Posts tagged game content
So there’s been some press recently on the concept of video games as a form of “art”.
This debate was inspired by recent comments made by film critic Roger Ebert, who claims that not only are video games not art, but that by their very nature they cannot be art. Ebert cites a TED talk given by the lovely lovely Kellee Santiago, who inverts the film critic’s argument by saying that not only will video games one day become art, but that they already are … art.
At the heels of this online debate, comes the news that the US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case this Fall involving the First Amendment protections of violent video games.
This is not the first time that video games have come under scrutiny for issues relating to free speech. It seems like only yesterday that the ultra-violent video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas came under fire for a secret modification that incorporated a fully nude sex scene into the game. The double standard did not go unnoticed by the media. Here was a game that allowed your character to steal cars, murder cops, and beat prostitutes with a baseball bat. But one scene of completely consensual sex was enough to get the moral guardians in a tizzy. More recently, the game: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 became the target of controversy for the inclusion of a mission that allows the player to commit an act of international terrorism on some unsuspecting Russian civilians. (warning, contains really disturbing imagery)
Whether or not video games should be considered “art” is only part of the question. The broader questions are: “Where do video games fall with regard to First Amendment protections?”, and: “Why does it seem that people automatically assume that the only people who play video games are 4 – 12 years old?”. Recent (and even not so recent) studies have already shown us that the average gamer is actually between the ages of 25 – 30, yet public opinion still seems to link “video games” with “kid stuff”. This is why violence in video games has become such a First Amendment issue. Not because they are more violent than your basic Tarantino flick, or that they are more sexually explicit than a Friday-late-night Cinemax movie, but because they’re games; and most people still parse “games” as: “child’s play”.
So where do libraries make the distinction? As self-proclaimed First Amendment warriors, we as librarians have an obligation to preserve the availability of certain materials that others may find objectionable. Yet if we’re hosting game nights for young teens, we might not necessarily want them to orchestrate a terrorist attack on Russian civilians in our children’s section. So how do we reconcile these issues? We can start by recognizing that the medium of video games does not necessarily define the audience; and that not everything with a health bar is family friendly kid stuff. Librarians will defend to the death our right to provide the public with Mapplethorpe, Salinger, and Anne Frank, but that doesn’t mean that we intershelve them with the Doctor Seuss books. ;)
Personally, I would defend video games, even violent ones, as an art form, but only under a very broad definition. Ordinarily, I think of art as something to be enjoyed passively, rather than interactively. In video games, the observer guides the action, and becomes an accomplice in the creation of the art. This does not make video games any less valid than the more discrete forms of art. A masterfully executed level of Tomb Raider can be every bit as beautiful as a perfect game of chess, a Baryshnikov fouetté jeté, a Salvador Dali painting, or a Hendrix solo. But I feel that the interactivity of video games places them into a different sphere of aesthetic appreciation. It is a hybrid of visual art and performance art that defines the participant as collaborator. For this reason, I feel that video games as art form deserve every protection that our Constitution provides. I eagerly wait the foundation of entire galleries devoted to the art of the video game.
Maybe we can get some eccentric billionaire to give us a grant. :)
I’ve written a basic intro to Pokemon for teachers and librarians, a more in depth look at gender roles and violence in the game, and lesson plan ideas using Pokemon as a tool to teach “habitats”. With the USA release of Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver coming on March 14th, the time is definitely right for another post.
Let’s start with the controversy. This controversy transcends Pokemon. The controversy is: “What does Pokemon have to do with reading!?” Or, on that larger scale, “What do video games have to do with literacy?!”. This is the stigma that libraries face not only with video games, but with many forms of media. This is why we have Banned Books Week; this why we are constant advocates for our own roles as librarians. What the controversy almost always entails is a single person (or group of people), without a proper understanding of the specific story’s context of the content they oppose, trying to censor material from all users of a public or school library. The outcome of most of these well-meaning censorship attempts is that the person who tried to censor the material reads it, understands the content in the context of the story, and actually likes the story and withdraws the censorship attempt. This is a very frequent occurrence and I think that Pokemon’s detractors would feel the same way if they spent time within the story, playing the game.
That brings us to content. As a follower of Marshal McCluhan, I always try to hip people to the fact that a distinction must be made between the content of media and the media itself. In this case, the media is “video games” (arguably, “handheld video games”), and the content is “Pokemon” (and more specifically, “The story contained within Pokemon HeartGold”, or whatever Pokemon game you are speaking about). If we understand this distinction between content and the media transmitting the content, we have already raised the legitimacy with which the “gaming-in-schools-and-libraries” discussion takes place.
