Must Be Some Kind Of.. Hot Tub Time Machine, or How Time Machine Creates Meaning in Our Modern World

•November 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

H. G. Wells’ Time Machine may at first not seem like a romance akin to the stories by Spenser and Mallory. After all, Wells’ work reminds us more of something we would expect to find in the current Young Adult section of the library. While its Divergent and Hunger Games style of dealing with future dystopia is interesting, what is really special about this story is the way that Wells is able to use the romantic genre to critique society and at the same time use the protagonist’s struggle to inspire hope.

The story follows the hero’s journey pattern pretty closely. The hero, the Time Traveler, departs on his journey through time. He arrives in the year 802,701 to find that civilization as we know it has completely changed. His discovery of the changed Earth represents a kind of “crossing of the threshold” as Joseph Campbell would put it. He experiences varying trials, from communicating with the Eloi (future humans), his descent into the “Underworld” (or plainly speaking, discovering and fighting his way out of the underground world of the Morlocks), and even has a temptress/ romantic interest, Weena. The story is even complete with the Time Traveler returning home, entirely changed by his journey, and then setting out again. Similarly to other works we have explored, such as The Lord of The Rings, The Fairie Queen, and Ready Player One, our romantic hero even has a moment where he is so changed by what he has experienced, that he cannot stay home and continues West. In this case, “West” is the future, which Wells represents by depicting a big, red, setting sun.

While it is very interesting that this story follows the hero’s journey and fits into the category of romance, it is also significant. Wells is able to place his story within a different kind of mythological context, the far-future, whereas stories typical of this genre take place in a mythological form of the past. When romances take place in the past, they tend to serve as a kind of contemplation of our own nostalgia for simpler times when good and evil were black and white. However, by placing this story in the future, Welles flips the genre on its head. Times are no longer simple, but far more complex, hence the dystopia. Good and evil is not as well defined. Yes, the Morlocks attempt to kill the Time Traveler, but we also know that they are the prodigies of an enslaved human race, forced to labor under the ground as a result of a system of massive economic inequality. Thus, we see the remnants of our own society within the framework of the one the Time Traveler visits. However, similarly to the epic struggles of other romantic heroes, the strife of the Time Traveler gives us hope. Unlike typical romances, there is no epic struggle of good versus evil, but the struggle to find meaning within a meaningless world, which is one that we can relate to in modern society. It is the Time Traveler’s struggle, and his ultimate decision to return, that allow us to identify with him and see heroism within ourselves.

Sorry if this gets cheesy : My personal experience with Gone Home

•November 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In our discussion of Ready Player One’s cheesy ending, we all pretty much agreed that is was a bit heavyhanded and overly cloying. As one of my fellow classmates noted “ It’s a nice sentiment” but its sentimentality felt forced, empty and unrewarding. Gone Home’s ending which could also be critiqued as sentimental on the other hand rings through with more depth and although disjointed from the misleadingly tense horror motifs, its tenderness resonates through its impression by osmosis rather than a direct handout like in Ready Player One. Also the overwhelmingly intricate amount of irrelevant detail that as Professor Clayton noted is characteristic of contemporary realism further helped create a more subtle effect in its emotional impact.

It also works for me because it literally hit close to home. The deep emotional resonance with this game for me at least worked in part because it eerily felt like The Fullbright company had digitally reconstructed my own childhood. Set in rural Oregon, the game surreally references real life places close to where I grew up like the location of a wedding the family is invited to where I spent many childhood summers in, or in the brochure for Reed College that Sam’s teacher had given her, a real quirky and bohemian school across the city and “the gorge” where the parents have gone to for their couple’s retreat, a scenic spot only an hour out from the city that I frequently visited growing up.

It was only a year and a half ago that I myself came back to a house that was disjointingly familiar yet also changed in my time away after a time abroad in Europe. The rising guilt for leaving a sister who you’re incredibly close to and looks up to right when she’s about to start high school and a whole new vulnerable stage of her life, tasted faintly familiar. Don’t even get me started with the cracks and tension in the parent’s marriage.

