Where My “Nerd Girls” At?

•September 27, 2014 • 1 Comment

Professor Clayton asked a question on Thursday that has stuck with me. Are those of us who were excited about Nashville Comic Con, who are into gaming and sci-fi and fantasy, outliers in the Vanderbilt community?

I’d like to say no, outright. But in my last writing workshop we were critiquing a story that made me think of this class, and how I might answer this question, especially in regards to gender. There have already been some posts on female inclusion into the male dominated world of gaming, but I’d like to throw my opinion into the ring as well.

nerd girl

The story was based around the Slender Man stabbing story in Wisconsin, and two high school aged couples that talk about video games, violence, and love. The majority of women in the class, the author included, spent a lot of time distancing themselves from the idea of gaming by saying things like “I really know nothing about it,” or “The only games I play are on the Wii.” There’s obviously nothing wrong with playing Wii, but it seemed like perhaps these women sensed a stigma around being both female and interested in gaming, a big part of “nerd culture”. The author’s female character that was into gaming was characterized as weak and subservient to her boyfriend, a kind of wimpy, clingy mess, who was only interested in gaming because her boyfriend was. I thought to myself: Is this really how other women perceive female gamers? That we’re only into gaming because we want to meet guys, or impress guys, or otherwise connect ourselves with men? Is this how men see us?

glasses

I think that female gamers and Doctor Who watchers and comic book readers are not outliers in the Vanderbilt community. There are probably hundreds of women on campus that enjoy gaming and reading fantasy and watching sci-fi. But I think there is still a stigma in being a “nerd” girl, mostly because the interest in gaming and “nerd culture” is still rooted in masculinity, and women who claim interest are sometimes pegged as imposters. There’s even memes about it!

imposter

So, no, I don’t think we are outliers, but I do think that there are many more women who would enjoy gaming if they felt safe to express that interest without being labeled as “fake geek girls”.

How Important is a Narrative, Really?

•September 26, 2014 • 1 Comment

In class, we’ve discussed the quality and general theme of narrative in modern video games and how well the narratives translate to gameplay. For example, in one of our Coursera videos, the point was raised that LOTRO sticks closely to the storyline of the original text, but does a poor job of translating it into entertaining gameplay. In LOTRO, book I consists mostly of running from one point to another, and while it’s representative of the text, it translates poorly to gameplay. This phenomenon is not uncommon. There have been hundreds of games based in literary work, very few (if any) have translated to a good video game storyline and gameplay.

I’m not at all saying it is impossible for there to be translation between literature and video games, but it seems that the only time it is successful is when the literature is written around the storyline of the video game. For example, The Elder Scrolls has done a fantastic job with their lore. TES is one of the most successful video game series of all time, and in my opinion the best. TES has an extensive, intricate, and fascinating lore woven beautifully into the gameplay that translates into some of the most immersive gaming experiences a human being can encounter. TES, while the best, is not the only example of an excellent narrative in video games.

Games like Red Dead Redemption, Fallout, Bioshock, Grand Theft Auto, and Fable are renowned for the quality of their narrative as well as how entertaining the overall gameplay is, but none hold the title of most played video game in the world. That coveted title is held by League of Legends, and while there is a lore surrounding the characters of the game, it plays no role in the gameplay itself. Each game of LOL starts from the same place and ends in victory or defeat for the respective teams, there is not advancement of a storyline in the game. There are some side quests related to the lore that arise in certain circumstances, but they make little to no difference.

Another games that’s rapidly increasing in popularity is Minecraft. Minecraft is a virtual sandbox involving absolutely no story advancement, the only goal is to survive. The game is starting to replace Legos in child development and in some elementary schools, it has become a part of the curriculum. But why are these seemingly pointless games becoming so popular?

There is one thing that all great stories, no matter the genre, have in common: they end (sorry, fellow GoT disciples, we have to face it eventually). And while a beautiful ending is often what makes a story great, it poses a problem for all gamers: “wat do?” In other words, not every game can have the replay value of TES, and when they end, we are forced to move on. Games with no narrative give us no reason to stop. Every minute of gameplay is completely different, and as the games spread without losing players, the popularity is immense. The success of Minecraft and LOL are indicative of a trend toward story-less games. I still think masterpieces like TES and Bioshock will continue to surface, but the industry’s habit of churning out crap stories in hopes if cashing in will begin to abate. If you’re still skeptical, ask any gamer how interested they are in any game that comes out based on a popular book or movie, the answer will always be “not at all”