And as that discussion is raised, it reaches the level that OTHER media has reached in schools and libraries: the literary value of gaming. I don’t need to rehash it completely, but games now have a plot, character development, thematic elements, and interactive narrative devices. This is why the Pokemon franchise can release Pokemon Silver in 2000, and release Pokemon SoulSilver in 2010: SoulSilver is a game with a similar plot and theme, retold using the new character development & narrative devices possible that technology allows for 10 years later. THIS is what Pokemon and gaming-in-general has to do with reading. 8bitlibrary’s Craig Anderson has written more on that subject in LibraryGuyCraig’s review of Batman: Arkham Asylum.
As a little addition to the article (I didn’t know where else to put this), I think the release of HeartGold and SoulSilver is an interesting one. As technology moves forward and more can be “done” with video games, Pokemon as a franchise has taken to “retelling” stories. HeartGold and SoulSilver and RETELLINGS of the stories contained within Pokemon Gold and Silver, which were released for play on the “inferior”-to-DS hardware system Gameboy Color. These new game are not really “remakes” of the old games; these are new games telling the same story. This reflects the true nature of video gaming: a modern storytelling medium. One of the library’s most important roles in the community is “storyteller”. From baby storytime lapsits to book discussion groups for seniors to archiving the local history of the community, libraries are a place to tell story. This is why Pokemon belongs there.
For me, it all started out with role-playing games. This kind:
I would get together with friends and play Dungeons & Dragons (or similar games) until the wee hours of the morning. At its most basic, tabletop role-playing games like this one are made up of random die rolls and statistical number-crunching. You meet a Bugbear, it has 30 hit points. Your sword does 1-10 points of damage. Roll a ten-sided die. [roll] You roll a 7. The Bugbear has 23 hit points left. Lather, rinse, repeat.
But tabletop role-playing games were always more than just a numbers racket for me. Sure, you can play any of these games, and get a great deal of enjoyment from just rolling the dice until the monsters drop dead. But most nerds (like me) play this games with just a little more panache.
“Foul beast!” said I, “Thou willst taste the steel of my mithril blade before sunrise!” and with that I swung the sword of my father at the creature’s fanged visage. Next to me, I saw the elf-mage Karislok assume a steadfast pose and mutter the arcane words of an ancient binding spell. I knew that the monster would not defeat us this day …”
For my friends and I, the game was not about rolling dice, it was about the storytelling. We would get together every Saturday night for the social interaction and the immersion. Rolling dice and doing arithmetic was not our idea of a good time. Running through forbidden forests and vanquishing dragons was what got our blood pumping.
As time went on, however, it became more and more difficult for us to get together for our Saturday game nights. We went away to college, met actual girls, got married, some of us started families. Keeping up the old contacts just became more and more difficult.
Sometime during the mid-90s, I discovered Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. Most people just call these (MMORPGs) The first one that I experienced was EverQuest. The user (that’s you) would create a character and enter a 3-dimensional virtual online world. It was just like playing any other fantasy-based video game, but in this environment, you could interact with other players. If you saw a monster that was too tough for you to fight alone, you could team up with a few of your friends and gang up on the poor thing. Then you split the treasure and go on to the next monster. The monsters were all controlled by the computer, so there was none of that tedious die-rolling or statistics. You just click on “Attack” and your character keeps swinging. If you want to do something fancy, you click on a spell, or an item, or some kind of specialized attack. But at the end of the day, you get to virtually spend time with friends while hacking monsters into little tiny bits.
But even in these new online virtual world, gameplay was not limited to depopulating the region of monsters. Games like this allowed people to have social interactions as well. If you play at the same time every day, maybe you start to see a few familiar faces. Maybe that Dwarf Paladin you keep seeing in Freeport would like to help you take on the Crushbone Orcs this Saturday. You start to build friendships, you get to talking, and the next thing you know, you’re actually building a social connection with someone you’ve never met in person. People would have virtual weddings and funerals in Everquest. I’ve had friends who would go online just to sit around and chat with other people. Monsters would be running rampant as players would have a heart-to-heart conversation in the middle of a forbidden swamp. In newer games, such as World of Warcraft and City of Heroes, some people form lasting connections to the people that they meet online. Despite being some of the most popular games ever played, much of the enjoyment that people get out of these MMORPGs has little to do with gaming.
