Exploring and Unraveling: Things Aren’t As They Seem

On the blog posts I’ve read from some of my classmates so far, I have been quite impressed. Each person I’ve read has really tried to explore what ideas are really present and how these ideas–removed from any glitz, marketing, or common platitudes–guide the mechanics in their respective games. Five posts especially showcase how our class has really dived into a lot of game worlds to discover new meanings embedded, intentionally or unintentionally.

Luke in his blog post on Broken Age discusses at length about how the game makes the player question their perception of reality as the in-game characters find assumption after assumption about the in-game world to be false. I’d be interested to see how that concept of an unreliable perception of reality would be applied to countergames, which disintegrate our expectations of what game is and should be. A lot of the counter games we saw in Galloway’s essay collection were very perception-bending, so I wonder how a narrative misperception of reality would pair with a visual misperception of digital objects?

Screenshot from Brody Condon’s Adam Killer

Violet’s blog post on Kim Kardashian: Hollywood also explores and unravels the idea of simulating reality in a way. The player simulates a fantasy reality of going through Kim Kardashian’s career trajectory. I would ask Violet how this celebrity game about becoming famous stacks up to other celebrity games? Does Kim Kardashian just have an incredibly strong brand (which she does), or is there a larger social phenomenon these kinds of games tap into (young people wanting to be celebrities so badly now)?

The societal want to attain celebrity status is not a super hidden feature, even though Violet still explores it well. On the other end of the spectrum, some classmates extrapolated a lot of interesting things by analyzing the real ideas behind some games. Matt wrote about Dear Esther, a game that challenges notions of action in a first-person format, and with the help of some organic chemistry clues hidden in the game, discovered a game that lost any air of pretension and became a touching game about loss and depression. Alec wrote about Desert Golfing and Harvest Moon and how the latter has the disguise of zen to its time-based system but does not have the required neutrality that Desert Golfing has. Emi wrote about complicated gender representation in Bioshock and how the Little Sisters appear to have agency without any power structures (because there is no society) yet are still at the mercy or cruelty of violent men who kill Big Daddies well.

A Little Sister from Bioshock

Each of these five scholars have picked apart in similar ways what makes these very different games. They’ve approached these games’ systems by also approaching characters (usually the player’s character or actions). They only got to the larger points of each of their post by exploring the world through some character’s personal view that became their own, whether that was Kim Kardashian’s journey or Alec’s personal journey of relaxation and frustration. These games were rooted in people’s stories, and I found them to be interesting analyses because of it. I suppose it’s always important to remember that games are always connected to people, never really in a fantasy that’s far from a human author, political issues, or personal stories.

Image Sources:

Condon, Brody. Screenshot from Adam Killer. “Interview: Brody Condon’s ‘Adam Killer’ (1999).” Gamescenes, 31 May 2010, http://www.gamescenes.org/2010/05/interview-brody-condons-adam-killer-1999.html. Accessed 10 Dec. 2016.

“Little Sister Dresses from Bioshock.” Pinteresthttps://www.pinterest.com/pin/515802963548960476. Accessed 10 Dec. 2016.

Assassin’s Creed: The Movie Based on the Game Based on History

As I alluded to in my preceding game log, an Assassin’s Creed movie is actually being made. Ubisoft, who fought movie publishing houses to retain creative control over their franchise, started developing the project in 2012. The film stars Oscar-nominated Michael Fassbender (a producer on the project) and Oscar-winning Marion Cotillard and is directed by Justin Kerzel, who directed the most recent Macbeth film adaptation with Fassbender and Cotillard (Armitage). The plot is basically lifted from the games’ main protagonist, Desmond Miles, as a new character is captured by the sinister Abstergo Industries and becomes an assassin through exploring the memory of his ancestors (through DNA, technology, and whatever). But, that transplanted plot isn’t really important. What is important is that yet another video game movie is actually being released but this time during Christmas. Yes, Ubisoft seriously thinks a video game movie can actually compete with both a Star Wars and a Harry Potter spin-off during the holiday season. 

Perhaps, I should slow down on my knee-jerk skepticism. Not all movies adapted from video games have been flops. The Tomb Raider and Resident Evil movie franchises have each made hundreds of millions of dollars, about $400 million and about $500 million respectively (Hillier). Critics hailed the moderately successful Prince of Persia movie as “far from perfect, but fun to watch” and “a movie that knows exactly how dumb it is” (Rotten Tomatoes). However, these three movies deviated a great deal from their respective franchises. The Resident Evil created a new character for Milla Jovivich to play and storylines that had stuff very loosely relating to Raccoon City and somewhat referencing the games’ characters. According to game blogger Brenna Hillier, a video game movie wants “to wring a pretty penny out of a gaming property you need to shuck off most of the trappings of established narrative and personalities and focus instead on a few core takeaways (Hillier). Video game movies cannot rely on video games for a good story because video game narratives are: 1.) much longer than a movie narrator (8-10 hours for a typical FPS story v. 1.5-2 hours for a typical action movie); 2.) reliant on the opposite of the necessary passive watching required for movies: interactivity. 

