game titled “September 12” is nothing short of chilling, and at worst condemning. It places the player in a unique situation, as it explains the rules simply as “shoot, or not.” The playing screen displays what appears to be a stereotypically Middle Eastern/Muslim-Dominated location, with people busying themselves about the town. The input of the player is simply a crosshair. Do you attack? Do you do nothing?

The emotional appeal is immense, as it is working on the presumption of being the day after the 9/11 attacks. The Marxist-Leninist, anti-war, peace-and-love hippie in me began to squeal with joy as I saw what this was. There are dogs, and there are common people walking about the town. There are also characters who appear to be wearing battle fatigues and are carrying weapons? Do you attack?

Should you chose to attack, from the ruins of the building and hidden beneath the wailing and crying of survivors, more enemies are born. They transform from their common person attire to that of the “enemy combatant.” The more you bomb, the more enemies appear, as this nameless and faceless force that feeds on resentment and ignorance - ours. Can you fight a war of ideas with bombs and bullets? Do you attack?

In the title “Madrid,” the rules are also simple - click on the candles to ensure that they burn bright. Each of the people are wearing a unique “I heart thus-and-such,” all with cities that have fallen victim to some type of terrorist attack. Tokyo, Paris, Madrid, NYC, Oklahoma (city), etc. The objective is to simply keep clicking and let the candles burn brighter. As soon as you have clicked, though, the candle begins to dim. Keeping pace with them is near impossible.

Such is intent of the creator, or potentially the response of the player, that no matter how much we try, “you have to keep trying,” as the game says, to be vigilant about the dangers of the world and to keep the victims in our hearts and minds. The United States is not the only nation to have suffered at the hands of extremists. The world cries with us, just as we cry for them. Trying to keep the candles burning bright is no different than trying to “smoke out” every terrorist in the world; a group effort is required. One person cannot do it alone.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 11:46 PM | Comments (2)

Cadre and Short

I have to say, I found the Cadre game extremely fun (and funny!).

Unlike the Cave Adventure and even Peasant's Quest, I found this game to be a little more logical and straight forward, but it also was somewhat limited in scope. While the likes of Peasant's Quest has level of visual representation, it also leads to confusion because the matrix of the design continues to loop and repeat, which can be misleading.

Cadre's game, instead, made some slightly more logical sense because it had a theme based closely in reality and was easy to play. Possibly because it was so linear (the possible variables were limited and you didn't get lost walking in the woods), it was more approachable, but it didn't make it any less of a successful venture.

Short's game, however, took me a little longer to get the hang of. I understood it, but I didn't. It took me a few minutes to figure out exactly what strings we were to assemble to engage the statue. Of course, some humorous responses could be found to actions such as >take galatea

Very simply, I created a string of "a galatea about life," "a galatea about death," "a galatea about love," upon which I reached a conclusion. I clicked on the link to the left of the game and saw some of the other potential strings that could be asked of Galatea. I played through a few more times, attempting, in my own weird way, to try to develop some kind of odd relationship between Galatea and the player - either by the player hugging or kissing Galatea. It certainly made from some interesting discussion.

I can't help but appreciate Short's game more, but differently, than Cadre's. While Cadre's was easy to play and quick to learn, it doesn't draw me in to play again and again. Short's, however, does. I want to see where the various dialog trees branch off to. I want to see the various responses available. The open-world appeal of Short's keeps me coming back, whereas Cadre's was more action oriented and felt like a big joke, building and building.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 5:32 PM | Comments (1)

IF/if/id = harmony.

Interactive Fiction (IF). If (if) is a possibility or a variable. Id (id) is the inner desire, or "it" of something.

These three simple terms are wholly related. Interactive Fiction, as I believe I have mentioned, is a genre which I had some experience with, but admittedly limited experience.

Interactive fiction is certainly a world that expands horizons, all the while not requiring these huge budgets and constant delays that new-era videogames require. Consider a game like Heavenly Sword for the PS3. This was a game that cost over 35 million dollars to create, lasted only 10-15 hours, cost consumers sixty dollars to purchase, and was in development for 2+ years.

Think about those numbers for just a moment. Now consider the following (follow the link - it will show you a geographical breakdown of sell-through of Heavenly Sword, total sales numbers, average review scores, etc etc):

http://vgchartz.com/games/game.php?id=6978

If every copy was sold at an MSRP of 60 dollars, the game was profitable, but barely. It would have netted about 7 million dollars. Of course, there is more to game sales than just these raw numbers. The 35 million dollars was just development cost. That doesn't include production and marketing. After the dust settles, Heavenly Sword will have been one of the most expensive, delayed, and over-hyped games - albeit a gorgeous game - of the modern gaming era.

