Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Games We Play: A Look at Gaming in Society.

In recent years, computer games has grown greatly as a medium. From their early roots in the arcades of the late seventies and eighties,  gaming has since moved into the houses of the world,  be it through consoles or personal computers, and become a multi-million dollar industry. This does not, however, make them a widely accepted form of entertainment. In series 3, episode 2 of his Screenwipe programme, journalist and presenter Charlie Brooker said that, while films and even cookery is considered acceptable and cultured mediums to discuss over the dinner table, conversation about computer games inevitably leads to those involved being “automatically branded a sad spotty nerdo-geek virgin with the cultural sensibilities of a spoon.” While Brooker writes to entertain, and this statement is obviously exaggerated for comical effect, the point still remains valid. Why is gaming treated like a black sheep when films, books and television continue to thrive as serious artistic works?

At the moment, there are a wide variety of gaming platforms that allow anyone to experience and enjoy the hobby as and when they please. Not only are there the more traditional consoles such as the Xbox 360, Sony’s PlayStation 3, or even personal computers, but there are also consoles which use far less traditional methods of interaction. The Nintendo Wii, a huge step forward in opening gaming to a wider audience, replaced the button-based controller that might have isolated people from gaming with a somewhat more interactive movement-based controller. This allowed players to enjoy more casual games, in particular those based around imagination and sports. Handheld consoles have experienced a similar divide, with the Sony PSP continuing the button-based gaming of pervious generation’s Gameboy, and Nintendo again reinventing interaction between player and game through the use of the DS’ touch screen interface. In the past few years, people have not even required high-powered, dedicated machines to play games on. With over 60 million active monthly users, Zynga’s FarmVille application for Facebook allow people to game without the need to invest a lot of money into the hobby, as they are free to Facebook users. The games itself has drawn in over 60 million monthly players, according to the application’s page. Finally, massively-multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft and EVE Online make billions of dollars every month from subscription fees and sale of in-game items, as well as sales of the game itself. With so many avenues for people to explore games through, why are they treated like such a taboo subject?

Fig. I: FarmVille, the hugely popular, free to play Facebook game.

The problem with gaming’s perception in the public eyes seems to rest partially in the hands of the media. Frequently, gamers are portrayed as angry loners, striking out at those around them. There have been a number of articles run over the years condemning gaming and gamers, and a number of links between the hobby and violent crime made. Perhaps the most well-known case in the UK was that revolving around the killing of 14 year old Stefan Pakeerah and Rockstar game Manhunt in 2004, which led to the game being banned. Recently, following the events surrounding Raoul Moat, the Daily Star ran an article that claimed, amongst other things, that Rockstar were making a game based around the event. Though the Daily Star soon admitting that this was false and apologised, saying that they had not checked the sources used or indeed questioned why such a game would be made, the journalist who wrote the article goaded adult gamers on his own website, challenging them to “a virtual reality duel”. These are not isolated to the UK, and a number of studies have attempted to link popular shooting game Counter-Strike with school shootings across the world. Alongside these links, outspoken authority figures have been highly critical of computer games; Michael Atkinson, former South Australian Attorney-General, strongly opposed violent video games during his time in office, refusing to introduce a R18+ certification on video games. He also said, during an interview, that he felt more threatened by gamers than he did by biker gangs. Another figure to take a stance against violent gaming is former lawyer Jack Thompson, who has often strove to have games such as Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto and Canis Canem Edit (otherwise known as ‘Bully’) banned, due to their violent content. Both these figures were in positions that commanded a certain level of respect, and so directly influential over media, and capable of getting their voices heard and so influencing those who hear them. It is through the media that those not overly interested in gaming receive the vast majority of their news and, if only these views are allowed to be published, then the majority of people will be exposed to biased opinion, rather than information that might shed a different light on gaming.

Fig. II: Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series, often noted for its 
controversial content.

A number of studies have also appeared, particularly in the last ten years as gaming has become more realistic, claiming games negatively affect those who play them. This research is often related to violence in games; Dr. Warm (2000) carried out research that shows violent tendencies in people who played two different games containing varying levels of violence. Meanwhile, other research continues to state otherwise; work by Barnett et al (2008) showed that those who played online game World of Warcraft are more likely to feel tired, rather than angry, after 2 hours of playing. Some research, however, takes a more middle-ground approach to the issue, with one study by Weis and Cerankosky divided a group of pre-teen boys into two groups, giving one group a console and 3 ‘all age’ games. When they returned four months later, they discovered that those without the console had a better grasp on reading and writing skills than those who had been given them. They did, in spite of this, stress that technology is not dangerous itself, but rather dangerous if overused. It is this view, in my eyes, that is best to be taken, as it is with all types of technology.