Video games are meant to be played. Now, it didn’t take me the whole semester to discover this truth, but that statement needs to be emphasized here. Put another way, video game narratives are meant to be played, acted upon by a player who guides the actions in the digital world and fill the identity of a typically empty protagonist (like the sort-of British Lara Croft or completely silent Gordon Freeman) in action games. The game’s journey isn’t so much for the protagonist but for the player. The whole experience is designed for the player to move around, observe, and perform certain actions through an avatar. Movies take an audience member through a guided, pre-set series of events for a diegetic protagonist that the viewer cannot affect nor control. That is why videogames should not be made into movies, or if they are, the movie only resembles the game in name. A movie should never borrow a game’s narrative just because movie execs think the game’s brand is strong enough for them to plug mindlessly into a three-act plot structure without any extraordinary critical thought. That leaves us with abominations like the Super Mario Bros. movie or the Alone in the Dark movie that has a 1% score on Rotten Tomatoes (Rotten Tomatoes).

So, videogame narratives depend on player interaction over a long span of time. Movies depend on spectator compliance for around two hours at most now. Coincidentally, that’s about how much time I spent on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which insists on forcing a player to be a spectator for the first two hours of the game. So, maybe I was wrong. Maybe Assassin’s Creed will be a good movie because those games have already tried so hard to be movies.  

Works Cited:

“Alone in the Dark.” Rotten Tomatoeshttps://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/alone_in_the_dark. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

Armitage, Hugh and Rosie Fletcher. “Assassin’s Creed movie: Everything you need to know about Michael Fassbender and the cast, spoilers, and release date.” Digital Spy, 27 Oct. 2016, http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/feature/a672940/assassins-creed-movie-everything-you-need-to-know-about-michael-fassbender-and-the-cast-spoilers-and-release-date/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

Hillier, Brenna. “Metal Gear Solid and the gaming curse.” VG 24/7, 31 Aug. 2012, http://www.vg247.com/2012/08/31/metal-gear-solid-and-the-gaming-cinema-curse/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” Rotten Tomatoeshttps://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/prince_of_persia_sands_of_time/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

On Games and Theatre

“Games are a kind of theater in which the audience is an actor and takes on a role—and experiences the circumstances and consequences of that role.” (Anthropy 20)

Throughout the semester, one aspect of videogames has struck me the most and really distinguishes games from any other medium: the power it gives the audience. In other art forms like television, cinema, or painting, the audience never performs any action beyond observation, except for a certain kind of theater known as “interactive” or “immersive theatre.” It’s a type of theater that actually makes the audience participate actively in theatrical spaces. The most famous contemporary example of this theater is Sleep No More, a production of Macbeth by the UK’s Punchdrunk theater collective. This version of Shakespeare’s Scottish play takes place at New York City’s McKittrick Hotel, a six-story where audience members physically inhabit and interact with the same space the actors are in. Journalist Scott Brown writes of the audience’s involvement in Sleep No More, “Sleep allows its ‘guests’ great freedom. Presented with a bone-white Venetian beak mask (the kind favored by plague doctors in the Renaissance), you’re invited to gawk, shame-free, at whatever you see, to rifle through drawers, files, Rolodexes, and even coffins. You and your fellow voyeurs, enskulled in your morbid headgear, quickly become part of the creepy scenery. More to the point, you’re a ghost. (N.B.: This doesn’t exempt you from actor contact — in fact, you’re practically guaranteed to be interfered with at some point in the approximately three hours it takes to survey the space and absorb the long arc of the story.) Fending for yourself in the fictional “McKittrick Hotel” (a pointed Vertigo reference that dizzy or claustrophobic types should take to heart before booking), you’re given the run of six misty, intricately detailed floors, with more than 100 rooms” (Brown). These rooms include “‘situations’: a man who may or may not be Duncan, right king of Scotland, being murdered in a sheikh’s tent. A gelid blonde who may or may not be Mrs. Danvers from Hitchcock’s Rebecca — here in loyal service to Lady Macbeth — spooning milky poison down the gullet of a soused, super-pregnant woman who very well might be Lady Macduff” (Brown). Sleep No More builds a world that immerses people fully in an expansive place, where story unfolds through exploration. The audience is no longer assembled of passive spectators but active, investigative witnesses. This type of theater engages audience members to explore and connect with an old story through a completely new environment unlike any other medium, except for videogames. This immersive theater seems (to me) to be a kin to videogames, a medium that also allows for audience members to explore, play, and connect with an environment. 