Second Life was an attempt to re-create this kind of virtual world from a purely social standpoint. Rather than construct a world full of monsters and magic, the creators of SL just cleared a lot of open space for users. Immersing yourself in Second Life was not meant to be a “game” by any stretch of the word. Even now, many of Second Life’s most strident advocates cringe at the word “game” in reference to their beloved virtual environment. Second Life allows people to create their OWN world. Through the use of simple building tools, you can build your own house, design your own clothes, and even animate your own monsters. Your in-world “avatar” is not limited to such quaint genotypes as “Elf”, “Human”, or “Halfling”. You can literally look like anything you want. The designers of this gam- … er, environment-, encourage player- … I mean residents, to create their own spaces, and to interact with the many other denizens of this virtual space.
For this reason, many educators and librarians have developed a love for Second Life. It allows you to meet students and/or patrons in a virtual environment that carries none of the limitations of e-mail and text chat. You can “see” the person that you’re speaking to, and interact with them. You can create 3-D models of anything you can dream up. You can create classes online, you can re-create other worlds and time periods, and you even socialize with people from around the globe.
This free-form playstyle of Second Life makes it ideal for people who want to immerse themselves in a virtual world where they can look however they want and meet exciting new people. The problem with this paradigm is that not many people “get it”.
For a gamer, someone who looks for the excitement of slaying monsters and gathering treasure, Second Life looks boring. Most people’s first experience with Second Life is a crudely rendered wasteland with a few buildings looming haphazardly on the landscape. In an environment like World of Warcraft, the cities are created by professional game designers who know how to create an aesthetically pleasing environment. In Second Life, anyone can create an object of any size. Don’t get me wrong, there are some brilliant Second Life designers out there who have made some truly breathtaking creations. But the more elaborate a design, the more it drains upon the system trying to render it. So you often have buildings half-created hanging in the air as you’re waiting for the rest of it to appear. This is called “lag”, and it happens when your computer is straining to process all of the details of the virtual world. In other MMORPGs, you are limited to a single server, and only so many people can sign on to the server at a time. So although lag does happen in these games, it is not nearly as frequent. A video game enthusiast who comes to Second Life sees an often poorly-rendered world with too much lag. When this gamer attempts to find something exciting to do, they are usually disappointed. They need to go find their own monsters to fight, since there are none waiting for them as they log in. :(
For those who are unfamiliar with MMORPG environments, Second Life is a big scary confusing thing. Many library patrons remember a time when the most complex video game environment was Donkey Kong. Navigating a full 3-D virtual world is like learning to walk for the first time. The typical gamer can usually figure things out very quickly, but for non-geeks, the great wide open spaces of Second Life are just slightly terrifying. Being immersed in a virtual world in which at any moment you might be approached by a full-scale winged dragon or an anthropomorphic fox sounds like something out of Hunter S. Thompson’s nightmares. Especially since most non-gamers would much rather just pick up a phone and ask you directly how to find scholarly journal articles. Of course some people feel that Second Life is nothing more than a childish video game, that has no business in the world of scholarly pursuits, but we won’t talk about them. ;)
For all the rest of us, Second Life is wonderful. The people that enter Second Life every day do enjoy the bizarre, whimsical characters that they meet, and the rolling psychedelic scenery. I have become good friends with many librarians purely through encountering them in Second Life, and I treasure each of those friendships. But I understand the uphill battle that many librarians face as they attempt to advocate Second Life among their institutions. The true gamers would rather be playing WoW or Call of Duty. They’re not going to want to mix their gaming with their homework. The non-geeks don’t understand why they need to learn how to play a stupid video game just to talk to a librarian. And anybody ON Second Life is too busy doing their own thing to make it over to the good old Info Archipelago.
Second Life, I love ya, but I think we need to find another way of integrating virtual worlds and library science. What way is that? That way is a subject for another post. :)
WHAT? You and your friend (who just happens to be a blog named Blobert) are on a quest on both Earth and Blobolonia (Blobert’s home world) in a quest to defeat an evil emperor. Blobert has the unique ability to shape shift into different forms when he is fed jellybeans. This key ingredient fuels the game play in this puzzle/action game, which was originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989 and recently re-released as a download on the Virtual Console for the Nintendo Wii.
WHY? I’m digging way back with this A Boy and His Blob due to the release of the excellent re-imaging of this title for the Nintendo Wii (review to follow, I’m working on it!). To best appreciate the beauty of the new A Boy and His Blob, you’ve gotta go back to the roots to see what makes the series so special. At times, this game can be both simple and frustrating. You’re solving puzzles with the help of your blob by feeding him jellybeans. These jellybeans will transform the blob into various shapes and tools (think ladders, walls, etc). Sounds like fun, right?
Well, sort of. The game can be highly frustrating at times when you get stuck on a puzzle. With modern games, we’re used to helpful hints popping up in the middle of the game that guide us along. Those kind of hints do not appear in the original A Boy and His Blob and may leave some players frustrated and running for help on the internet.
