Mindcrafting Minecraft: The Psychology Behind this Open-World Creation Game

Minecraft is huge. And I don’t just mean the open-world environment within the game. According to the gaming website Polygon, as of June 2, 2016, Minecraft has sold 100 million copies. From my eight year old cousin to the older generations who apparently also play, everyone’s playing. Because of its popularity and its social elements, I think it’s appropriate to look at what kind of effects this game has on those who play it.

Dr. Geher wrote on Psychology Today about how Minecraft is able to build social skills. Its common people to join servers with their friends in real life, allowing them to build structures cooperatively or compete with each other in world-building contests. The first benefit is teaching people about the “Tit for Tat” strategy of stealing others resources, such that you seem nice at first and overtime steal more and more so as to get the most resources without provoking retaliation. Furthermore, everyone in a shared server is forced to learn who they can trust and learn how to build trust in others, since while an alliance is helpful, a traitor trying to steal your resources or destroy your caste is worse. Furthermore, it also builds technical skills, which teaches players, especially children, the importance and use of gaining expertise of a craft. Altogether, Minecraft can be a great tool to facilitate social relations and teach important lessons.

While I wish I could also say that Minecraft helps with spatial reasoning, reading, and programming, I don’t think this is accurate. A very convincing article from The Atlantic talks about how the video game itself isn’t a very good tool for teaching children, and I tend to agree. We wouldn’t just give students textbooks or novels and tell them to figure it out the same way we shouldn’t expect Minecraft to teach children. Nontheless, I think it has great potential to be educational and fun.

Sources

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201506/how-minecraft-actually-builds-social-skills

https://mojang.com/2016/06/weve-sold-minecraft-many-many-times-look/

An Unlikely Pair

Over the break, we were asked to play Gone Home.  Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, we were unable to talk about it much in class, which is a shame, since this is one of my favorite games that we have played for the class.  One of the things that made me enjoy the game was its unique style.  At first glance, the game appears to be a horror game; your character, Katie, arrives at her family’s new house (dubbed the “Psycho House” in-game) in the dead of night while a storm rages outside.  What’s more, no one is actually in the house besides you, which is both very isolating and dark, as no people means very few lights on in the house.  As you continue, you find creepy hidden passages and even a very small sub-plot involving the alleged ghost of the previous owner of the house, Oscar Masan.  However, these horror elements are not the main focus of the game.

Instead, the focus of the game is on the true protagonist, Sam, and her relationships: to her sister (the character you are playing), to her parents, and most importantly to Lonnie, a girl who Sam eventually enters a romantic relationship with, leaving her homophobic parents’ house to join Lonnie in Salem, Oregon.

These two different types of games-atmospheric horror and character-driven walking simulator-seem somehow at odds at first, since the stereotypical demographic of those two genres are so different.  However, the horror elements of the game actually heighten the player’s experiences with the character-driven portions of the game by providing tension throughout the game.

First of all, the tension the horror provides gives players a reason to be engaged in the game.  Exploring a normal house is boring, but exploring a dark, abandoned house that might be haunted by a sinister being is more compelling.  This is especially important in the early game where the horror is most prevalent, since players have not developed a reason to care about Sam yet.  As the game goes on and it becomes more clear that Gone Home is not actually a horror game, the player’s (theoretical) interest in Sam’s story is enough to carry them through to the end.

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And if you’re not a fan of horror games, don’t worry-there is an option to turn all the lights on from the beginning.

More importantly, however, that tension allows players to get into both Katie’s and Sam’s heads.  For Katie, the reason is simple; imagine you came home to a house you have never been to before late at night.  Your family, who you expected to be waiting for you, is nowhere to be found, it’s storming outside, and the lights in the house keep flickering.  Being slightly scared is expected in that situation.  However, this tension is also mirrored in Sam’s experiences as she writes them down in her journal.  While large parts of Sam’s journey of self-discovery are fun and exciting, she also has to deal with unfamiliar, scary situations-just like you, the player, are dealing with.  Sam has no support system outside of Lonnie since she has just moved to a new school.  She knows her parents will be unsupportive, and her only possible familial help, Katie, is away on a year-long stint in Europe.  Sam is exploring uncharted waters where even usually welcoming sights can be dangerous, just like the player is.  By including these horror elements, the game makers are also including a pathway into Sam’s own experiences.

Going, Going, Gone Home

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One of the many objects you can pick up and interact with in the game

Playing Gone Home this week I was struck by the notion that it seemed like large chunks of the story were either missing or obscured by a false sense of horror. As you explored the house it was easy to follow the story of Sam and Lonnie because it was read out loud in the form of journal entries Sam wrote to you. Each entry was tied to an object or location in the house so that the story naturally unfolded with your exploration and you could hear the inflection in her voice as if she was telling you her story in person. If you were an observant player you could also notice what was going on in the lives of the other family members and the history of the house. However, this part of the story was told entirely through scraps of notes and objects left lying around the house. You could read letters written by various family members and look at your past school projects but it was easy to miss the details of the story when presented with a wall of text. The story was also obscured by the fact that the game insisted on attempting to be creepy when there seemed to be no real reason for it. There was just a constant sense of dread since the lights kept flickering and turning off so you got the sense that something would jump out at you even though it never did. I would have enjoyed the game much more if it didn’t have this false sense of horror and I was able to equally explore each of the characters presented instead of just focusing on one story that was read aloud since I often missed details and had to go back to figure out what was going on with the rest of the family.