Shot of Sleep No More

That is, videogames could be a medium like immersive theater that engages and makes the audience active. I say this because in order for an audience member to become another actor, the audience member must have choice. In Sleep No More, the audience can choose to go whatever place they want, try to talk to whomever they want, and do whatever they want. Like the actors who are also making choices to play characters and do certain things on a “stage,” the audience unwittingly does the same thing and is forced to make purposeful choices on what to do and not to do. To relate this to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, interactive theater does not take place in it nor a lot of other videogames. The games inhibit player’s choices to conform to a linear track on which to progress. Black Flag is more like a movie than a play in a hotel. 

Finally, the medium Assassin’s Creed deserves

To be sure, the player does have freedom and can take action within the world. This is still a digital play space where players can fight anyone they want (except for citizens, which prompts a fail screen), can climb buildings (except for buildings that don’t have any obvious spots you can grab on to), and can spend digital money on whatever (no exceptions). Yet, the game does not offer a lot of freedom to the player, insisting on rigid paths and linear tasks to a linear storyline. After the opening scene of fighting pirate ships that all exploded, my character swam in the water and was essentially presented a path straight to a beach. However, I wanted to swim back to the ship’s wreckage and around the ocean because I could so why not? I swam to these places but nothing really happened until I got to the beach where I was “supposed” to be. So why does the game present options of swimming around pirate ships and climbing buildings but really only rewards players for swimming to the “right” spot where the cutscene kicks in or the “right” buildings that I somehow can climb versus all the other ones? I’m not saying that every choice should be rewarded, but if you have and market a game as being an expansive game world, shouldn’t this game world include more than one set of action for actors? Can’t we choose where we want to be in this world as players instead of being forced down one path of cutscene after cutscene? I might as well watch a movie, instead of being an offered an illusion of theatrical choice. Or I’ll go to a hotel where people are putting on Macbeth, where I can do more interesting fictional things. 

Works Cited:

Anthropy, Anna. Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. Seven Stories, 2012.

Brown, Scott. “Theater Review: The Freakily Immersive Experience of Sleep No More.” Vulture, 15 Apr. 2011, http://www.vulture.com/2011/04/theater_review_the_freakily_im.html. Accessed 23 Nov. 2016.

Fletcher, Rosie and Hugh Armitage. “Assassin’s Creed movie: Everything you need to know about Michael Fassbender and the cast, spoilers and release date.” Digital Spy, 27 Oct. 2016, http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/feature/a672940/assassins-creed-movie-everything-you-need-to-know-about-michael-fassbender-and-the-cast-spoilers-and-release-date/. Accessed 23 Nov. 2016.

Assassin’s Creed: Pirate Simulator

I started up this game of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and I felt unsure. I was unsure of how this game would be after a four year hiatus from the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Would I get the same product I got time and time again from this franchise: a slightly different “cool” hooded protagonist with slightly different weapons in a slightly different plot loosely grounded in somewhat historically accurate characters? Probably. I knew what I would get when I played this game; this is a series whose successes are built on slight tweaks of a recycled formula. However, the location and characters would be brand new for me to free run tall buildings, assassinate nameless guards, and take in the virtual views of an old famous city. In a way, each Assassin’s Creed game is a mod of the previous one: changed visuals with mostly unchanged game mechanics.

(top: Assassin’s Creed III; bottom: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag)

Though with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the game doesn’t immediately place the player in an old city or futuristic hideaway. It immediately introduces us to our protagonist, Edward Kenway, who is a pirate because he wants to be free from an oppressive class-based economy and naval structure. The designers smartly encouraged me to align with this pirate character as soon as possible. Who doesn’t want to be a rebellious pirate? Then, the game cut to a battle at sea between pirate ships. I was suddenly firing cannons at 18th century ships and steering a pirate ship. Then, the ships exploded, and I was washed up on an island chasing an assassin, who I ended up murdering. I have to commend Ubisoft for knowing what gamers want out of Black Flag: to be a pirate and assassinate people as soon as possible. 

