Items tagged “games&rdquo
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maura @ 10:37 pm
Not too long ago for family movie night we watched Wreck-It Ralph again (we’d seen it in the theater last xmas). It’s a surprisingly good movie for a Disney not Pixar outing: contemporary enough for today’s videogame kids to find it fun and funny, with lots of nice touches for us old people who actually used to play games in arcades, too. Plus the extended meditation on homonyms duty and doody — what 11 year old (and his parents) wouldn’t find that hilarious?
Ever since then I’ve been thinking about one of the central features of the movie, in which the heroine, Vanellope van Schweetz, spends most of the movie as a “glitch” — a character who is literally unhooked from the main codebase of the game and hops around in the gamespace every time she glitches. Not to give too much away (spoiler alert!), but in the end she triumphs and regains her status as a fully-enmeshed game character (in fact she turns out to be the main character of her game, Sugar Rush). But she also decides to retain her glitch, pointing out that her glitch gives her power that the other characters don’t have, power she can use to her advantage as she races in the game.
I’m sure there are
millions dozens of academic papers being written on Wreck-It Ralph as we speak — it really was a fascinating movie on lots of levels, plus fun to watch. What I’ve found myself chewing over since we watched it again is this idea of the existence of a “glitch” in videogames. I hear Gus and his friends talk about glitches and glitching all the time, and the fact that Disney included the concept of glitch so prominently in a major movie suggests that videogame enthusiasts likely all know and understand the term.
What does a glitch mean to gamers? Usually when I hear Gus and pals discuss glitches they’re annoyed or even angry: something in the game hasn’t gone as they expected so they exclaim “ah, the game glitched!” In my observation the “glitch” is used to characterize both unexpected game behavior and the occasional player mistake — sometimes “it glitched!” really translates to “I didn’t mean to do that!” I’ve come to wonder whether the existence of glitches in videogames isn’t a bit like saying you didn’t get the email. It’s 2013 — really, most of the time the email goes through, I’d wager only a very small number of emails truly get lost in the ether.
The temptation to blame player error on glitching is strong, I know. Jonathan, my brother and I play Carcassonne on our phones, and of course you sometimes make a move you didn’t plan to, or forget to put a meeple on your tile before ending your turn. It’s easy to get distracted with a turn-based internet game played on a phone in the odd moments of the day, easy for a finger to slip or for the best place for a tile to elude you until it’s too late. Sometimes I too curse “glitch, glitch!”
I’ve been wondering whether the existence (and prominence) of glitch is a way for players to reconcile themselves with the distance between the player and the gamespace required of videogames. With a board, card, or other analog game it’s not only obvious to the other players when there’s a player error, it’s also recoverable: if all players agree to it, the error can be erased and the player can have a do-over. In turn-based multiplayer videogames a do-over is usually not possible, and it’s sometimes not possible in single-player games either (though you could consider the opportunity to play the game repeatedly as a do-over of sorts). The only do-over in a multiplayer videogame is a complete restart, which the other player(s) might not be willing to agree to. The barrier for do-overs is much lower in meatspace — there’s (potentially) not as much impact on the other players.
So maybe that’s the ultimate role of the glitch: a way for players to save face when they make a mistake in a game that they cannot correct or undo, to give themselves agency in the face of aspects of the game they can’t control?
maura @ 10:38 pm
Last weekend I finally got back to Journey, one of the Playstation 3 games we got for xmas (along with the PS3 itself). I played most of the way through on Saturday night then finished it Monday. It was amazing, incredible — the reviews are all spot-on, the awards well-deserved.
You play as a gender-neutral person (yay!), plopped down in a desert with a huge mountain in the distance. The game essentially involves walking through what you gradually realize is a ruined city to get to the mountain. There are small challenges to figure out along the way which allow you to progress, but the game is more about the atmosphere — visual, audio, your movement — than solving puzzles. It’s absolutely gorgeous: time progresses from morning to night throughout your journey and the colors shift accordingly. You can walk along the sand (or slide down hills, which is delightful!) but also, sometimes, fly — the amount of time spent flying is determined by how long your scarf is. Finding glyphs on each level lengthens your scarf, and flying cloth creatures of various sorts, some incredibly playful, recharge it.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of Journey is that the Playstation’s network pairs you up with another player in real time if enough other people are playing (though you never encounter more than one at a time). I knew about this feature beforehand so it didn’t surprise me when it happened, though it was interesting to see what happened to *my* gameplay when it did. The first time I encountered another player, yo was nearly to the end of solving a puzzle to activate what was needed to move to the next level. I found myself slightly annoyed — I hadn’t had the opportunity to move about and explore everything on that level, and I wanted to hit some of those switches too before moving on. So I exited out of the game and came back in, then progressed through the level the way *I* wanted to. As it turns out, another player joined me again, but this time I’d been in that space for long enough that I was ready to move on, and we crossed to the next level together.