-Chall, Anchordown

Women And The Gaming World, also #Gamersgate

•September 26, 2014 • 1 Comment

I’m not going to lie, I approached the whole gaming world with many pre-conceived notions and stereotypes of gaming culture and the very people that played these games. I pictured the overweight, late-twenties male in a stained and dirty t-shirt hidden in his parents’ basement playing games alone for hours, with the reflective glow of a screen illuminating his pasty white skin providing the only light and the quick twitch of his hands on the console being the only sign of life. My perception of the gaming world mostly came from its negative (or at least off-color and sensationalized) portrayal in the media, and specifically Brian from the film The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants (pictured below), which was one of my first introductions to gamers. One of the bloggers on here has already mentioned that the gaming world really seems like a boys-only club akin to something out of a 90s movie, and before I approached the world of gaming, I would say that I agreed 100% with that statement.

from fanpop.com

from fanpop.com

Before I started gaming, I thought my entrance into the culture would be a bombardment of ostracization in the online community. I thought the people playing games would be jerks because I wasn’t a guy; I have to say though, I have been very pleasantly surprised. Please keep in mind that my experience is limited to only a few games, but I have found that people for the most part have been very welcoming and helpful. I guess there isn’t really any way to tell outright that I am a woman, but I think that this gender neutrality is a plus of gaming. In the game, one assumes the identity of his or her avatar, and thus the gender of the gamer is kind of a moot point. Video gaming provides a unique and cool situation in which men and women can compete against each other and be on teams together in a completely equal way, which is more than one can say for most organized sports. So basically video gaming is the utopia of gender equality, right? Right?

Well… not so fast.

The gaming world, especially now, has been getting a lot of flack for a lack of diversity, ESPECIALLY with how the gaming world regards women. I’m spoiled that in LOTRO, I have the option of completely customizing my character to be whichever gender or race I want it to be, but in most games, this is far from the case. In the vast majority of games, one assigned an avatar/ protagonist character from the beginning, which would be okay if men and women characters were generally equally spread as protagonists throughout games, but that isn’t what happens. The majority of games have a male protagonist, and women characters are highly sexualized. Geek Feminism made a list of games and how women are portrayed in them, and the protagonist section is woefully low. It’s missing a few, but considering how many games there are, the message is overwhelming.

You can read their info here: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Women_Characters_in_Video_Games

Sadly, this misogamy is carrying over to the real-life world. While female playership is increasing greatly, some male players seem to be pretty mad that the “boy’s club” aspect of gaming is on the decline. You may be familiar with the “#Gamergate” situation that is currently going on, and if not, the gist is that a female game maker, Zoe Quinn, and another female game critic, Anita Sarkeesian, have been harassed and threatened by members of the gaming community to the point where they have had to flee their homes. You can read more on the situation here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/09/24/349835297/-gamergate-controversy-fuels-debate-on-women-and-video-games

This behavior is unacceptable. Gaming is not a man’s world, it’s everyone’s world, equally. I think the fact that we play using avatars speaks to this. While the characters display sexism, which needs to change, the games themselves are gender blind. The age of the damsel in distress and femme fatale is over. It is time for the gaming community at large to welcome and respect the influx of women that is helping to make it so hugely successful, both online and in the real world.

-Sparling Wilson

Enjoy this satire:

from geeksaresexy.net

from geeksaresexy.net

Mirror’s Edge Made Me Throw Up – A Squid’s Tale

•September 20, 2014 • 1 Comment

(More shaky camera, please make it more shaky)

For years, I’ve felt behind the gaming curve and have always yearned to play the games that have passed me by. I’ve wanted to know what it was like to play deep into the night and this summer I had the opportunity to find out what the magic was all about. So, after years of wanting more, I decided to build my own PC. It turned out to be an absolute beast and I have a strange “this is my baby” feeling about it. Seeing it play modern games at the highest graphics settings gives me a sense of pride and has led me buy a bunch of games in order to catch up on all the graphics, action, stories, and late nights that I’ve never had.

It wasn’t easy but after only a couple weeks of assembling the USS Enterprise I felt like I was ready to dive into gaming. I started with some of the games I saw in magazines and websites that I felt sad to have never played. Instantly some came to mind and I hopped on Steam to compile my library: Skyrim, Total War: Rome, Bioshock, multiple Final Fantasies, Portal, and (last and 100% least) Mirror’s Edge. While I am a huge fan of League of Legends, I really enjoyed taking a break from LoL and grinding through some new adventures. Skyrim, Bio, FF, Total War, Portal, and many other games were a ton of fun – I binged hours of each and still pick up and play them all the time. BUT, I still don’t have to courage to go back to Mirror’s Edge after one horrific night.

