Super Meat Boy Uses Psychology to Keep You Playing

•October 27, 2014 • 2 Comments

By: Thomas C Adams

Super Meat Boy (2010) is an indie platformer developed by Team Meat. This game is commonly considered one of the most frustrating games to play much less actually complete. In fact, I still haven’t beaten it myself (I’m on the last level). Being a very frustrating and challenging game, you would think most players fiddle with the game for a few minutes, maybe an hour, and eventually give up. However, many people who play the game play it to completion (or almost-to-completion in my case). How can such a frustrating game keep players interesting and wanting to progress?

The beauty of Super Meat Boy (SMB) lies in its replay system. Once you complete a level, you get to see all your previous attempts at the level play at the same time. Here’s a video of a replay so you can understand what I mean:

As you can see, the game gives you feedback as to how you are learning and progressing on each single level. After you spend numerous attempts (maybe even hundreds) to complete the level and finally do, it’s a very rewarding experience. Moreover, you see this replay on your screen of your attempts. You will see many of the first attempts die within seconds. You will see how you learned from past attempts and changed your strategy. And in the end, you will finally see the one meat boy who finally made it to the end of the level.

Feedback is a very important part of maintaining a behavior. In this case, that behavior is playing SMB. Numerous psychology studies have shown that if you give feedback for a behavior change (such as playing a certain game or recycling), subjects are more likely to continue that behavior. (Larson et al. 1995, Seligman and Darley 1977, DeLeon and Fuqua 1995).

As you progress through the challenging levels and then see your progression at the end of each level, you are noticing your improvements and are becoming optimistic about future attempts. Of course, the game gets harder as you progress, but you’ve seen yourself get better and better each step of the way, so there’s nothing to say that you wouldn’t be able to complete any of the later levels. I’m not sure if it was deliberate or not, but Team Meat’s incorporation of the replay system very likely has a cognitive affect on players using feedback and could be what keeps them playing, despite their hours of frustration.

- Thomas

My Golden Years of Gaming

•October 24, 2014 • 1 Comment

By: Squidward

I’ve never really written about this and the only people that know of this little story are the super nerds that will understand the excitement of being very good at a video game. From 7th grade to 10th grade I played a game called The Battle for Middle Earth 2 and I was pretty obsessed. BFME2 is a very fast paced real-time strategy game that takes the lore from The Lord of the Rings and creates epic fights between the races of Middle-Earth. This RTS was my introduction to online gaming and I couldn’t enough. As a kid without a way to get around I found myself playing this game every time I had any free space in my day – which was hours after school and almost whole days on the weekend. After a couple years, I found myself in a top clan and widely known as one of the top players in the game.

So I’m 15 and I’m writing guides, playing in tournaments and a part of one of the best teams. It’s so nerdy but it’s true. I crushed 8 hours of BFME2 a day and the game took complete control of my imagination. A regular weekend would be spent meeting with my team, practicing, then going head to head with opponents in order to be on the top of the ladder. My favorite team was Mordor and I was the best Mordor player in the game when I played. In the end, I left the game when grades became more important – the servers are still online but I haven’t touched the game in years. So, as a strange throwback to the younger Squid, I’m going to write about how I’ve changed as a gamer.

Gaming is awesome; I’ve always thought so and I will always think so. It’s a complete escape and that escape is really beautiful (I’m listening to the Kingdom Hearts 2 soundtrack atm, so I’m getting the feels). I have always searched for games to be lost in whether that’s through the action, the romance, or just the absolute mystery of a different world and time. When I was very young, the action got to me the most. If I wasn’t cutting my way through foes or watching my army of Pikmin wage war, I lost interest. Luckily, there is a never ending supply of those types of games so I kept gaming until the point where story mattered. This leads me to my first big games: The Legend of Zelda series. These games had a perfect combination of action, great music, puzzles, and a story deep enough to still have me thinking about Hyrule as a 20 year old. Entering middle school, games became more of lifestyle for me. Even though that sounds a little lame, it is just like picking up a good book and not being able to put it down until you’ve finished. Middle school was my time of speeding through tons of games – every month I would grab a few games from Gamestop and beat them as fast as I could. Of course I enjoyed them fully and now I really get a kick thinking of all the games I have beaten. And as I talked about before, late middle school was dominated by one game to rule them all — BFME2. This was the first time I thought of gaming as my life and nothing was as enjoyable. However, with the weight of high school I really did have to change my habits. I dropped my team and my favorite game….and I started back on games with great stories that had less of a commitment. I really wish I could go back to those years sometimes, but that brings me to where I am today as a gamer.

