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Posts Tagged ‘video game’

My last post on this topic generated more real world discussion than the rest of my posts put together. I want to clarify a few things and add one more point.

There are layers to the way a game can be analysed. Like a novel, a game has character, setting, plot, theme, and style. Analysing what these convey about the idea of belonging is the first layer. Like a film, a game has visual and aural elements: colour, depth, music, camera angle, shot length, and dialogue. Analysing these is the second layer. Unlike a novel or a film, the audience is more than a reader or a viewer, she is a PLAYER. Analysing the experiences of the player is the third layer.

User Generated Content

Some games, most notably Little Big Planet, the Sims games and the all consuming Minecraft, offer players the opportunity to do more than interact with the world of the game, they offer the opportunity to build it. These games aren’t really my area (I prefer novels and films where the composer has done most of the work for me) but if they’re yours, it is worth considering the level of engagement you have within a game where the sense of achievement comes not only from conquering the world but also adding to it.

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The Area of Study in the HSC requires students to choose related texts. It’s generally a good idea to choose at least two texts that are different text types from your core text and from each other. For example, if your core text is Immigrant Chronicle, choose a novel and a film, or a short story and a website. But what about video games? Video games are probably the most engaging text type for a large proportion of HSC students. The problem is that most students (and most teachers) don’t know how to analyse them effectively. Here are some tips with examples.

In a video game belonging can result from character or mechanics. The very best games use both strong characterisation for the player-character and of other characters in the world and game mechanics that draw you into the game. For a game to work for the AoS, the story needs to be about belonging or offer an element of belonging through the player-character.

Character

Games often have a player-character who doesn’t belong. They are a loner because only they can save mankind, turn back the tide etc (otherwise, why are they doing it?) There is to be something special about the character and therefore marginalising and alienating. What is this attribute and how is it shown within the game?

Adam Jensen, the protagonist of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, undegoes a series of augmentations that enhance his physical attributes but also make him an outsider in a world suffering moral panic over the ethics of transhumanism. One way his uniqueness is expressed in the game is through his name: Adam is a biblical allusion to the first human, suggesting that augmentation is the way forward for the human race but also that it may result in moral degradation. It is also relevant to note that Adam, although portrayed as the father of humanity in the Bible, begins life alone.

Other aspects of belonging/not belonging to look for in the protagonist and other characters include:

  • shared purpose (World of Warcraft)
  • belonging in a personal relationship (Mass Effect 2)
  • estrangement from family (Red Dead Redemption)
  • feeling out of place/time (Assassin’s Creed)
  • cultural marginalisation (Dragonage)
  • individual enriching a community (Fable II)
  • alienation from a community (Fallout 3)

The above list is just a starting place for you to see some possibilities. Although novels and films also engage viewers through the experiences of characters; it is games that draw the player in and give them some control of the story.

Mechanics

Game play draws players into the world of the game and, more than other text types, offers a sense of belonging through textual engagement because the player is an active participant rather than a passive observer. There are a number of ways games offer a sense of belonging within the text to players.

Character Customisation: many games, mostly RPGs, allow you to make choices about your character. These range from basic (playing Commander Shepard as a male or female character in Mass Effect) to complex (the thousands of combinations available in World of Warcraft). Customisation allows players to have a character that they feel reflects themself, or an ideal or otherwise repressed version of themself. Many games also allow further customisation of the character–learning new skills, or buying new clothing and equipment–as the player levels up. This continual reward enhances a player’s feeling of connection to and belonging within the game.

Discoverable Items: older games only allow players to interact with a limited number of objects. Newer games tend to offer more discoverable items, allowing the player wider choices as to what may be important and also enhancing the modality of the player’s experience of the world. Compare an old platformer like Commander Keen, where the player-character could only move in two dimensions and only interact with enemies and bonuses, with the more recent Little Big Planet, where many of the levels have a limited third dimension (fore, mid, and background), allowing the player greater interactivity and connection.

Point of View: video games may offer first person or third person viewpoints. In first person (most often seen in first person shooters or FPSs) the player is the character, or rather, the camera is the character. This view limits the player to what the character sees. This can be very effective in games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where the player can experience that character’s disorientation first hand. That is not to say that games in third person cannot also offer the player a strong sense of connection; however, the perspective of the game is worth commenting on in you responses.

Emergent Game Play: this is a fairly recent innovation in games and what it means is that the choices you, the player, make within the world of the game have meaningful consequences within that world. This is, in my opinion, one of the most engaging aspects of modern games. Emergent game play ranges from a non-player character noticing your new hat in Fable, to your entire experience of Mass Effect 2 being shaped by the decisions you made at the end of Mass Effect.

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