The night started like any other night, I was playing some League of Legends but after a few losses I needed to do something else. No friends were able to hang out so I went to my contingency plan and started a new game: Mirror’s Edge. Mirror’s Edge is an action game where the player takes on a first-person view of a character that battles police forces using an arsenal of parkour moves. It’s exciting, fast paced, and has impressive visuals. I started ME with the goal of beating it in a few days, I’d heard the story was short and I thought it would be a quick fun game – I was hilariously wrong. That night, I started strong but after a couplre hours into the game, the parkour visuals and shaky camera was starting to affect me physically. Every time I fell or jumped to a different platform I felt myself having to take a few seconds to recover in order to prevent motion sickness. It was fine though until it got really late and a certain level (about level 5 or 6) starting giving me trouble. Suddenly, every time I fell I became anxious, my head was starting to hurt and I just wanted to beat this stage so I could go to bed.

BUT I COULDN’T.

It was crushing me, jumping around buildings and falling was really making me flash back to the days I would get car sick on family car trips in the summers. I would die, have to restart at a checkpoint and be filled with overwhelming dread. Over and over again the cycle happened. Run; jump; run; jump; MISS A LEDGE AND DIE; sob silently; restart from checkpoint. “Just finish, then you can go to bed. Dear goodness just finish” was all I kept telling myself – I wasn’t having fun….it was kind of like self-inflicted torture. Finally, I get to the end of the level and I find myself having to lay on the floor; the room is spinning and I have officially been defeated physically, in the real world, by a video game. I crawl to the bathroom where the motion sickness sinks its fangs in. I throw up, sit there in self-pity for a little while, wash up and go to bed.

The first thing I did the next morning was go to my computer and delete Mirror’s Edge from my computer – it’s not gone forever but it had to be done temporarily as just the thought of the game made me feel sick. However, I really learned a lot from that experience and wanted to share my lesson. Video games are supposed to be fun, relaxing, and a vacation from reality. Don’t put yourself through an experience where getting through a level is so imperative that you won’t quit until it’s accomplished. Mirror’s Edge is a great game I’m sure, and I plan to beat it one day, but for now the game’s name just reminds me of worst experience I’ve ever had gaming and it’s one I will never repeat.

~Squidward

The Evolution of Video Games and the Diminishing Relevance of Failure

•September 19, 2014 • 2 Comments

By Thomas Adams

In class, we began discussing failure in video games. The most common version of failure in video games in gameplay failure. Gameplay failure is when the player fails to complete a task that he/she must complete in order to progress in the game. This could be failing to solve a puzzle (e.g. Portal), dying to enemies (Halo), or even losing a match against an opponent (League of Legends).  I will breakdown the evolution of games over time and show how failure in video games became less harsh and more importantly, different.

Thinking back to early video games, we have to look at the arcade genre. Because of the video game infrastructure at the time, these games were meant to be played at an arcade, not in your home. As such, these games were meant to be played for a few (but possible several) minutes at a time to allow for others to have a chance to play as well. Thus, the games had to be developed in such a way that allowed for meaningful gameplay progression, but also had a “hard-capped” end. For example, Donkey Kong allowed players to play the game for as long as they could, while they still had enough lives left. Of course, the game increased in difficulty and most players could never really play too long.

As companies began developing in-house consoles, like the NES, the gameplay paradigm followed. Many games for the NES still had a very “hard-capped” ending. Super Mario Bros., for example, had a similar structure to Donkey Kong. The player could progress as far as he/she wanted until they ran out of lives or beat the game. Having played the game myself, it is very disheartening to see yourself progress really close to the end, and then lose your last life. That’s it. Game Over. Now restart from the beginning.

As technology grew in the 90s, games could become more sophisticated. Developers could begin creating non-linear story lines and program 3 dimensional worlds. Take the Nintendo 64 games for example. Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 both became more forgiving when a player failed. Simply getting hit by an enemy didn’t mean death. Players began having health pools to take more than a few rounds of damage. Players also still had multiple lives. However, these two games in particular still had “Game Over” screens when a player completely died for the last time. (here is one for Banjo-Kazooie). As you can see, these game over screen are very disheartening and showing the player the results of their failures.

Fast forward another 10 years to the 2000s and even today. Technology has allowed us to put more content in games than ever thought imaginable. This new emphasis on content and story-driven games allows developers to be extremely forgiving with gameplay failure. This is mutually beneficial for both players and developers. The players get to continue their game without harsh penalty while also getting to access all the cool content that the developers spent millions of dollars on. It only makes sense, right? Why would a company spend that much resources on game content if the punishment for for gameplay failure was never getting to experience any of it? Nowadays, with huge thanks to advancement of technology, failure is almost irrelevant because of the willingness for developers to be forgiving and the perseverance of players in order to progress in those games.