League of Legends was completely unknown to me until the very end of freshman year of college. Up to then I was playing a game every few months and going back and visiting many of the games I passed up. Now I mostly play the addictive MOBA League of Legends with small bursts of other games. While the games have changed, the biggest thing that has changed is how I view games. Now I fully appreciate games as an escape, playing them for 8 hours a day isn’t an escape when it’s all you do. As a junior video games are really only in my extremely free time but they hold an even deeper meaning now. To me, video games are another reality that is mine. I can get on my computer, pop in my headphones, blast A$AP Rocky, play some games and smile – because, hey…I was one of the best Mordor players ever.

Heroes: A thing of the Past, or of the Imagination?

•October 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

By A.A. BENJAMIN

Storytellers struggle to make whimsical what the world makes dull. We foster deeper understanding by exaggeration, by parable and metaphor, or by creating what we wish were happening when it really is not.

When renowned English texts like “Ulysses” by Lord Tennyson and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight begin with lamentations of the lost grand empires of heroism, I have to stop and think for a second…

Alice In Wonderland Confused animated GIF

Oh, that’s right! Storytellers…generally don’t care for reality. As a matter of fact, we generally don’t know what we’re talking about. The trick of our craft is to pretend that we do.

alice in wonderland animated GIF

Great storytellers exist because they are excellent observers, synthesizers and masters of their chosen method. Accuracy doesn’t fall into one of those requirements. Therefore, we can make an educated guess that epic storytellers like Homer of The Iliad weren’t on any battle fields whatsoever. So when we interpret Lord Tennyson’s poetry as commentary on how heroic lifestyle has disappeared in the Victorian era and been replaced by a more docile life, well…there were plenty of wars in Tennyson’s time to choose from. But because in real life there’s no Achilles waiting in his ship to take the Trojans down single-handedly, real wars always seem a little less awesome. In real life, men die without favor, without magic powers, and without luck. In real life, no one has the right to say that the man who died just wasn’t heroic enough.

The storytellers sitting behind computer screens are kind of in the same boat as the Homers. Though I recognize the extent to which storytellers go to experiment and experience the stories they create, sometimes we’re just full of it. So when we then sit before our digital playthings to exit our lackluster lives and take up the rifle of the bludgeoning Master Chief, update our Champion’s reputation in Middle Earth, or chase our interstellar Destiny, maybe the desire to be heroes comes from our pure lust for fantasy rather than nostalgia for the heroism of the past.

The real Pocahontas wasn’t this “grown and sexy” when she saved John Smith.

Games like Halo and Destiny put an interesting twist on this theory because they take place in futuristic settings. It creates a discourse with heroic civilizations of the past, posing a “heroes yet to come” question. However, it still leaves us sandwiched in the middle, as if we’re all just weaklings living safely in our double lives. Yet when we place the “glory days” in actual historical context, we find that those who lived in those eras would have rolled their eyes at our perceptions of grandeur. In my Classical Literature class we watched “Medieval Lives” where Terry Jones informed us that the great chivalric code of heroic knights was really just an attempt of the authorities to control what became a steel-clad blood-thirsty army. So NOT heroic.

Just as authorities struggle to implement decrees to improve our current state of life, so do storytellers implement dreams that attempt to surpass our current state of living. I wonder what the 41st century will come up with once they begin to confuse our dreams  with our reality.

