Posts in: GS222

Videogames, Aesthetics, and Culture In Review

As an aspiring Film and New Media Studies major, I did not expect to become so enthralled with the concept of new media or media studies.  I begrudgingly accepted that I would have to take classes like Intro to Media Studies and Videogames in order to ascertain the title of “Film Major.” I showed up for Intro to Media Studies on the first day of block five, ready to get my (soon-to be) major requirements out of the way. But by the end of the first week of class, I knew I had misjudged the department in more ways than one.

First of all, I expected Intro to Media Studies to be an easy, breeze-by class.  I quickly realized Scott is not a breeze-by class kind of professor. He assigns hefty readings, two quizzes, responses to readings and discussions, and a five to six page paper or project. Every week. But here’s the thing about Scott’s class: you don’t necessarily realize how much work you are doing because the class is just so damn cool. Scott knows how to mix up a class and keep us students interested. One day during Videogames we went to the Mantiou Springs Penny Arcade, where we examined the difference between social and personal gaming, and played some sweet vintage games. On other days Scott would show films and we would discuss their relation to videogames (which were probably my favorite days of class).

Before Intro to Media Studies I would never have dreamed of taking Videogames. I was the pestering neighbor that constantly asked the people across the hall to turn the volume of Super Smash Bros or Halo down, usually with little to no success. Even coming into the class I looked down on videogames as a cultural medium in comparison to, lets say, film. But the class discussions, viewings, readings, and conversions with my class members, have once again altered my perspective on new media and my greater understanding of “reality.”

Videogames are an art form just like film, painting, or writing. Much of what we discussed in the first two weeks of class is the concept of videogames as a narrative form. Some theorists say no, same say yes. I would say both. Videogames definitely lack specific aspects of traditional narrative, like a structured temporal sequence. But so do some films! Anyone who has seen Weekend, a film directed by Jean-luc Godard, PLEASE try to explain any sort of the temporal sequence to me because I could not find it. And don’t individual, physical experiences create a narrative that changes from person to person? We each start the game, play the game, then end the game. We create a “temporal flow” based on our interactivity with the game. And in doing so, we create our own personal narratives within another world.

On greater scheme, don’t all of our actions play into “the game of life?” As corny as this sounds, ever since Scott assigned McLenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory last week, it has become difficult to find aspects of life that do not play into some larger “game.” We follow boundaries that are at times as irrational as the lines on a football field. We collect tokens, overcome obstacles, and defeat enemies, just like the storyline of most videogames. You might consider the world of videogames to be “un-real,” narrative, destructive, all of the above. But before you criticize the latest version of Assassins Creed or Cod Mod, take a step back and think about the world we live in.  Yes, the virtual nature of videogames distinguishes the world of gaming from the world of the physical. But in “reality,” are the two worlds truly that different?


To keep everyone preoccupied over Spring Break…

Recommended Reading:

Johan Huizinga “Homo Ludens”

Mckenzie Wark Gamer Theory

Markku Eskelinen “Towards Computer Games Studies”

Jane McGonigal Reality is Broken


Recommended Films:

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters


Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


Recommended Games:

Ms. Pac-Man

The McDonalds Game


Donkey Kong


Super Super Mario Bros.

For our latest project, two classmates and I collaborated on a creative project that combined game theory with Super Mario Bros. One aspect of videogames that I have found particularly interesting in class is the arbitrary world that the game-makers create. In this video we try to demonstrate the irrational goals and boundaries of videogames by taking Super Mario Bros to the next level: real life. I’ll let the video do the rest of the talking!

Credit to Reid Pierce, Kate McManus, Caroline Myers, and Kiko Sweeney

Videogames, Aesthetics, Culture/Violence by Design

For the first half of class on Thursday, our class merged with the class down the hall, Violence by Design, to partake in a discussion that I found truly productive and enlightening about violence and culture. Overtly, the two classes could not be more different in the application of violence to class material. Even though we study a brutal medium in Videogames, we try to avoid the topic of violence in gaming. Yes, there is violence in videogames, but that does not mean that a gamer will go out and shoot somebody; there are plenty of other social and mental reasons why that might occur. Too often society blames videogames. On the other hand, Violence by Design confronts problem of violence everyday in class.