The random other person in your gamespace but not in your living room mechanic is so interesting. It’s a highly meditative game, and even with another player there’s no way to talk or really communicate. I won’t spoil anything by saying that there are times in the game when it’s really, really helpful to have someone else there, when it’s advantageous to be paired rather than alone. But Journey begins, and ends, with solo play. A nice touch at the end is that before the credits run the screen displays the usernames of all of the other players you encountered during your game.
In many ways the real measure of how much I like a game is how soon I think about playing it again once I’ve finished. I think Journey is the first game ever in which I knew I’d play again soon even as the credits were rolling. Throughout your travels the game gives you little clues about what’s happened in that place, though I found them to be fairly opaque on my first playthrough. Gus started playing almost immediately after I finished, and watching him has made many things clear. I’m absolutely looking forward to playing it again. It’s beautiful and sad and amazing, really pushes videogames (especially console games) in some interesting directions.
Lest we leave this post on too much of a reverent note, a funny story: of course the very next day Gus had found the Journey wiki where he could do all the obsessive research he could stomach, just like any child of a librarian/academic would. Jonathan suggested he ask a question on the wiki’s forums about the lyrics for Open Arms, which had both of us old folks giggling while the youngster looked confused. And then we had to remind Gus that Journey is the music playing at the beginning of Tron Legacy when Flynn’s son powers up the video arcade. And then we felt really, really old.
maura @ 8:51 pm
I finally read Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal. Maybe you’ve seen her TED talk, which is 20 pretty enjoyable minutes; I recommend it. The book, which is well-written and fun to read, expands on the basic themes of the talk: lots of people spend lots of time playing games, games make us happy, how can we channel that energy and repurpose that time into solving the big hairy problems facing us and our planet today? The strategy she suggests is to figure out how to make games that can save the world, so we can all spend lots of time playing games and saving the world.
Okay, I’ll grant that I just wrote a really, really simplistic summary of the book. In fact, it’s fairly well-argued and cited, and full of details. And I’m glad I read it. But am I convinced? As you may remember, I’m kind of a fan of games. I should be easy to convince, right?
But I feel like Mulder: I want to believe, so much. But something about it just doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe it’s all of the positive psychology research included in the book. I think of myself as a fairly optimistic person, but I just read something (which of course I can’t find now) which asserts that too much optimism (a strangely American condition?) can actually be bad, because inability to seriously consider the bad things that could happen means that you’re less likely to be prepared if a bad thing does happen. So I guess I feel like it’s good to be optimistic, but not too much, and which makes me less willing to buy in to positive psychology.
I’m also uncomfortable with the corporate ties and funding that such big, giant, world-changing games are almost guaranteed to require. McGonigal’s developed lots of games, some with corporate backing, and some not. I’d rather play a game that grapples honestly (if whimsically) with what’s required to be a global corporation like McDonald’s than play a big game sponsored by McDonald’s.
Unfortunately, finally reading the book reminded me of the negative press it got last summer when it was released. My CUNY Games Network colleague Carlos Hernandez wrote a post about it on our blog, which hits the high points well. Lots of that negative press was pretty sexist, which bugged me at the time and bugs me even more now in our arguing-about-birth-control world. The sexism inherent in the game development industry (about which this is only the most recent piece I’ve read) hardly a secret. But I can’t help but wonder, would the press have been so dismissive if McGonigal were male?
maura @ 9:23 pm
I’ve been trying to convince myself not to write about Gus on here anymore. He’s getting older and it just feels less like something I should do. After all, this is my blag, I should be blagging about me, right?
But then we have a day like today and how can I not blag about it? Thanks to falling back he was up at 6:15am even though there was no school today. (I was up before 6am because that’s how my insomnia rolls lately.) I started in getting ready for work and a bit later he ran into the bedroom to excitedly tell me: “Mom! I just added a wiki page!”
He’s fairly obsessed with a new Kirby videogame that’s just come out for the Wii, and has watched countless YouTube videos and played it at a pal’s house last weekend. Apparently there’s a Kirby wiki out there — who knew? Which Gus found, discovered he could edit, and then wrote an entry about a boss called Water Galbaros. All before 7am. I couldn’t be more proud! He’s been working on that page and others on and off all day, and the page now has images too that other folks have added throughout the day.