Yo-ho-ho

However, the new pirate pleasures do not really justify passing this game off as anything new. This begs the question of why these games keep getting made and bought? Why do people basically want a nicer version of a game they already have? I suppose it makes sense for players new to the franchise to play this game, but if I already have Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed III, why do I need this game? Why don’t I just play those games again if I really want to instead of shilling another $60 to Ubisoft? Ultimately, I was unsure about playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag because I had hope amidst my cynicism. I had hope that this game could be potentially something different and interesting, especially after the series abandoned Desmond Miles’s weird alien-unveiling story arc. My hope was not really met; instead, I got the same game but with pirates. Don’t get me wrong, Caribbean pirates are awesome. Yet, even that different style choice is not new or fresh. It’s a safe bet on what the popular conscience deems cool. Which is all this game series will ever be: a series of safe bets siphoning ideas from popular culture and movies, inhibiting what could be a one-of-a-kind game experience. 

Who says pirates are overdone? Wait…

Images Cited:

Cloud_imperium. “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review; ARRR !!!” Gamespot, 31 Jul. 2014, http://www.gamespot.com/assassins-creed-iv-black-flag/user-reviews/2200-12602699/.  Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.

“Featured Video.” Disneyhttp://pirates.disney.com/. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.

“Screen 621262.” Assassin’s Creed III Gallery, gamershell.com, 8 Apr. 2012,http://www.gamershell.com/ps3/assassin_s_creed_iii/screenshots.html?id=621262. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.

Usher, William. “Assassin’s Creed 4 PS4 Gameplay Trailer Seeks Out Hidden Treasure.” CinemaBlend, 2013, http://www.cinemablend.com/games/Assassin-Creed-4-PS4-Gameplay-Trailer-Seeks-Out-Hidden-Treasure-57742.html. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.

Pokemon Un(Nuz)Locked

The Pokemon games have always easy to play. Its game mechanics fit into the “easy to play, hard to master” philosophy nicely. Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire takes these easy mechanics to a new game level by introducing mechanics that make this fairly easy game somehow even easier. Pokemon now receive experience from battling Pokemon that don’t faint but get caught, and the EXP (experience from battle) share applies to the whole party (as implemented first in Pokemon: X and Y). Gone are the days of having to use then promptly switch out a weak Pokemon to a stronger one. For someone who’s played Pokemon—one of the most formulaic games series ever—for a good bit, this gets really boring. However, while I was browsing the internet during my play session of Alpha Sapphire (it got so boring), I discovered a meta-game older Poke-players called the Nuzlocke challenge. It definitely makes things more interesting.

The Nuzlocke challenge is something a self-proclaimed “bored not-yet webcomic artist UC Santa Cruz” (Nuzlocke.com). This student, the one known online as Nuzlocke, started a play through of the original Pokemon Ruby in 2010 in which he implemented two rules to make the game more interesting and difficult. On his website, Nuzlocke states that “1. He could only capture the first Pokemon he encountered in each new area. 2. If a Pokemon fainted he would consider it dead and release it” (Nuzlocke). These are the two main rules of any Nuzlocke challenge but each user can add other rules to further increase the difficulty. According to game journalist Patricia Hernandez, these other rules are frequently added to Nuzlocke playthroughs: “You can’t play with traded Pokémon, unless it’s a Pokémon an NPC can trade you. 4. No resets. 5. If you black out (as in, if all the Pokémon in your party faint), that’s it. The playthrough is done. Game over. You gotta restart if you wanna keep playing…Banning the use of Potions and healing items…No catching/using Legendary Pokemon…Pokemon must be nicknamed” (Hernandez). These player-added and self-disciplined rules exponentially increase the difficulty of a game designed to be extremely simple. The older Pokemon players made a game out of a game (a metagame, if you will) to fulfill a need for challenge. This exemplifies how adding rules can change the whole meaning of a previously well-established game. 

However, the most interesting to note in players’ responses to their Nuzlocke runs isn’t so much the marvel at how much more difficult the game is. What struck me most about their responses is that players reported becoming much more attached to their digital pocket monsters. In addition to the ownership they got from having to name their Pokemon, the added stake of “death” (releasing a Pokemon) really makes players acknowledge the bond they form with these digital creatures you spend so much time training and using. One YouTuber, ProJared, whose finale of a Nuzlocke run I watched was legitimately yelling and on-edge during his battle with the champion of the Elite Four. I know he was doing it for an audience, but I could still genuinely feel his frustration, anxiety, and genuine connection to Pokemon he managed to level up for presumably many hours among countless close calls and “deaths” of many other good Pokemon (here’s a link to the video if anyone’s interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlSbrwxPZso&index=36&list=PLO7ChEvlE6fcO8tMq7hhuf5qy1cwZyp6e; ProJared). Not only can the metagame of Nuzlocke add difficulty, it can also make you attached to the cute little creatures who can get taken away from you like those you love in real life. Nuzlocke has strengthened the nostalgic connection to Pokemon for older players, bringing an element of reality into a game of absolute fantasy. 