The class began with a discussion of Gus Van Sant’s film Elephant, which both classes had watched.  Elephant provided a great baseline for a discussion about the presence of violence in many forms of media. It was very interesting to compare the reaction of the Videogame class to Violence class. After playing over a dozen games in the past two weeks it would be impossible to overlook how the camera placement in the film mimics the perspectives in gaming. However, the most members of Violence class watched the film unaware of the distinctive point of view and focused on the characters.

But the discussion quickly extended beyond an examination of the film. From there, the we naturally flowed to topics that have been present in both classrooms. We considered the relationship between drone warfare and videogames, lack of physical consequences, and most interestingly mediation. From my understanding, Violence by Design, a Dance/Drama class taught by Marie Davis-Green, uses meditation as a class exercise to attempt to find a peace within oneself away from violence and technology. When Marie brought this concept up, one girl in the class began to argue that vidoegames can be a form of meditation. Especially after taking this class, I never would have drawn a parallel between the two outlets. However, the more she discussed her expereince with meditation the more I realized how similar videogames and mediation might be. The student maintained that the focus necessary for videogames is also necessary to meditate: your mind needs to be centered on one, specific task. I have always considered mediation as a form of stress-relief, and my personal experience with videogames has been anything but. When I offered this opinion, the girl countered with the fact that mediation can be very stressful, especially when you begin the practice. These two activities carry such conflicting social connotations, but in actuality they share many characteristics. Not everyone in the class agreed with this opinion, but I found it incredibly enlightening to draw similarities between activities I regard as so different.

An impromptu and totally voluntary discussion about the merging of the two classes immediately commenced after Violence by Design left our classroom. Some people, like myself, throughly enjoyed the conjunction of the classes. Others thought that it had a distinctly anti-videogame vibe, which some found alienating. Marie was critical of violence represented in videogames, yes, but she was critical of violence in culture as a whole. What I think what was most significant about the convergence of the classes was not the positions that individuals or teahcers took, but that the fact that it fostered discussions that extended beyond class time.

Not so different after all

On Friday after a shortened class of Videogames: culture and aesthetics, I stuck around Cornerstone 301 with a couple people from my class. From 10:30 to noon I had one of the most productive conversations about videogames of the block thus far.  The discussion challenged my former assumptions of medium, especially the culture that surrounds gaming. The more I talked with my peers, the more I realized that film and videogames, and specifically the social worlds of the two the mediums, are much more similar than I realized. Before this class, I considered film a much “higher art” than videogames. But ultimately the mediums parallel each other in too many ways to be unrelated. A couple members of my class were trying to describe the differences between “hardcore gamers” versus “casual gamers” within the videogame subculture. Hardcore gamers play videogames everyday, try for high scores, and incorporate videogames into other aspects of their lives. On the other hand, casual gamers pick up a controller every now and then. The same social structure exists within the film community. There are some audience members (such as myself) for whom film pervades every aspect of life. But for the most part, movie-goers fall under the category of  “casual” audiences.

I also learned that the industry behind videogames parallels the movie industry unlike any other professional sector, except maybe music. The film industry has become notoriously difficult to succeed in. Little known to me, the same insane professional culture exists in the videogame industry. You could produce a game that receives massive amounts of critical acclaim one year and the next produce a total flop. Videogames, like films, demand a high level of art while trying to appeal to mass audiences, a very difficult accomplishment. I had formerly considered my obsession with movies, watching and making them, as so different than videogame obsession.  But the truth is that film community is just as “hardcore” as the gaming community, and the similarity is worth exploration and celebration.

Tot Terror!

Assignments so far, for those of you who want to read up on some gamer theory or try to beat our high scores!

Readings: “Homo Ludens” by Johan Huizinga, “Man, Play, and Games” by Roger Callois, “the Origin of Species by Stephen Poole, and three chapters of half-real by Jesper Juul

The Videoames: Space Invaders, Lunar Lander, Battlezone, and Missile Command