Then I went to work, only to come home to the news that Jonathan and Gus had bought a small frying pan (with an egg on the handle, like this!), and that Gus could fry his very own egg. Which he proceeded to do, right before my very eyes. He even sprinkled salt on it from the salt cellar like a proper chef. (And then he ate the egg, also right before my eyes.)
I’m trying not to get all mushy and sentimental but lately I’ve been, well, all mushy and sentimental. He’s just such a great kid, and it’s all going so fast I can’t stand it.
maura @ 10:52 pm
Yeah, it’s a phoning it in kind of evening. But hey, I wrote a (so very short) blag post over on the CUNY Games Network blag about the article that I wrote that just came out yesterday, so that counts, right? Right?
maura @ 11:29 pm
A long time ago in a borough far away (well, maybe just across the bridge), before we were parents, we used to have gaming nights with friends. There was a period of time when we played Magic the Gathering with a couple of pals who would come to our house one night a week. We’d all order food + have a few beers + play a little Magic. We’d listen to music, too, and it was right after the Air album “Moon Safari” came out, the first record I bought of theirs. Good times.
This morning we drove to sleepaway camp to pick up Gus. He spent the first few hours at home obsessively dividing up Jonathan’s old Magic cards into their respective colors, reading each one individually and telling us about all that he learned playing Magic at camp. We didn’t know we were sending him to geek camp! It took 2 hrs to get lunch into him, one bite at a time between the organizing.
He was away at camp for a week, first time ever. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for us all, I think. We were away the week before last with only 2 days at home before camp. And one of the cats, who’s been sick off and on for a while, kicked it up a notch last weekend. It seemed touch and go for a while–can’t really think of a worse pet scenario than the cat dying the first time the kid goes to camp–but luckily the kitty has perked up since he’s been on the meds we got at the vet.
Since Gus has been home it’s been an alternating love + loss fest. He loves us so much! and missed us so much! he’s told us over and over again, but he loved camp so much! too, and misses it terribly! So difficult, this growing up business.
Today I spent most of my time doing ALL the laundry, because kids bring lots of real dirt (TM) back with them to the city from sleepaway camp. When we got there this morning they made a big announcement that they’d found lice on some campers + counselors (which I’d totally planned to check him for anyway), which was just another reason for me to enact LaundryFest2011. Actually it was really sweet: the camp seemed so apologetic about the lice, as if we don’t get a note from school about lice in Gus’s class pretty much every year. And we have that crazy German lice comb so we’re ready to pick the nits.
So far so good: no one seems to have lice, everything’s clean, and the cats and child are sleeping happily. I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep, too.
maura @ 8:53 am
We finally (finally!) saw Tron Legacy last weekend. Xmas prep, Disneyworld, and illness had delayed it for so long I was worried that it wouldn’t be in the theater anymore by the time we had time. But it was, yay! Plus, coffee truck outside of the theater = coffee during the movie, which is totally the way to do a matinee, word.
The movie’s gotten such bad reviews (including this hilarious one from game scholar Ian Bogost’s 8 yr old daughter) that I went in with pretty low expectations. So I’m a bit surprised to report that I sincerely and megadorkily enjoyed the whole dang thing.
First the easy stuff: yes, it was beautiful. And the soundtrack by Daft Punk is fantastic — it took about 48 hrs from the time we exited the movie theater for us to buy it. Good thing, too, as I was in dire need of some new electronica for background noise while I write.
And the easy stuff on the other side: it was definitely too long. The plot was so thin at points as to be transparent, and sometimes the dialogue was beyond cheesy. The nod to open source software at the beginning was HI-larious given Disney’s particular stance on copyright. Gus went through a phase of loving the first Tron* when he was maybe 5 or 6, but he was frankly bored by much of the new movie. Which was kind of a drag.
* Which we actually own, on VHS, because one of the other perks when working for the Mouse was the opportunity to buy Disney stuff at a discount. I immediately bought Tron and the original Freaky Friday, with Jodie Foster, which ROCKS. Though I do love the remake too.