Theres a further sense of bittersweet nostalgia that rose in me as I flipped through Sam’s teenage odds and ends. That’s where the difference between Sam and my sister stopped. Where as just like Sam I had a wall covered in photo collages cut from magazine and polaroids of my friends, my sister has Pinterest boards and Instagram picstitches. Instead of doodled upon composition notebook diaries, my sister has a tumblr and livejournal in which she types away her angsty teenage thoughts. Instead of a collection of cassette tapes, she has a favorite Pandora station or Spotify playlist to blast. The nostalgia I know must have been shared by everyone else in the class, in seeing a collection of artifacts that probably weren’t so different from the odds and ends scattered around our teenage bedrooms.

While I think there’s a unique coincidence in the alignment of the game’s narrative with my own life. I do think that the game makers have intentionally placed this game in the 90’s and not contempory times for a reason. I imagine (perhaps wrongly) that the audience for this game is narrower than the typical demographics of popular AAA games, clustering instead around the college aged or older educated and slightly more intellectual crowd that this story-centric game would appeal to. Many of us grew up or came of age in the 90’s and I think the game must resonate in this deeply nostalgic and personal way for others too. It makes a universal call back to the lost analog physicality within which we constructed our identities that is no longer true of the younger generations.

If I had walked into my own house with my family gone and my sister missing, it wouldn’t take more than a few clicks through her Instagram, texts and Facebook (that I’d have to hack into, analogous to finding the combination for sam’s locker) making a much less personal narrative for the game. The world the game recreates is one of a more romantic past where we left bits and pieces of ourselves through physical evidence scattered around us in the physical world. The irony is this memento of a game memorializing an analog past is done through a digital virtual reality. I can only wonder if this interpretation comes only from my coincidental similarity of the game to my own life. Either way, while playing this game I truly felt like I had gone home.

Where will gaming go next?

•November 16, 2014 • 1 Comment

By Carly Vaughn

In what has to be the best idea ever, Nashville has a new classic-gaming-themed bar/restaurant called Two Bits. It’s right on Demonbreun Hill and I had no idea it was there until this weekend. As a concept, it’s one I’ve seen before. There’s a bar called Penn Social in Washington DC with a similar kind of idea, but that one is mostly focused on board games or games like shuffleboard or cornhole.

Two Bits has some really great classic arcade games, most notably Donkey Kong Jr. which I failed at miserably. There’s also a Ms. Pacman and a Space Invaders machine, along with some newer games like Mortal Kombat II (which I was great at). All of these games are free to play, so I got to try my hand at Donkey Kong Jr. over and over without having to feed in any quarters. But the best part were the old gaming systems they had hooked up to TVs hung over the booths in the back. They had an old N64 with Super Smash Brothers and it was amazing to play with friends like I had when I was younger.

Not only was this a really fun place to hang out and eat fried pickles, I think it speaks to the fact that gaming, even arcade gaming, is not an exclusive culture anymore. It’s being coopted by everyone from t-shirt designers to bars, and I wonder if the widening of the barrier to entry is kind of scary to anyone really engrossed in gaming culture. If developments like this mean that anyone has access to a game like Donkey Kong Jr., does that make its mastery less impressive? If bars let anyone play games like Super Mario Bros on NES, does that cheapen their cultural value?

We were talking about how there are no really literary gaming novels out there yet last class. But I think that’s going to change soon. As gaming becomes more mainstream and accessible, someone will write that Great American Gaming Novel we’re all waiting for. Until then, head over to Two Bits and enjoy the fruits that are already being harvested from gaming’s increased popularity.

Cool Ad by Covergirl on Girls and Coding

•November 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Gaming Has Positive Effects On Your Health… So Where’s The Hype?

•November 14, 2014 • 1 Comment

In class, we have discussed how video games incorporate many different philosophical, artistic, historical, and social issues across their many forms and types. For some games, relaying information or a critique to the player is the end of goal, while others incorporate these elements more subtly to make a deeper and more complex gaming experience. Even first person shooter games incorporate high though, such as Bioshock’s blatant critique of Ayn Rand’s objectivism. However, even games that are not as cerebral can benefit the players.