Works Cited:

Hernandez, Patricia. “Think Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire Are Too Easy? Try This.” Kotaku, 26 Nov. 2014.

ProJared. “Nuzlocke Challenge – FINALE: The Champion.” YouTube, uploaded by ProJared, 10 Sep. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlSbrwxPZso&index=36&list=PLO7ChEvlE6fcO8tMq7hhuf5qy1cwZyp6e.

“What is the Nuzlocke Challenge?” Nuzlocke.comhttp://www.nuzlocke.com/challenge.php.

Pokemon aren’t really real (Ryan Rotella)

In theory, the concept of Pokemon seems dark and bloody. People roam and wander throughout the world to hunt and capture wild, cute creatures into storage devices (either portable spheres or files on a computer). These creatures are then used to fight other similar creatures against people who have nothing better to do and stand around all day looking to fight at anyone who walks through their gaze. It sounds pretty grim. Until you play the actual game, which has delightful graphics, a sunshine view of people and Pokemon in harmony, and fun. Pokemon’s really fun (a shocking take, I know). In my last post, I said that this game was essentially capturing and having animals fight for my personal glory; this game is still that but after further thinking, that doesn’t ruin the game. This is because Pokemon has no root in reality and never claims to simulate real life, only create a new world of Pokemon. 

Galloway states for a game to be founded in realism (as opposed to realisticness), it must have “a true congruence between the real political reality of the gamer and the ability of the game to mimic and extend that political reality” (Galloway 83). Pokemon (before Pokemon X and Y, which features a story centered on the ethical dilemma of Pokemon fighting) does not attempt to match any sort of genuine political reality of the gamer. Sure, the human characters look like cartoon people but still human people. I have to walk to a store to buy products, and I make money off of winning competitions I strategize and train over (yay capitalism). The argument can even be made to critique the flawed Silicon Valley ideal implicit in being “the best like no one ever was” (Pokemon Theme Song lyrics). But that kind of theorizing comes off of as kind of ridiculous. No player ever goes into Pokemon with the expectation that it is depicting the “real world” or any circumstances relevant to the player. If anything, Pokemon, especially the remake Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire, is escapist entertainment, promising a clear fantasy world that gives the player more control than they do in real-life. In military simulators like America’s Army and Under Ash, these games are designed to be realistic simulations and stories of war and modern armed conflict. Both act as sites where player can take the roles of marginalized people in these conflicts (more convolutedly in America’s Army) and experience similar actions in the digital world that a player might experience in their real social reality. This is why Galloway examines military games in that chapter (“Social Realism”) of his book (Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture). Transplanting social realism to fantasy games is ineffective because these games have no reality rooted in the actions within the game world.

For this reason, the game PETA released to protest the animal fighting, Pokemon: Black and Blue, has gotten mainly negative responses (apparent in any comments on any review or mention of it) (Schreier). PETA tries to argue that the combat system that uses Pokemon in the whole Pokemon series is akin to real-life animal fighting. These games, therefore, numb people to real-life animal fighting and normalizes it. PETA, in its parody game, places players in the roles of Pokemon who try to liberate other Pokemon from their cruel and abusive human trainers. I will admit this concept would have been very poignant if it were applied to any real-world context, not Pokemon. PETA ruins their aim for a socially realistic game by attacking fantasy, satirizing a world that everyone recognizes as not tied to reality in any way other than the digital world. There has not been an increase of kids trying to capture wild animals and have them fight for sport to the death. Even 8 year olds know that Pokemon is not real. However, if their game placed players in a more realistic rooster about to fight for a group of digital people in a realistically-looking barn in rural Alabama, PETA would have an effective game. But Pokemon isn’t the grim bloody reality that is real animal-fighting. And we shouldn’t pretend it is when we talk about it. Don’t get me wrong. Using pocket monsters, some of which are based on real animals, to fight for sport is still weird and a little unsettling. Then again, there are three Pokemon based off of ice cream and one that is based on a chandelier. So, let’s not treat the former card game (turned digital game) as a pure work but let’s also not treat as the most insidious cultural artifact. I would rather focus on saving endangered turtles by the Great Barrier Reef (which is close to dying) than make sure my Blastoise is safe. 

Works Cited:

“Chandelure.” Bulbapediahttp://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Chandelure_(Pok%C3%A9mon).

Galloway, Alexander R. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Print.

Jon D. B. “25 of the Most Useless Pokemon in the History of the Franchise.” Image #21 from  Playbuzz, 23 Nov. 2014, http://www.playbuzz.com/jonb10/25-of-the-most-useless-pokemon-in-the-history-of-the-franchise.