WHO? Not everyone is going to like this title. Heck, even gamers that are enjoying the re-imagined A Boy and His Blob for the Nintendo Wii may not get into it. However, upon playing this game again I found it to be quite rewarding despite its flaws. What you have at the core of this game is a unique approach, something that is lacking in a lot of games today. Give it a try and keep this in mind. You won’t get another gaming experience like this anywhere else (unless, of course, you’re playing the new version of this game)
PS: Don’t mind the terrible cover art for this game. It’s good for a laugh.
I recently conducted an interview with Jennifer Field, who is the head of the English Department at Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugarland, TX, about how she uses gaming in her classroom:
JP: Hi Jennifer, tell us about yourself!
Jennifer: I’m 32 and I’ve been teaching for 10 years now. I got my BA from Texas A&M and my MLA from Houston Baptist University
JP: How long have you been gaming, and how often do you game currently?
Jennifer: I’ve been gaming since my brother got an Atari for Christmas in the early 80’s. I fondly remember Pong. Depending on what I have to take home to grade or work on, I average about one to two hours 3 to 4 days a week, and usually on the weekends.
JP: Favorite console?
Jennifer: XBOX 360!
JP: You are a teacher who uses gaming as a tool during lessons. Can you give some background on how you do it/your methods?
Jennifer: You have to be able to connect books, themes, and other literary elements to current events and situations that students will understand. From my experience, the current generation of students play games more then they watch movies. I’ve found that by connecting those games to the literature that we read and to the elements that we teach, the students understand and apply themselves more.
JP: Do you have an specific examples of using video games in a lesson?
Jennifer: One example is my teaching method for the Journey of the Hero. I teach British Literature, and almost everything those classes study follows this “Journey”. I used to use Star Wars as a modern example of the Journey (since Star Wars is “based” on the Journey), but not all of my students have seen the original Star Wars movies. Instead, during discussions on the different parts of the journey, I connect Journey elements to the different games that students are playing. Students don’t realize just how much literature affects the games they play, because the teaching community isn’t making these valuable connections for them.
JP: Can you share some game titles you use in classes?
Jennifer: I frequently use Gears of War, Halo, Too Human, and Mass Effect during our Journey discussions. The students then take the next step and make literary connections to other games as well! It’s great to see students connecting Beowulf’s journey to a game’s plot device, or in the middle of a lesson realize Beowulf’s “worth” by connecting it to a familiar story line from a game.
JP: Do you have any plans to expand the use of games in the classroom?
Jennifer: I’m currently planning to use clips from Bioshock to incorporate propaganda and dystopian themes into my next novel unit on Brave New World. If I taught Ayn Rand, I would have a field day, but it’s not on our approved list for Seniors.
JP: How do students feel about having a “gaming” teacher? I know in the library field, avid readers love librarians who are avid readers, and gamers love other librarians who game.
Jennifer: I’ve found that when students know you are a gamer, they feel more free to talk about games with you and they are more excited to participate in class, so there is a bigger personal connection than you get in a traditional educational lecture setting. I’ve even had students that will notice literary things in games and bring them to my attention (JP’s note: an example of students as content providers and creators, vs students as “blank slates to be lectured to”) . For instance, the achievement The Merchant of Venice in Assassins Creed II. I had a kid who actually realized that it was an allusion to Shakespeare!
JP: How do parents and school administration feel about gaming as a classroom tool? Do you encounter problems over content?
Jennifer: I don’t really think they have thought about it much. It isn’t a media that has made its way into the classroom, at least not at the High School level. I do remember reading a few years ago about a school that was using Dance Dance Revolution in their classrooms to combat obesity and get the students active.
I’d love to see games used in school, but I think there are so many questions raised that administrations will be wary of it for a while.
It also depends on the parents. Some parents are all for getting their child to learn no matter the method, while some may not want their children gaming in school. This creates a fine line for implementing it in the classroom.
JP: You have definitely showed us that gaming connects with your students and is a tool that makes learning easier for them. What do you think we can do as teachers and librarians to change the perception that “games are toys for kids?”
Jennifer: Educating the parents, school boards, and administration is the key. I think it would start with a study on the effects of gaming in the classroom. Taking one class and using games and showing the growth of the student’s abilities as it relates to the curriculum standards of the state, and then compare it to a traditional classroom.
JP: In the library world we call that “advocacy”. Speaking of gaming advocacy, would you be interested in sharing gaming-in-the-classroom tips, tricks, or lesson plans with the readers of 8bitlibrary.com?
JP: Great, I am totally looking forward to that! Any closing words on the connection between literacy & gaming?