Shadow of the Colossus Review

•October 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

By Jo Kim

 

When I first heard that Shadow of the Colossus, a game that I enjoyed playing during the PS2 era, was getting a HD makeover, I was excited. On 2011, the game came out for the PS3. Not owning a Playstation 3 for my own, I had to go over to my friends to play the game occasionally. To say it bluntly, this game is one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played on a console.

 

 

First of all, for an action game, the controls give a slightly heavy feel for the players, meaning it isn’t your everyday upbeat action games. In another view, it also means that it is also a quite cumbersome game, as you have to find out the weakness of the colossus in order to defeat them. In a way, it’s even like solving a puzzle. The giant colossus (who are more than 100 times your size) fill the entire screen, and the player can feel the intensity  of the scenes. When you are hunting these colossus one by one, the immersion the player feels is out of this world.

In addition to the action packed boss fights (which are the only type of fights available in the game), the design of these colossus also play a large role in the players’ immersion experience. Starting from a flying eel-like colossus to a scorpion-like colossus that burrows under the arid desert, the colossus come in varying types and sizes. Each of these colossus looks so real and large that the players sometimes feel intimidated by them. Below is an example of what boss fights are like in the game (Note that this is only the 3rd boss out of the 14, meaning that it’s on the easier side).

 

In addition to its ingenious game play, the game also offers one of the best narratives in the industry. Unlike other games where the players have to deal with pointless side quests that seem to be non-related to the story whatsoever, Shadow of the Colossus only focuses on the boss fights. There are no side mobs, NPCs, nor quests. The game offers a straightforward experience to the players who just wants the story to get going.

Overall, I recommend this game to anyone that likes a good action and to those who love a great narrative within a game. The makers of Shadow of the Colossus, being the pioneers of the gaming industry with their iconic game, ICO, masterfully crafts a realm that the players can’t help but to fall in love with.

Twitter Wars

•October 11, 2014 • 1 Comment

By: Carly Vaughn

Our in-class Twitter exercise reminded me of something that happened this summer. Ira Glass, host of the wildly popular This American Life podcast and radio show, tweeted. Something really dumb. About literature. This is what he had to say:

ira glass tweet 1ira glass tweet 2

Now, whether you agree with him or not (most people did not), Glass is doing more than just saying “Shakespeare sucks”. He’s critiquing the Bard with some literary context. “No stakes”, “not relatable”, and “not emotional” are not actually dismissive phrases, but critiques about literary conventions of creating conflict and suspense, and perhaps saying that the work feels too cold or distant to fulfill those conventions. I’m sure there have been scholarly papers written about Shakespeare and his possible lack of “stakes”, but because Glass took to Twitter to give his critique people saw it as dismissive and pretentious. With only 140 characters to tweet with, it’s hard to convey tone.

Glass went on The Tonight Show and talked about the backlash against his tweet recently:

This reminded me of our class exercise because, in our group, we escalated into the terms of Twitter arguments and wars pretty quickly. We threw out pejorative terms about the characters in the Faerie Queene, about each other. We did do some actual critiquing, but like Glass, it sometimes felt like our point was overshadowed by a funny or dismissive hash-tag. I think this is an inherent problem with Twitter. Unless you are an exceptional word-smith, writing a coherent and persuasive argument on literature in 140 characters, let alone 140 words, is pretty difficult. It takes multiple tweets to quote examples from the text to support anything you’re saying, and by that time you might have already pissed off an army of tweeters. Just like Glass did.

The New York Times wrote an article about Twitter and literary criticism last year. “At first glance, it seems that critics, in particular, should relish a tool like Twitter. Criticism is a kind of argument, and Twitter is excellent for arguing back and forth in public,” says Adam Hirsch. While Hirsch goes on to say there is not much “criticism” in the literary criticism scene on Twitter, I think his point also shows that Twitter is public, and when you make an argument using it’s framework, the public is going to argue back. So before you tweet any literary criticism, know that you will not be tweeting into a vacuum, and perhaps gird your loins against the haters.