“Pokemon Alpha Sapphire for Nintendo 3DS.” Toys R Ushttp://www.toysrus.com/buy/kids-family/pokemon-alpha-sapphire-for-nintendo-3ds-ctrpecle-41442386

Pokemon X. “Pokemon Theme Lyrics.” Metro Lyricshttp://www.metrolyrics.com/pokemon-theme-lyrics-pokemon.html.

Schreier, Jason. “Humans Are the Enemy In This Ridiculous PETA Pokémon Parody.” Kotaku, 8 Oct. 2012, http://kotaku.com/5949895/humans-are-the-enemy-in-this-ridiculous-peta-pokemon-parody

The Nostalgic World of Pokémon (Ryan Rotella)

When I got Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire from my parents last Christmas, I was surprised. I didn’t ask for it; in fact, I hadn’t picked up a Gameboy of any kind in at least 5 years. Davidson’s time-draining combination of a rigorous workload and a buzzing social life makes playing videogames an inefficient, occasional luxury (except when you play for them class, thanks Dr. Sample). I decided to dedicate time to this Pokemon game because I wanted to re-examine a series that took up so much time in my childhood. I am not exaggerating when I say that I played Pokemon everywhere growing up. I played it when I ate breakfast, waited on the bus, sat on the bus, sat at dinner while eating too much bread, you name it, I was playing a Pokemon game (usually Blue or Sapphire). I had to be pried away from my GameBoy Advance SP often, just so my parents could socially interact with me. I inhabited the world of Pikachus, Caterpies, and Gyradoses daily, trying so hard to be the very best like no one ever was. So, with any video game HD remake, I wanted to step back into that world through a nostalgia-filled commodity and find out why this game took such a strong hold on my young life.

But then I got bored pretty quickly into this game. I remembered that literally every mainline Pokemon game (that is, ones made for Gameboys that weren’t dungeon explorers) is essentially the same thing. I choose a character that’s either a boy or a girl, I have a rival, I choose a starter, I say goodbye to my mom, and I venture off into the world of Pokemon and gym battles. The only differences in the games are different items, different Pokemon, and better graphics. There are some competitive stats that get added throughout the series for the serious, online competitive players, but I never cared about that when I played. In this remake, there are no new Pokemon at all. By definition, it’s the same Pokemon from the original Sapphire in an updated game. I moved through a prettier, 3D animated Hoenn region with running shoes automatically on this time around, and it was nice…for like 20 minutes. I was walking around and playing the same game I already knew. I will say the turn-based mechanic of fighting and managing Pokemon is still addictively fun. Pokemon, with its customizable four move set and item management, has a very unique take on combat. That and its art design have made it into the success it is today and might be the reasons I loved these games so much. Each battle was an achievement in strategy and management with cool creatures, even if it was essentially animal fighting. I, nor most other 10 year-olds, typically don’t pick up on the animal-fighting bit because we didn’t know it existed and the cute fantasy of Pokemon masks the gruesome reality of animals maimed and killed for idle sport. So you could say the nostalgia has worn off greatly, but I still appreciate the fun I had in this weird, uber popular game. As with most media rooted and marketed in nostalgia, I don’t regret playing the remake of a game that made me happy, but I’m really glad I don’t anymore. I can’t really enjoy making wild creatures my possessions and fighting for my glory and image as a masterful trainer while sitting isolated staring at a screen for hours on end anymore. Thanks, Davidson, for giving me a life and making sure I never see the world the same way again.

For Melee, Forever (Ryan Rotella)

Game sequels are usually the inverse of movie sequels. Game sequels are generally better than their predecessor (with exceptions, of course) because game developers, at that point, usually have better and newer technology, better funding if the previous game was a success, and better familiarity with which mechanics work in a game and which don’t (thanks, consumer feedback). Moreover, players find it much more palatable that mechanics be familiar (especially if the first game was good) with refined controls, better graphics, and some slight tweaks/new gameplay elements. The focus on a game sequel is usually not eyeing surprise or newness like a movie sequel’s story and narrative structure (which can rarely be found to be reliable to the first movie but still fresh in its own right). In fact, gamers can prize familiarity more so than any other audience. This is most apparent in the Super Smash Bros. franchise, where Super Smash Bros. Melee reigns as the undisputed favorite of many Smash players.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was initially released in North America on Dec. 3, 2001, making it one of the first games for the Nintendo Gamecube. A good number of players and online commenters, such as professional Melee player William “Leffen” Hjelle, say that what drew them to Melee as children was “being able to play the well-known Nintendo characters in a game that’s a ton of fun to pick up” (Zacny). However, what has made Melee a popular 15 year phenomenon and retained the interest of these now grown-up players are the “well designed intricate mechanics were, and how much further you could push the limits of the game” (Zacny). In fact, a vibrant professional community has gathered around Melee because of these intricate mechanics in the game (and without the support of Nintendo) (Minotti). These mechanics include wave dashing (players can move horizontally while still able to perform moves), L-cancelling (stops momentum and helps characters take less damage), and chain grabs (multiple grabs performed in a row). These more advanced mechanics were the results of programming oversight on glitches in the game, which the Smash community has now taken to be another metagame for superior players. These more advanced mechanics along with game’s faster speed than other installments (which have been purposely made slower in later installments to include more casual players) make Melee the best candidate as a casual game turned hardcore. Advanced, rich gameplay mechanics with a shot of nostalgia has made Super Smash Bros. Melee the choice of many Smash players.