Consider, then, the overall cost and potential profit of IF games.

With that, I point to IF games. In a perfect world, people would play IF games because they are thought provoking and fun, while also being terribly aggravating at times. Consider the title of this - IF, if, id. The Interactive Fiction draws a user in, while doing the absolute minimum. If IF is not written properly (both in the human world or in the coded world of the game), it becomes a problem of variables; IF becomes if - if a programmer codes a loop such that the player can never progress through a game or a section, but it is not illogical, than it has become a broken series of if/then statements. All of this, of course, cannot exist outside of the Freudian analysis of the id - why do we play games in the first place? Why do we challenge ourselves to play IF games? We receive an immense level of satisfaction from completing them or achieving new scores and accomplishments in plowing through them, as is defined by actions controlled by the id.

The id's pleasure principle can be seen clearly at work in game design - ignoring the obvious, id Software LTD, creators of franchises such as Duke Nukem. The object of games is to play and to reach the end, showing some level of technical, educational or physical prowess on the behalf of the player. When the id drives a person, as it is believed that children are entirely id-driven, they are perpetually seeking out some level of reward and satisfaction. They are seeking pleasure.

A game which is designed and considered too difficult loses some of the intense id players, as they want something more immediate. A game such as MYST or even Colossal Cave Adventure, could lose some id-intensive players as it is not immediately rewarding. A game, such as Scarface: The World Is Yours, is a much more action packed game, filled with immediate thrill and reward.

IF games, however, are id-driven. For the player, it is more than an explosion or a car chase that thrills them. IF players get their pleasures and rewards from working their way through the linguistic mazes of the imaginary worlds created by others - it requires a certain level of divination on the behalf of the player to know what the programmer was thinking. The obvious word choice isn't always actionable. >throw axe does not mean you will throw the axe where you want. >throw axe at dwarf, however, does something more.

IF games transcend gaming - almost as though they were a living, breathing book, waiting to be discovered, but you had to learn the language of the author and how the verbs and nouns were used to continue onto the next page.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 3:37 PM | Comments (2)

Jerz and Adams...which one will be playing the role of Ralph Kramden

I have to ask - you couldn't really control your giddiness in having Adams there, could you, Dr. Jerz?

I remember having some discussion with Dr. Jerz about early gaming, specifically, Colossal Cave Adventure, and how to really engage oneself in art.

The discussion, to some extent, was about reader response and authorial intent. Dr. Jerz was kind enough to explain to our class how he became engaged in the Colossal Cave and did, in fact, go on a colossal cave adventure of his own to better understand the concepts of cave adventure. His response to the text (read: game) was so strong and driving, that it led to further exploration in real life, not just theory.

I do not remember where, but when Dr. Jerz mentions about the size limitations of early games (15-16k), the game would suggest the player was "on a beach" which opens up vistas and imagination of the player never before seen. As I have said before, I am a man without a country. I have come to love games full of lush, gorgeous visuals, while I also wholly agree with the sentiment that "you are on a beach" is even more vibrant, as long as the player has an open mind. Instead of being shown what was intended (the art, the artist, the intention), in a game like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I think, though, that both have value, while being different.

I enjoy Adam's discussion of role-playing as the computer. I think his version of being the computer with the student interaction gives a perfect rendition of early text-based games. For anyone who is unfamiliar with IF games, this would be, easily, the best explanation.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 2:41 PM | Comments (1)

A return to the source: Koster, vol. II

Koster presents and interesting point when he says that the world could be replaced with cardboard cut-outs. I found the chapter to be engaging and fascinating, as it combined psychoanalysis and Super Mario.

Koster's statement is directed to the way in which our brains function, in regard to noise and chunking. He made the example about counting jugglers in a film, and how we could miss the pink elephant, even though it was terribly distracting.

He notes that "the world could easily be composed of cardboad stand-ins for real objects," and that falls in with his other statements. Humans search for patterns in daily life, as we do in everything else, and for what it's worth, we could simply walk around and only see a similar face/shape of a person and associate that it is "person x."

Because humans, however, overlook the noise and patterns that don't jibe in the world, we would easily overlook these people being clearly one-dimensional until something went wrong, such as missing heads.

This joke was even made back in 1976 in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" - the town of Rock Ridge is rebuilt as cardboad cutouts, and the roving band of outlaws doesn't even notice until it is too late. More directly, though, one can look at our older games, too, such as The Legend of Zelda.