One might notice that the majority of games mentioned here carry an age rating designed to restrict access younger gamers may have to them, and in turn have them played only by older teenagers and adults; ages 15 and older, at a minimum. This rating system is often identical to that used on films, and it is illegal to sell a rated game to a person below that age, as it is with films. During a segment on the sex scenes in Bioware’s Mass Effect game, American news channel Fox News commented on how, while many young adults play computer games, their children are likely to experience games that they might not have access to otherwise while playing unsupervised. While this is true, the exact same can be said of films or television shows, and while games are a more interactive medium, a gory video game set during a zombie apocalypse is just as unsuitable for young gamers as a gory film or show on the same subject matter would be for a young watcher.

Fig. III: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a 2010 film that uses a number
of gaming elements to tell the story.
Nonetheless, games have become far more accepted and even incorporated into modern media, especially films and television shows, than they were a decade or so ago. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a new film based on a comic book series, uses video games as the basis for a number of jokes as well as the plot itself. Animated shows like The Simpsons and Futurama, also use a number of video game jokes based on games. There are also a number of books based on video game franchises, including Halo and Assassin’s Creed. With gaming as a growing media, it is unsurprising that elements of it appear in other areas. However, these are often aimed at the stereotypical gaming audience (namely, teenage to young adult males) and so it is difficult to have these seen by people outside this age group. The rise of ‘geek culture’ in recent years, with superhero and Sci-Fi movies becoming incredibly popular as well as comedies such as The Big Bang Theory and The IT Crowd focusing on geek social groups, means that this type of material is being seen by a far wider group of people.

So why is gaming considered such a strange thing to enjoy? Though negative studies appear to show the dangers of gaming, there are those that show otherwise. It would seem, therefore, that the major problem that the gaming industry faces in being taken seriously is breaking through the bad press generated by those who paint a negative picture of it. Recent exposure in film and television seem to be assisting this, as well as a number of games that break typical views of what the hobby involves. It may be a number of years yet, however, before games can take their place amongst the other parts of our cultural landscape.

  • Fig. I.:   Copyright
  • Fig. II.:  Copyright
  • Fig. III.: Copyright

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Productive Summers

Currently replaying through Tales of Vesperia. I blame the job market. It's a good thing that this game is awesome, and has some of the funniest lines and likable characters I've seen in any media.

Seriously, if you own an xbox or a PS3, you have no excuse not to play this game. Do it, now! I'll wait... In the meantime, let us all enjoy the opening video to it, with a cracked song to boot.

I wonder if there's a stage version. If so, I wonder if we could put it on in LUDS. If not, I wonder if I could write one, and we could put it on in LUDS. Win-win, I say!

Peace out,

P.S. That is the way I end my LiveJournal entries, for those reading both.

P.P.S. If you are reading both, you're sadder than I am. Well played.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Magical Me.

No matter what this title might suggest, this entry is not written by Gilderoy Lockheart.

I went to a Magic: The Gathering tournament this weekend. It's a card game, and before anyone questions it, that is the sort of thing that Pokemon was. Now, let's move on.

Came 17th place, out of 20. No, that doesn't mean I suck, it means that I'm just not incredible. 5 round, best of 3 for each. Won 1 rounds, tied 1, lost 3. For anyone who plays, my deck was thus:

6 Forest.
3 Greypelt Refuge.
2 Jungle Shrine.
3 Kazandu Refuge.
4 Mountain.
4 Plains.
3 Terramorphic Expanse.
25 land.

2 Ant Queen.
2 Mycoloth.
4 Nissa's Chosen.
4 Rip-Clan Crasher.
3 Soul Warden.
2 Qasali Ambusher.
4 Wild Nacatl.
4 Woolly Thoctar.
25 creatures.

3 Lightning Bolt.
4 Naya Charm.
3 Oblivion Ring.
10 spells.

2 Act of Treason.
3 Angelsong.
2 Demolish.
3 Nature's Spiral.
3 Pacifism.
2 Relic of Progenitus.
15 sideboard.

I wonder if there's a way of formatting certain parts of a blog into columns... Ideally, that would take up less space and have the 10 spells and 15 sideboard cards in column next to the land and creature cards. What can you do, eh?

If there is, though, I will some day return here and make those columns! My blog will, as it were, suit up. Awesome...

This blog...

... It will likely be pure rambling. I hope it will someday evolve into something more eloquent and profound.

That, or a Pidgeot.