Heath and mental benefits of these games range. According to Dr. Daphne Bavelier players’ eyes may actually benefit from looking at a screen for hours, improving the ability of people who play most to distinguish gray scale and the definition of objects. She also indicated that playing certain kinds of games have positive effects on people’s ability to multitask and on their attention.

Here is the video, where you can see Dr. Bavelier giving the talk..

Ted Talk On The Benefits of Gaming

This Ted Talker spoke about designing games to be useful for rehabilitation or specific learning purposes, which of course is valid. At the same time, I must offer a critique on her idea, and specifically her presentation of it. While she just spoke about the benefits of playing video games, and most importantly first person shooter games, which have long been considered the most extra-regular of the gaming family (minimal story line, all focused on simple, repeated task of shooting enemies), she just took a major step back and gave a large blow for the gaming community. Sadly, she separates games played for pleasure from games with a practical application. If you watch the video, she spends a great deal of time relaying how these pleasurable games actually do have a practical application, and yet, she does not consider games played for pleasure to be completely as applicable as a game designed with a more scientific purpose.

Personally, I am constantly befuddled at the mainstream community and scientific community to continually write off gaming and gaming culture,  especially after seeing the great deal of high-concept thinking that video games employ. Why can’t we accept that games are a valid form of media, and event at their most basic form, they provide health and mental benefits when used in moderation?

I have come to view gaming as awesome: it incorporates visual art, audible art, narrative, philosophy, history, culture, participates in remediation, and critiques itself, probably more than any other form of media. What’s more, I’ve come to regard it as one of my favorite forms (although I’m still new) because it’s interactive and challenging: I am able to participate in the art and narrative in a way that is unique to gaming.

I guess going back to my previous question about people accepting the validity of gaming in the mainstream, I can relate to the haters. A few months ago, I didn’t really understand much of the hype or the depth that games can possess; I merely thought of gaming as entertainment. My assumption is that as gaming continues to attract more and more followers, both through a diversity of genres and increasing accessibility because of platform integration (hello, mobile games), people will begin to see games as a more valid form of media. As a result, more scientific and sociological research will be done on games, and then, once the artistic and scientific communities fully accept games, the medium will receive the respect it deserves. It is sad that acceptance necessitates this kind of validation, but I really hope that it comes soon.

Video Games and Nightmares

•November 14, 2014 • 1 Comment

by Julia

I used to babysit for two boys who were really into video games. They were both also very creative and liked making up stories, which I think is one reason they enjoyed some of the more mature video games so much–for the storytelling elements.

One night when I was putting the younger brother to bed, he wouldn’t close his eyes, so I said, “Close your eyes or you won’t fall asleep!” He turned to me and said, “I can’t close my eyes, because when I do, I go to other worlds….and bad things happen there.”

source: real-wolf Bringing this gif back…BECAUSE IT’S TERRIFYING

I couldn’t help remembering that statement this past week after I played Gone Home and Year Walk. I played both games right before going to sleep, and had weird nightmares both times. Basically I went to other worlds…and bad things happened there (yikes).

 

Modern video games feel so immersive to me because 1) the graphics are amazing, 2) I’m often playing on a large(ish) screen in a dark room, sometimes by myself, and 3) the stories are extremely real. It’s the third reason that’s really been sticking in my mind lately.

 

There’s something about video games that sticks with people, because they keep coming back for more. Yes, they appeal to competition, they’re entertaining, and they look amazing, but I think one of the bottom lines is that we get swept up in the story. These stories are so immersive that we even dream about the worlds after the fact.

 

Because video games go beyond books in that players have (some) choices and get to inhabit a character and live out the story, instead of just being a spectator, it sometimes feels like you’ve actually experienced the story. After I played Gone Home, I felt like I had actually lived what happened. I found myself making up what would happen when the parents returned home, and wondering when I would get to see Sam again. In Year Walk, I kept thinking about ways to save Stina once the game had finished. The game provided entertainment for its duration, but the story is what sticks.

