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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 January 11, 2008 10:54 AM


Nothing wrong about commenting on style. Koster and Laurel's books were written for the general reader, while Juul and Bogost are writing specifically for academics. While I happen to think Juul and Bogost are both excellent writers, their primary goal is not to entertain. One reason I assigned Juul over the weekend like this is to give you more time to work through the chapters.

I don't remember your comment about books, so I guess it wasn't Lit Crit. The "Media and Culture" class next term will be about the history of the book... I hope to have some great discussions there about the sorts of things you raised in your intro here.

Yes, I think you are usefully parsing Juul's ideas. Koster points out that a game has a limited number of "verbs" but I think Juul's framing of the player's actions as incorporated into, or controlled by, the rules is probably more useful for our purposes, as the pendulum swings from Laurel's emphasis on stories to Juul's focus on rules. (Not that either is exclusively one or the other, we're just talking emphasis here.)

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 11, 2008 12:53 PM

This is an easier read for me then Laurel. (When I finally get my blog up) Laurel's book was quite confusing and this book is just plain right there. I enjoy reading Juul more then I do Laurel. Its funny that people have such different reading styles.

Posted by: Ashley F at January 11, 2008 4:14 PM

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