But I still really, really liked it. I’ve been trying to pull it apart in my head ever since. J said “there were the bones of a good story in there,” and I agree. Though if I’m honest it’s probably less the story than the whole package — I am squarely in the demographic of people programmed (ha!) to like the movie. I had just turned 13 when the first Tron movie was released along with its companion videogame. The movie was visually stunning (for the time), and the game, while kind of lame, was fun enough that I fed it many quarters. I don’t remember much from junior high other than being the typical miserable early teen, but I have vivid memories of the videogame arcade: the layout of the machines, the noise, even the smell. To this day I can tell you that the Tron game (not Deadly Discs, the other one) was in the second room against the wall on the right.
So yes, I fell into the giant nostalgia trap set by Tron Legacy. Really once Sam walked into his dad’s old arcade and turned on all of the machines (ack! Journey!) there was no hope for me. Save yourselves!
P.S. Also the stick that turns into a light cycle or jet was awesome.
maura @ 2:10 pm
OMG my mom made me watch a Tmobile ad the other day with someone singing “The Passenger” and now I am going absolutely nutty wanting to hear it. The Siouxsie & the Banshees version, specifically. I don’t have it on my phone and pandora isn’t cooperating and aiieee!!!
(Okay, found it on youtube, much better now, phew! Also, ripping all of my Siouxsie discs at home, wondering why I hadn’t done so before.)
Over the past couple of days we’ve been playing long distance games of Carcassonne w/my brother. The basic game mechanic is that players draw tiles to create a landscape that includes cities, roads, cloisters, and open spaces (which can be farmed). Each player has 7 little dudes (“meeples,” their real name, is just too twee even for me) to use throughout the game to claim the aforementioned locales as their own and earn points. Some points aren’t earned until the game is over, when all tiles are placed.
It’s been interesting to compare gameplay between the iphone and real life. In the real life version of the game it’s easy to see the entire board and ponder your tile placement options. It’s also a bit more random — while in theory it’s possible to know how many of each type of tile is left in the (facedown) draw pile, in practice you would never take the time to count the tiles and look in the rules to determine the likelihood of drawing that perfect tile.
The phone version has the same rules + mechanics, but there are distinct differences to playing on a 2×4.5 inch screen connected to the internets. When you’re all zoomed in on your tile (which you kind of need to be in order to decide where to put your meeple), it’s impossible to see the whole board once the game’s more than a few turns old. I’ve gotten myself into the habit of zooming way out to see everything, but I still wonder whether the closeup view encourages weirdly spaced-out tile placements. It seems like each of us tends to hone in on a couple of areas and ignore the rest, which I don’t remember doing in the real world version.
Also in the phone version it’s possible to pull up a list of remaining available tiles at any point in the game. This strikes me as sidling up to cheating, though I definitely indulge, especially when it’s close to the end of the game. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this feature has proved extremely helpful to my endgame strategy.
It’s been pretty fun, definitely one of those situations in which you realize the magic of the internets. There’s a great built in chat function, so we can even trash talk when someone draws too many cloisters.
maura @ 10:32 pm
Jonathan and I are playing Carcassonne on our phones. O, this modern world!
Happy Thanksgiving, dudes.
maura @ 10:39 pm
I had thought we were finished with Pokemon, but one of Gus’s pals brought a game magazine on the bus the other day, and Gus read a review of the new Pokemon game Black and White (out now in Japan, not til the spring here in the US), and now he’s hooked again.
It’s not that I hate Pokemon. I do think there are lots of great things about the game, both the video and card versions. There’s memorization — the characters have endless stats and attributes — and organization — in this case, the Pokedex, which indexes all of the creatures you find. There’s math (especially in the card game) since the basic mechanic is 2 characters battling and the one with higher hit points (which can, of course, be added to with powerups and the like) is the winner. And there’s lots of reading, too.
But I do feel like the Pokemon universe is, well, thin. And based more on accumulating stuff in the physical world than many other games. He has a giant pile of cards that he never, ever uses anymore. Indeed, the card game is much more complicated than the videogame, and when he was young enough to want the cards he couldn’t really grok the gameplay. But of course he begged for them when he was into collecting them, endlessly poring over them and strategizing trades with pals.
The videogames, too, encourage real life consumption in a way I don’t like all that much. Often multiple versions of essentially the same game are released simultaneously, and sometimes they only differ in color (e.g. Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire) and a subset of creatures. So even though you’re collecting creatures virtually, your kid will still beg for more than one version of the game.
I guess we have time to deal with this, since the new game isn’t out for a while. But I’m sad that the newfound knowledge of this game has pushed him back into the Pokeverse. His birthday is coming up — maybe one of the new games he gets will drive all those Pokethoughts right out of his head.