Of course, there are all variety of stigmas and dogmas that attach themselves to games - because it was something we played when we were young, or the first game we beat on our own, we have developed some type of attachment to the game. As such, we develop barriers around these games and place them so high on pedestals that they cannot ever be spoken ill of. For many people, The Legend of Zelda is not just a game, it is the only game.

Consider what Koster says, though - the cardboard cut-out theory. How many other games have we seen that fall into the clone category? How many games mimic successful series? In way, it is this cardboard syndrome. Of course, Koster is more addressing the issue that we will overlook things, such as depth and and "realness" of an object as long as it fits a familiar form and shape. Games are the same - we like platformers, like Super Mario, Ratchet and Clank, Psychonauts, because they pretty much all fall into the same form and style. It is just replacing object A with object B.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 2:31 PM | Comments (0)

January 7, 2008

The History of Video Games!

I don't think I have ever heard or seen a more apt description of the N-Gage, the worst system every created.

"This means that devices that try to arrange controls for both purposes end up compromising, so that consumers would prefer to purchase two separate objects (each of which is optimized for one purpose) than to buy a single gadget that doesn’t do either job quite as well."

This, I admit, is more or less why you will never see me playing a game on my phone. I enjoy games, and I enjoy technology, and I love my phone, but I don't want to play games on it. If I'm that starved for entertainment in some remote location where I don't have access to a pen and paper or the internet or my game systems or, hell, other people...just let me know that my life has gotten to that point.

Nokia, when marketing the N-Gage, tried to create a new fad of "Side talking" because you had to turn the phone on it's side to use it as a phone. Naturally, all variety of "talking into a taco" jokes and associations were made.

I would also like to draw my ire upon Dr. Jerz's claim that the N-Gage worked fairly well - any game system where you have to remove the battery pack to change games, does not qualify under the banner of "worked well."

I don't believe I had read as interesting and humorous take on the earliest of videogames. I know somewhere around here I still have my Adversary Console, along with my Colecovision, and Odyssey (represent!). There is something to be said about these classic games. I can only hope that we will also focus on the massive failures in the game industry.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 9:34 PM | Comments (1)

Koster and the glorious revolution of Game Design (pt 1)

I have to offer up an apology to the others in the class - I have, more or less, spent the last two days down-and-out with some kind of malady. I don't know what the cause is, but I can only see out of my left eye, presently, as my right eye is completely swollen shut. It has been getting progressively worse over the last two days or so and if it hasn't gotten better by morning, I'll be making a stop of the ER. Whatever this is doesn't appear to be a virus or anything of the like, but by God it hurts. I've spent a lot of time with hot compresses on my head and trying to sleep.

I've been trying to get caught up on the blogging, but all the bright lights and needing my eyes has been a little bit of a problem. Hopefully through tonight and tomorrow I will be caught up on all the blogging. I even took a few days off work. Sorry, folks.

Onto the topic at hand, Raph Koster.

I was, at best, hesitant to delve into the text. I was unsure what to expect, and had a great fear that this was going to be a somewhat radical text, much like the texts of Derrida and other various literary critics. Thankfully, there was no discussion of "The Yellow Wallpaper" in Koster's book. However, there was a lot more psychoanalytics than I expected.

While I appreciate the light and easy tone of the written text, and the illustrations certainly helped keep the mood easygoing (as well as humorous). I think the second chapter (of the first five) was the chapter that stuck with me the most. I don't want to make a claim that I have some advanced degree in psychology and neuroscience, but I have at least found an interest in how the brain works, especially in the everyday world.

The discussion Koster makes on pattern recognition and noise cancellation I found terribly fascinating. The Illustrations of the face were also phenomenal examples of what I liken to the linguistic comparison of the ladder of abstraction. This concept can be best explained thusly:

On the absolute lowest level, a cow is nothing but one specific arrangement of molecules and genetics for one precise moment in the universe, only to be different the next moment. As you move upward on the abstraction ladder you approach the perceptive level, whereby someone could say "y'know, big black and white things that we get milk from? Steaks?" We can associate then that this description, on the perceptive level, is a cow. As we move further and further up the ladder, we begin to abstract the "cow" concept into far-reaching ideas, such as livestock->salable merchandise->Currency->Profit.

This whole concept of abstraction, I found, applies to Koster's text, specifically into pattern recognition. He included the illustrations of the human face and described how the human brain associates similar shapes and forms, as well as chunks the image and knowledge together to form something we know.