Some, like Kotaku’s Ben Bertoli, argue that the newest Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (or Super Smash Bros. 4) should dethrone Melee as the top Smash game (Bertoli). In terms of graphics, character roster, and overall accessibility (I have no idea where my GameCube or my Wii is anymore), I would agree. Smash 4 delivers a refined yet familiar experience to a game series that many (including myself) love and will continue to love for a good while. But, that almost doesn’t matter so much when comparing it to Melee. Melee will always hold a special place in many gamers’ hearts, and that’s an impressive feat in itself. Not many 15 year-old games can still hold weight in terms of fun (and not frustration) in light of game with much better technology and programming. The fact that people love Melee so much that it’s still relevant and preferred in competitive tournaments really cements how truly special and well-crafted (intentionally or otherwise) a game it is. Like a good old movie, Super Smash Bros. can be enjoyed as a not bad remake in Smash 4 or as a nostalgia-aged artifact in Melee

Works Cited:

Bertoli, Ben. “Why Super Smash Bros. Wii U Deserves to Dethrone Melee.” Kotaku, 9 Apr 2015, http://kotaku.com/why-super-smash-bros-wii-u-deserves-to-dethrone-melee-1696512607. Accessed 21 Oct 2016.

Minotti, Mike. “How Super Smash Bros. Melee’s esports community keeps the fighter relevant 15 years after release.” VentureBeat, 16 Mar 2016, http://venturebeat.com/2016/03/16/how-super-smash-bros-melees-esports-community-keeps-the-fighter-relevant-15-years-after-release/. Accessed 21 Oct 2016.

Zacny, Rob. “Leffen on Why We Still Play Super Smash Bros. Melee.” Red Bull: eSports, 30 Aug 2016, http://www.redbull.com/us/en/esports/stories/1331815023939/leffen-why-we-play-smash-bros-melee-cultivation. Accessed 21 Oct 2016.

A Hardcore Casual (Ryan Rotella)

In my last game log, I analyzed how the designers of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U reward longtime, dedicated gamers by packing their game full of intertextual references to so many different kinds of games for the 50+ characters in Smash. Super Smash Bros. seemed designed to be intertextual, bringing many characters (Nintendo and non-Nintendo) under a fighting competition. In this light, Super Smash Bros. sounds like a typical fighting game for dedicated, “hardcore” gamers. The fact that there is a community of professional (paid) and extremely dedicated Smash players seems to support Super Smash Bros’s hardcore-ness (a topic for another game log). However, Super Smash Bros. doesn’t fit neatly into the binary of casual v. hardcore games. In fact, the game is extremely popular, as the Wii U iteration 4.9 million copies so in its lifespan (and the 3DS version of the game sold 8.23 million copies as well) (Nintendo Sales). Super Smash Bros. caters to all kinds of people and balances between casual and hardcore gaming effectively.