 

Humans seek quests, and the stories that speak to this are important because they help us discover who we are while simultaneously experiencing life from another perspective. Stories persuade, provide examples, and ultimately shape experience and change people’s minds about things. Abraham Lincoln, an amazingly effective leader, often used storytelling to reinforce a point and guide people’s minds to line up with his visions. Video games are another medium to do this, and I think it’s interesting to see how immersive they can become in creating other worlds. The downside? Maybe a nightmare now and then. I might stick to games with happier worlds for a little bit…

source: ign.com On second thought, this game might also give me nightmares

source: ign.com
On second thought, this game might also give me nightmares

I know it’s a little thing, but…. really?

•November 14, 2014 • 1 Comment

By- Chall

As we all know, I am a huge fan of Skyrim and other similar games. In fact, Skyrim is the bar I set for all RPG game releases I’m interested in. Skyrim holds some of the best ratings for any RPG in history. Most, if not all, game review sites, blogs, and channels rave endlessly about Skyrim, usually giving grades from 95-100 (out of 100). As new games come out, I try my best to ignore the hype and wait for gameplay to be released and reviews to come out. While this doesn’t often leave me with time to pre-order for extra bonuses, it keeps me from making unwise purchases. My best example of this is Destiny. The game came out with boasts of best game ever, most expansive map, and other such claims. The developers and marketing described it as a story-line deeper than Halo and multiplayer more fun than Call of Duty, and the commercials were incessant. $500 million was spent in developing their game, and they came close to making it back in the first week: great marketing! I was not one of those who bought in, though. Reviews of Destiny came out about 1 week before its release, and the most echoed sentiment was disappointment and frustration. Destiny received grades below 80 across the board and it was said that quite a few pieces of DLC (downloadable content) would be necessary before the game reached its full potential. Today, the disappointment from its fan base has also hurt the multiplayer experience, which requires as many people as possible to be online for full enjoyment. DLC packs range from $10-$25 depending on how large they are, and 2-3 in the works for a $60 game is a prospect I resent as a gamer. As I exhibited in my Braid review, I believe that games without high replay value should be sold at a low price (I claimed Braid was too expensive at $10 for about 3 hours of play). Replay value is how many times you can play the game after the main quest-line is completed, whether you are re-doing the quest, playing multiplayer games, or completing side quests. Destiny promises high replay value and fun gameplay that is no longer repetitive after its DLC is released, but a new game is soon to be released that may blow it out of the water.

To me, the best games are the ones that refrain from massive advertising budgets and let its gamplay speak for itself. Skyrim did have a considerable advertising campaign, as it was one of the first big games to have television commercials, even featuring a live action video:

One game that claims to rival Skyrim in scope and size is Dragon Age: Inquisition. I haven’t been watching much TV in college, so I don’t know how heavily it has been advertised on that medium, but Twitch.tv (recently bought by Amazon for $1 billon) has shown me nothing about DAI, though I watch almost every day. Twitch is a video-game streaming site, and the streamers make money by playing ads, often for video games. Dragon Age has been receiving rave reviews approaching its release, and scores from 85-90. The game promises huge sandbox maps, a 100 hour main quest-line, and ongoing story lines, not to mention hundreds of hours of side-quests. Further, DAI offers an online gameplay with an all new character, starting at level 1. All of this amounts to easily 500 hours on content- no DLC. Reviews compare it to Skyrim (unthinkable in my mind) but in the end it falls short of Skyrim (but what better could you hope for?). With all this going through my mind when considering a major purchase, you may be wondering what my title is referring to. Well, in reading some of the reviews of the game, I came across this comment:

Nov 11, 2014
95
Dragon Age: Inquisition is BioWare’s new masterpiece and they weren’t bluffing. The RPG has everything a fan of the genre could wish for: an amazing amount of gameplay, a great story and extreme beauty. A must-have for everyone that calls himself a gamer.
“Himself.” It’s probably a small thing to consider: one word in a game review from a dutch website; and I would say that it is a translation ambiguity, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The translated version of the full review doesn’t include this passage, so the summary must have been made for the blurb I found on (http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/dragon-age-inquisition). And maybe the Dutch aren’t as PC as we try to be, but with the growing popularity of video games, the stereotypes of gamers as upper middle class white males becomes less and less true. And as game reviews become more popular, language that excludes large groups of people (in this case, women) needs to be eliminated. Maybe I’m over-reacting, but small things like this can take away from my excitement when reading about the next best game to come out.
 
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