Koster identified the various differences in how we define games. I particularly liked Sid Meier's definition of "a series of meaningful choices," as I find that to be an apt description of what games are, and how that relates to the human brain. Games, or so I feel, are "interactive media arts." This is usually the label and form I give to videogames. Outside of it giving it somewhat of an intellectual air about it and some level of sophistication, it is also what I feel is representative of games - I will defend, until I'm deep, deep in the cold, cold ground - that games are an expression of art, just the same as poetry and fiction. Granted, most games are collaborative and team driven, but they are still works of art, bourne from the minds of the creators, molded and shaped to fit the ideas of the people behind it, as well as something to tell a story or to make the player think, evaluate, teach and learn. As with almost every example of art, it is what the user takes and makes from the art that makes it important. Sure, The Legend of Zelda was fun, but it wasn't this monument to life-changing decisions. 20+ years later, however, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess presents numerous moral dilemmas and instances of deep philosophical meaning. At it's absolute core, though, the game remains the same - there is a mathematic and real explanation for why X happens in lieu of Y. Pressing button A, while moving stick D up, causes X to happen. No matter the moral quandary of the player or character, the same functions and patterns exist.

Koster even described that "we've learned that if you show someone a movie with a lot of jugglers in it and tell them in advance to count the jugglers, they will probably miss the large pink gorilla in the background, even though it's a somewhat noticeable object. The brain is good at cutting out the irrelevant.

The same can be said for games, too. A perfect example is The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Oblivion is, easily, one of the most gorgeous games I have played. It doesn't quite have the gritty realism of something like Gears of War, but it does have the must lush, vibrant, and photorealistic environments. Going along with Koster, though, it is very easy to just run through the world without ever noticing some of the details, or overlooking the bigger picture.

For example, as you walk through the outside world, immediately surrounding the capital city, you are simply swallowed up in a world of flowing grass, swaying trees, running deer and trickling water. Of course, we can overlook the details because we are wowwed by the immensity of this environment. We overlook the crab climbing out of the water and attacking us because the shimmering sun on the surface is too beautiful. Likewise, we easily overlook the beautiful scenery and nuances of this design - with each tree having unique wind physics changing how the leaves flutter - because we are focused on looking at our compass to ensure we are going in the correct direction and we aren't being attacked by Ogres and bands of marauders.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 8:32 PM | Comments (1)

Strongbadia is a wonderful vacation spot

When I saw that one of our required texts was Strong Bad's email, my jaw almost hit the dang floor. While it doesn't shock me that Dr. Jerz is a Strong Bad fan, I did find it awesomely hilarious that SBE, for all intents and purposes, was used in an academic setting. It reminds me of the few times I have been able to use both Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary as academic sources.

I have been a fan of Homestarrunner and Strong Bad for, well...pretty much since about email 25.

I remember watching this long, long ago when it first appeared on HSR. You have no idea how much time I have wasted playing the games included in the email as well as the numerous others on the HSR website (Population Tire is a fun game).

I always enjoyed this email because it very much discusses some of the issues surrounding videogames - the battle about visuals vs. gameplay vs. story, etc. I've always been one of those people who make the claim that graphics are not everything. I mean, c'mon. I've played through the entirety of Peasant's Quest with a score of 144 of 150. That is nothing but a 5x5 matrix of simple design and text adventure with small visual representations. Just because it isn't pretty doesn't mean it doesn't have value.

Of the four available games, I spend a lot of time playing Rhino Feeder and Strongbadzone. Not that I don't enjoy text-based adventures or Atari-2600-like games such as Secret Collect, but I enjoy the others a little more, for reasons I can't explain except for the absurdity of the games (feeding a rhino and heads-a-sploding).

Starting with Rhino Feeder, I can't help but chuckle at the simplistic appearance, but interesting play mechanic. It ties into what Koster says about us finding patterns, too, because we attempt to find some logical pattern to the food appearing or where the snakes will come from and where they stop. Our brains immediately start analyzing where the obstacles are and we try to find the path that leads us to the food and back to the dish.

The game may look like total crap (although the tiny Strong Bad is awesome and the Rhino is totally boss), but it is still fun in it's simplicity.

Strongbadzone, too, is glorious in it's simplicity. While the game is terribly reminiscent of the awful 3D vector games of the Nintendo Virtual Boy - the idiocy of having some spikey-haired shield guy is great, and the simple pattern of block-moving is incredibly fun - not only do we challenge ourselves to play pong with the geometry lesson flying at us, we are also trying to achieve the total destruction of Strong Bad's vector head.

I suggest everyone give a round of time to some of the other games on the site - even for those who own a Nintendo Wii, HSR has been kind enough to retool some of their games for use with the Wii's internet browser and Wii remote.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 9:15 AM | Comments (1)

Shanhan's "Bow, Nigger"

I don't remember when or where I have said it, but I have made the claim to be a man without a country - I appreciate and love the idea behind new media journalism, but I also have come to hate that every "crazy jagoff" (my terminology) has been given a fair and equal voice in this world.