Jennifer: Games tell a story, which is literature just in a different media. I believe strongly that teachers have to adapt to the current times to effectively help their students learn. As teachers we are taught to teach to all different learning types; visual, auditory, etc. Because of this, gaming becomes a tool that hits all the learning styles of our different students.
JP: Thanks so much for sharing! See you on Xbox Live ;)
IF YOU ARE a teacher who uses console games in the classroom, please get in touch with one of us here at 8bitlibrary.com! We want to share your stories and experiences with others!
“An icy chill seemed to sweep through the room as I heard the inmates speaking among themselves.
Not wanting to be seen, I crept silently close to the walls of the old asylum,
being sure that my body was cloaked in shadow. The open doorway on my left was an opportunity to
get out of sight. The room was empty, save some scattered papers and an old roll-top desk.
Was that a reel of audio-tape on the desk? I picked up the tape and ran a finger across the dusty label:
Arkham Asylum: Interview Tape 1: Edward Nigma: aka: The Riddler“.
No, this wasn’t a scene from the latest DC Comics graphic novel. This was my experience playing in Batman: Arkham Asylum by Eidos Games and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Naturally, I was playing as Batman, the Dark Knight himself, and The Joker was on the loose again. The reel of audio tape that I picked up in that empty room was useless. By “useless”, I mean that it didn’t help me at all in a game sense. I got no extra points for picking up the tape, it didn’t give me any clues on how to find the Joker, or tell me how to defeat the Scarecrow. I could play through the entire game without ever having listened to this tape. When I did listen to this tape, however, what I heard was chilling. It was a psychological interview with The Riddler, one of Batman’s less dangerous enemies. The interview lasted only a few minutes, and played out exactly the way that you’d expect an abnormal psych evaluation to go. The Riddler did not suddenly lash out and attack his therapist, there was no screaming or frothing at the mouth. He just asked the good doctor a simple riddle, and when she confidently answered, he corrected her. It was when he gave the correct answer to this riddle that chills ran up my spine. (in real life) The tape ended, and I continued to search through the mansion, hoping to find the Joker, or one of his minions. The interview tape meant nothing to the rest of that level. It was just a bit of lagniappe, some flavor text to a spook story into which I was fully immersed.
The point to all this, is that this was the point that I started to enjoy this game on a literary level. Sure, I could beat up the Joker’s goons all day, and it was a whole lot of fun. But listening to psych evaluations from Batman’s rogue’s gallery gave me a level of immersion that a thousand well-thrown batarangs couldn’t replicate. Later in the game, while under the spell of The Scarecrow’s neuro-toxin, I began to hallucinate, which added an entirely new dimension to the gameplay. I stopped caring about what kinds of power-ups I had in my inventory, or how many weapons were in my utility belt. I just wanted to see where the story went from here. I knew that Batman would probably win in the end. (he usually does) But I’m curious to see how this narrative plays out. Did The Joker escape from Arkham on his own, or was he working with someone on the inside? How does Dr. Young fit into all this, and is Warden Quincy Sharpe involved. As I continue to unravel the many mysteries of this game, I feel myself drawn in on a visceral level. This is like a novel for me, and not just some silly video game.
There still many libraries that discount video gaming in general as pointless time-wasting. Libraries are, after all, in the business of disseminating information. We as librarians are purveyors of arts and literature, and we shouldn’t be wasting our time playing games. But how is the feeling of apprehension and malaise that I felt while listening to the Riddler’s greatest hits any different from my fear and trepidation while reading Stephen King? Is the excitement I feel when battling Darth Vader in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed really that different from the thrill of confronting Vlad Dracula in Kostova’s The Historian? Yes, I concede that there are many games out there that offer little more than a mind-numbing lather/rinse/repeat of violence and button-mashing. As the game industry matures, however, we are beginning to see a rise of games that contain fully developed storylines and complex plot architecture worthy of a well-written novel. Batman: Arkham Asylum is far from the only game with complex characters and a well-written storyline. Games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Assassin’s Creed 2, and even Brutal Legend have created an immersive storyline that does more than just move gameplay along. Game developers have already realized that their audience includes sophisticated adults and teens who want more than just an pointless game experience. How long will it be before games are able to stand side-by-side with great works of literature in modern libraries?
And then where will we shelve Dante’s Inferno?
I LOVE following Boing Boing when it comes to gaming because they seem to find all the interesting games that happen to slip under the radar (Spelunky and Every Day The Same Dream come to mind). The excellent games on their lists focus on wonderful game play and problem solving, two elements that are KEY to gaming.
(via Boing Boing 01/292010)