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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 January 14, 2008 10:56 PM

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