Failure in Payoff in “Interactive” Media

•September 19, 2014 • 1 Comment

This week, I was very intrigued by our discussion of the “doomed quest.” This idea is particularly pertinent to our reading of “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” where the narrator sets out on his journey with full knowledge that even if he ‘succeeds’ (reaches the end), he will die. The fated tragedy is not unique to this story, however; in literature, the hero “loses” all the time. Sometimes they die in battle, other times they just don’t get the girl. But in literature the ending isn’t always a happy one, and readers generally accept this.

In gaming, however, the “doomed quest” takes a different form. Game players enter the game knowing that they’ll inevitably fail some levels, but can usually count on the possibility of beating the game, of being ultimately successful. But we’re less keen on starting a game if the end of the journey leads to failure. And this makes sense: why would anyone engage in gaming if there wasn’t a final payoff?

The concept of a “payoff” is also very intriguing, and I’m curious what you all more experienced gamers make of this notion. Payoff seems to take different forms in different mediums: in literature and film, the user (reader or viewer) wants to finish and understand the story. No one starts a book or watches a movie to be rewarded for their work. But in video games, there has to be something more, something that makes the user feel like the gameplay was worth his or her time.

What causes this distinction? Why do users feel like they deserve something ‘more’ out of playing a game than ingesting other media? One easy answer is that video games are more “interactive,” and thus the user feels more personally connected to the outcome of the game. But are literature or film (or any other medium) not also interactive? And looking forward, could literature and film (or painting, radio, etc.) not evoke these same feelings of attachment and need for “payoff”?

One distinction that should be made is that there are two (and possibly more) potential “failures” in any media: the user (reader/player/etc.) failing because of their interaction with the media, and the narrative ‘failing’ itself. I had initially thought that the second didn’t apply to video games, because in my amateur experience the character always wins (or, the character is fused with the user, so if the user “wins,” the character is automatically victorious). However, I found think listing, “13 Games Where the Main Character Dies.” (*Spoiler alert, obviously*) http://www.gamesradar.com/13-games-where-the-main-character-dies/ I’m interested in y’all’s thoughts on if a “payoff” still exists in games where the narrative “fails,” even if the user “wins.”

-Emma Baker

E-Sports: History of E-Sports

•September 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

By: Jo Kim

E-sports, short for electronic sports, is a term for competition among professionals. The first “e-sport” tournament started out as an arcade game tournament (Space Invaders Tournament) in 1980, hosted by Atari, and these arcade were commonly seen throughout the next decade.

Following the era of arcade gaming came the era of computer gaming. The first notable PC e-sport league was the Quake tournament.

quake-650x0-300x225

In 1997, the first Quake tournament attracted around 2,000 players and offered a used Ferrari to the winner. Following this tournament, more tournaments were organized, and the first gaming league, Cyberathlete Professional League, was founded. In 2000, the World Cyber Games and Electronic Sports World Cup were both started, scheduled to be held annually. In 2002, MLG (Major League Gaming) was founded, featuring games of many genres, ranging from RTS (Real Time Strategy)to FPS (First Person Shooter). MLG also televised the first tournament in 2006 on the USA network; however, it failed to meet needed viewership to continue.

Zerg_colony_(StarCraft)

 

Unlike MLG, South Korea’s OGN (On-Game Network) succeeded in gathering the needed viewership for its televised matches of Starcraft: Brood War. Starcraft, following its release, gained huge followers in South Korea. Many players enjoyed it for its multiplayer system, and it soon became a mainstream PC game for the Koreans. As Starcraft gained more and more popularity, the OnGameNet gained more and more audiences. The Starcraft league grew rapidly, and it has catapulted electronic gaming into a major competitive sport in Korea. These events attracted around 50,000 fans

 

quake-650x0-300x225

 

Following Starcraft’s success, the MOBA genre came into the media’s eyes. Most notably, the game, League of Legends, quickly became the most popular game. The first two tournaments of LoL were hosted by a third party. However, beginning with the third season, “Riot Games announced the formation of the LCS on 6 August 2012, creating a fully professional league with a regular schedule and guaranteed salaries for players. (Gamepedia.com).  The 2011 “LoL” tournament at Dreamhack is reported to have had over 1.6 million viewers worldwide. The following year, 2012’s “LoL” Season Two World Championship attracted eight thousand live viewers, 900,000 worldwide viewers, and a prize pool of over five million dollars (adanai).  This immense amount of popularity was not surprising, as according to a Forbes article, League of Legends was the officially most played game in the world by 2012 (http://www.forbes.com/sites/johngaudiosi/2012/07/11/riot-games-league-of-legends-officially-becomes-most-played-pc-game-in-the-world/).

Like with everything else, nothing stays forever. Like how League of Legends followed the Starcraft, which was preceded by the Arcade gaming era, the current MOBA era is destined to change as well. What type of game do you think will follow LoL/DotA? A new kind of genre?

 
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