Relationships and Video Games

•October 10, 2014 • 2 Comments

Our discussion of the role of other players in Journey raised an interesting point about cooperative gameplay. One of the most underrated aspects of video game play is its ability to build relationships especially in games requiring teamwork and/or synergy. The most popular video game in the world today is League of Legends, and as a 5 v 5 game, a large amount of teamwork is required to win. This teamwork fosters relationship building and helps teammates to get to know one another the more they play. Personally, I’ve gotten closer to many people and made even more friends through online gameplay, especially in team oriented games like league.

One of the games that I’ve spent the most time on is Runescape, where I became friends with quite a few fellow players. Runescape also included a mini-game called Castle Wars. Castle Wars was effectively a game of capture the flag, and the focused goal often encouraged players to interact and communicate more. As a result, I made far more friends playing as a team in Castle Wars than in normal gameplay. In whatever game or game type, teamwork tends to build relationships just as quickly as real life experience. Playing on a team with others, as we have all found during our time playing together in class. The sense of closeness a team feels after conquering an opponent together draws people together in a way that is difficult to replicate in the everyday world.

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How Indie Games Are Saving the Shoshone Language

•October 10, 2014 • 1 Comment

By: Sparling Wilson

In class, we have talked about indie games that serve different purposes rather than to just provide blasé entertainment to the consumer. In Braid, the game serves to challenge both game structure and promote and unravel its own narrative, while challenging the gamers’ concept of time. In Journey, the game seeks to promote teamwork and affect a strong emotional response from the gamer.

Recently, students from the Shoshone Youth Language Apprenticeship Program, hosted by the Shoshone Language Project at the University of Utah have developed a game designed to help promote and re-instill the values and language of the Shoshone people in the young people that have lineage of that culture. This concept of educational gaming is not a new one, but it is something that is rarely done successfully.

As someone with younger siblings that are experiencing highly technology-integrated classrooms, I often see them having to play games outside of school for homework. However, I think these games miss the point. The games that they are made to play by their school are extremely transparent in terms of being made as a way to be educational; that is, it’s obvious that the game isn’t made to be played for enjoyment. In these games, the graphics are bad and unoriginal, the learning material is presented/ tested in a way similar to a classroom, and it just isn’t a very fun concept overall. In this regard, educational gaming is a big time fail. The attempt to make learning fun and hip seems to be falling very short of the mark because… these games aren’t tricking kids, they seem like work, and kids don’t want to play them.

from awkwardtrends.com

This image demonstrates how gauche educational games are! From awkwardtrends.com

But in a brilliant turn of events, the game Enee, which means “scary” in Shoshone, is a far cry from the traditional educational game. It is able to very seamlessly weave Shoshone cultural traditions and language into the narrative of the game in order to make it both educational and appealing to its youthful audience. For example, the main character in the game, Enee, must traverse a dark and terrifying landscape, and complete quests similar in nature to those in LOTRO. Like how the quests in LOTRO support the epic narrative of the books, the quests in this game follow/ tie-in traditional Shoshone folklore, superstitions, myths, or just important aspects of the culture. In addition, the NPCs of the game are characters that appear in traditional Shoshone stories. What’s more, they integrate Shoshone phrases into their speech, and in some cases only speak Shoshone, which is part of the challenge and quest. Also, the graphics definitely reflect that indie-chic quality that is present in Braid and Journey. In Enee, they look kind of scary- they definitely help to give the player a sense of “enee”.

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From the game "Enee"; a challenge that incorporates Shoshone myth with the quests

From the game “Enee”; a challenge that incorporates Shoshone myth with the quests and the protagonist, “Enee” (above)

Personally, I’m a really huge fan of this game. I think it makes great strides in the educational gaming realm. With great graphics and a seamless integration of the material it is trying to teach, Enee really sets the standard high.

If you’re interested in this game or the Shoshone language and culture, here is a link where you can download it:

http://theeneegame.com

If you’re interested in reading more about the game’s development process, the game makers, and the decline of the Shoshone people during the 20th century, read this:

http://upr.org/post/university-utah-students-create-shoshone-language-video-game

 
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