In new media, I love and hate that the use of "low" language, or socially unacceptable language, is considered commonplace. I especially enjoyed Shanahan's discussion on the interaction between himself and his, for lack of a better word, foe.

"He's showboating. He's demonstrating how 1337 he is.
"Are you really black nigger?" he types.
"Why?" I replied.
"Because it matter." he says."

I draw the attention to this passage for a few reasons - even though I am an avid gamer, I do not play games online, unless it can be done anonymously and without option for voice or even text chat. In this exchange, we see some of problems with games, but how new media journalism can expose these "problems."

Ignoring the use of 1337 speak as a qualifier and descriptor, there's also a large use of the word "nigger." I have to be transparent for a moment and make the claim that I am not one to often be offended by language. I am not saying that we should all run around saying "nigger," however, I am also one of those people who feel that words are essentially worthless - they are just a jumble of letters and sounds, and they only have power when being used in a certain context. "Nigger," as a whole, is not a pleasant word in any sense. It has been and continues to be used as a means of oppressing people and creating walls around our various societies which prevent us from having our constant 24-hour funkadelic block party all year.

This exchange also brought up the point that online games are where coherent and intelligible language goes to die. I understand that I should not take a position of pointing out faults and flaws of other's usages of language, as we all are unique snowflakes, however, when someone says "because it matter" in response to being asked why he is asking if the opposing player is actually a black person...it makes me want to reach through the computer-machine and hit them over the head with a golf cleat for seven hours.

Shanahan, of course, handles the situation as best as possible, and likewise presents an interesting viewpoint in his review of the game. It is a non-traditional review. He still made the approach to discuss the game, as shown by his descriptions of battle and some of the bugs in the game. Shanahan notes

"No chatting now. No more insults. Collision detection in JKII is a little flaky. Sometimes hits do far more damage than you'd have thought. I can hope. He comes at me and we have at it.

The lightsabres hiss and fizz when they come into contact with each other. I rolled and dodged and parried for all I was worth. Five health only. Nearly dead."

Of course, these are only allowed to be discussed because of the intense emotional appeal made from the first few words. New Media game reviews are, I daresay, sensationalist media, mixed with technical evaluation and a general statement of approval or disapproval.

When you compare Ajami's review to Shanahan's, the emotional appeal of Shanahan is almost hitting you in the face. Ajami, instead of going into a shocking diatribe about the etiquette of battling and those who offend, simply steps up to the plate and swings discussing the gaming-impact of the review. "A good first impression is always important. Surprisingly, LucasArts and Raven Software's Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast doesn't really give one. Instead, the third game in the long-running Star Wars-themed shooter series initially gives the impression that it's a flashy but basic action game that isn't as ambitious as its highly acclaimed predecessor, Jedi Knight." Ajami, too, is making the emotional appeal, but in a different way. He is making the appeal that the game is good, but different than those that had come before, as well as being a slow starter.

The new media approach certainly has it's place, but I have a hard time believing that print journalism will be fully replaced with new media, and vice versa. I think they are just two opposite sides of the same coin.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 12:26 AM | Comments (0)

January 6, 2008

Opening remarks and so forth

From the start of the course, I felt I had to email Dr. Jerz with a certain level of terrible confusion as to what exactly was wanted.

I think I'm getting what he wants now, so...this should be fun.

In regard to the opening activities from the first two days, I had the following to say:

In regard to the definition and expectations of the course, I can't say I'm terribly surprised by things. I've had Dr. J for a few other classes and it seems to be falling into the typical pattern (although I admit I didn't have him for an out-and-out Lit. class, so, the RRRR sequence has thrown me some).

I admit that I, potentially, have a little bit of (to borrow from Strong Bad) "a leg up on the pile" because of my involvement with New Media Journalism, specifically in relation to games. I have been running a videogame media website for 6 years now, and I have had enough experience in the wonderful world of dealing with PR people, game developers and publishers, designers, artists, etc. (Which has allowed me to draw some distinctions from Koster, but that's for later).

I don't want to feel as though I know all of this already, because I don't. Certainly the Koster book has shown me a different side to games than I ever really thought about. I always took a position that story and graphics were integral parts of a game, beyond the actual construction (patterns) of the game. Gah. I keep getting ahead of myself.

Thankfully, I am not jumping into a pool of terminology that I am terribly unfamiliar with. This should be interesting.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 11:37 PM | Comments (1)

Guess it is time to dust this thing off. I thought Lit Crit would be the end of the blog. I guess I was wrong.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at 11:37 PM | Comments (0)