In his book A Casual Revolution, Jesper Juul outlines five components that make up his definition of a casual game: a positively-charged fiction, accessible usability, interruptibility, a tiered difficulty and lenient punishment, juiciness, which is “excessive positive feedback for every successful action the player performs” (Juul 50). Does Smash fit in this casual framework? Not really, but there are some casual components that Smash is built on. First, most Smash characters—save Solid Snake, Samus Aran, Ganondorf, and a few others—come from positive game worlds like the Mushroom Kingdom, Kirby’s Dreamworld, or Pikmin, even if these positive fictions mask a lot of cartoon violence. Second, Smash is very much a game of controlled short bursts of playing with the multiplayer mode being designed as a series of short matches that can have time limits. Turning off Smash only means leaving a single match that can easily be re-created later (unless you’re in single player mode, which, again, is a series of matches that are easily reproducible). There’s no story or large time investment Smash requires up front (unless you’re playing the Subspace Emissary in Super Smash Bros. Brawl). The units of play are quick morsels of action, not a full course RPG meal. Third, Smash has a tiered difficulty system in terms of its overall controls, where players can learn more and more advanced moves (wave-dashing and such) if they wish, or keep spamming down+B with Pikachu. However, these controls aren’t necessarily “easy to learn, hard to master” (Juul 41). With a GameCube controller, there are about 7 buttons along with the move stick that controls a player’s actions, as well as directional variants for each button; for a Wii remote held horizontally, there are 3 (4, if you like taunting) and a directional pad, which simplifies the control schemes a bit. However, Smash’s controls aren’t easy to pick up and play right away. In order for someone to learn Smash, it takes a lot of lectures from other players and playing the game over and over again. Then, after someone learns the basics, competitive mastery (wave dashing, timing tilts, etc.) is lightyears away. I do mean that in terms of time commitment and physical impossibility (for me, at least). The game further contradicts casual standards by not rewarding players for every single action (juiciness). Smash doesn’t hold the player’s hand nor reward every action. So, Smash scores a 2.5 (somewhat positive fiction, interruptibility, tiered difficulty) out of 5 on Juul’s Casual scale. 

Smash is an interesting example of how blurry the distinction between casual and hardcore games really is. Smash appeals to many and doesn’t exclude based on its cartoonish atmosphere; however, Smash can offer dedicated gamers an arena of competitive mastery and genuine challenge. In this way, Smash toes the line between casual and hardcore to large financial and critical success. 

Works Cited:

Juul, Jesper. “Ch.2: What is Casual?” A Casual Revolution. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010. Web PDF. 

“Top Selling Software Sales Units.” Nintendo: IR Information. Nintendo, 30 June 2016. Web. Date accessed: 3 Oct 2016. https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/en/sales/software/3ds.html

A New Challenger Approaches! (Intertextuality) – Ryan Rotella

Intertextuality, an oft used literary term, finds its digital home in a game series that most people don’t associate with literature: Super Smash Bros. This game is one of the most well known fighting games in existence. A large reason for Smash’s popularity (aside from being contagiously fun) is due to the unity of so many different video game characters from so many different kinds of games on one simple game. Super Smash Bros. has a history of having famous and lesser known Nintendo characters included. The first iteration (Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64) had 12 playable characters (four of them having to be unlocked during the game), having famous flagship characters such as Mario and Pikachu to characters such as Ness from the quirky SNES RPG, Earthbound (source: http://www.ssbwiki.com/Super_Smash_Bros.) In this latest version for the Wii U, the game has 58 playable characters (7 who are only available as downloadable content) with a variety of non-Nintendo characters like Mega Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Solid Snake. A majority of these characters have stages (where the game is played) that reference other characters and imagery from that world’s series. The sheer range of the players available (and games referenced) emphasizes how Smash functions as a space unlike any other, where characters from very different universes can interact with each other and worlds of different games can communicate with each other. 

Bowser (Super Mario Bros.), Link (Legend of Zelda), Village (Animal Crossing), Fox (Star Fox), Mario (Super Mario Bros.), Pikachu (Pokemon), Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong), Kirby (Kirby’s Dreamworld) on a stage in homage to Super Mario Galaxy

Now, the main point of intertextual communication in this game is twofold and both folds are not what is thought of as “literary.” First, the large roster of characters and video game worlds represented reward experienced video games with allusions and references to all these other games. This gives the dedicated gamer a chance to show off all his video game knowledge in front of his friends (thanks, Nintendo). Second, all these characters participate in the age-old question: who would win in a fight? This question has been discussed in most other mediums with any character tied to power or violence: for books, who would the gods favor in a one-on-one match up: Achilles or Aeneas; for comic books, Superman and [insert any comic book character]. The list could go on indefinitely.

Primitive version of Super Smash Bros. on a Grecian urn

With video games being such a diverse and sprawling horde of action-oriented games and genres, the question of who the most powerful/best/awesome character acquires a special weight. It has this weight to it because in a game like Smash, players can answer it for themselves in a way that ultimately rewards one player’s skill and opinion. Unlike the function of intertextuality in literature which uses another text’s ideas as auxiliary support or contrast with a text’s ideas, intertextuality is a main foundation of Super Smash Bros. In a way, this representation celebrates all the different kind of characters and games the gaming world has to offer. All sorts of games unite under one fun fighting game to see which characters the players (AKA the audience) can relate to, despise, laugh at, or love. Also to see who can strike the best pose (hint: it’s King Dedede).

(Soft jazz plays)
(Soft jazz plays)