The Place of Video Games During Finals Season

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. What should be a wonderful and beautiful time of Christmas music and holiday cheer is spoiled by the crushing realization that we all have a lot of work to do before we can enjoy the seasonal cheer. I find the behavior of many people very interesting during this time of year. Some folks seem to maintain a quasi-cheery attitude, knowing that they’ve done this before and they’ll do it again. To them, worrying only doubles the pain, so what’s the point of getting too wrapped up in your studies? On the other hand, some people are quite open about how much they’re struggling. It’s some kind of odd coping mechanism, I think. This (false) dichotomy, though, has shown me one rather interesting thing about the use of video games during this time of the year.

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A very retro Christmas to all

For the “chiller” group, as I will call them, they keep most of their habits the same, in terms of leisure. Sure, they’ll devote more time than usual to their studies, but they still find time to game, watch some Netflix, or go to the gym. I think this group tends to do better in the long run. Go ahead, search if it’s better to take breaks while studying, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find some good data that suggests we do better sectioning off our work in to chunks, rather than punishing our brain for 8 hours straight. Even my pre-med roommate finds time to play some mobile games in between his intense biology slides. I’m certainly not saying that you should devote this weekend to beating every side quest of Skyrim (ha), but it might not be the worst thing to knock out one.

To all you “thrillers” who lock yourselves in Stevenson for 12 hours on the weekend, only emerging for food and water, take some time during this final season and try out some sort of quick breaks. Even if it’s to check social media or listen to a few songs, try giving your brain a break to synthesize everything that it’s taken in. I was once like you, I had a lot of internal guilt to overcome when I would enjoy some leisure time. I told myself that I was wasting time that I would need to work. Give it a shot, though. I think you’ll be surprised at how much stronger your work will be when your brain isn’t a heaping pile of mush.

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Why We Cheat: The (perceived) Necessity of Walkthroughs in Modern Gaming Culture

I know it’s a long title, but bear with me.

There’s a phenomenon that has arisen in modern culture of thoroughly dissecting and analyzing storylines and our entertainment options. Whether it’s the hyperprevalence of YouTube videos providing explanations of episodes or theories about the small actions of characters. It has led to the hyperprocessing of most media, and near obsessive attention being paid to the stories, so it feels impossible to surprise someone – what used to be foreshadowing is now obvious telegraphing.

What would otherwise be just attention to detail in costumes turned for some people into an obvious twist in this episode of Game of Thrones.

This culture has extended to video games as well. Not counting the numerous “Best X in Game Y” videos, there are plenty of sites and videos discussing story-affecting (and some not) decisions to the level that every single one can be calculated instead of chosen, and discovering the consequences afterward.

But why? There could be plenty of blame attributed to the increased amount of content that is accessible for gamers. With the invention of YouTube and Twitch, games are much more accessible to people who haven’t purchased the game or are playing it. Exposing gamers to the future or climactic moments in a story is part of the biggest moments in streaming and walkthroughs, so without them the game is showcased less than the streamer/youtuber’s personality. But in this case plot points and decisions are spoiled.

In addition, Wikipedia articles for games are very important and often visited. Whether it’s to tell someone how to access a certain character’s dialogue or even the path to use to escape a map, it is a resource that many players do not waste. But like walkthroughs in puzzle games, how detrimental is this?

There are some benefits to gamers getting super deep into games. While you won’t be able to necessarily get people on critical decisions that have complex repercussions, you get a playerbase that on the whole is much more interested in achieving these end results, and knowing the path are more likely to invest their resources heavily into getting them. Someone who values the best weapon and has done research to know that you’re getting the absolute best weapon if you farm tons and tons of items in Kingdom Hearts is more likely to actually do that content, and possibly see more of the game through that. Similarly, I’m definitely going to be more interested in passing Garrus by in Mass Effect if I am aware that I can, to unlock dialogue scenes in the second which I had never encountered.

Overall, I think the hyperanalyzation of media is a shame, and people are not playing goal-oriented games to enjoy them as much as they could. But there is something to be said that with the growth of the video game industry there are options for the more hardcore and driven gamers as well as those who are casually enjoying them.

Disney and Media (for B8 due on 11/18)

In honor of our brief discussion of Disney during our class today with its relationship to art and media as well as my recent move to invest in the The Walt Disney Company, I wanted to discuss just a few of the many ways Disney advanced in media over the years.

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d23.com

 

First, let’s take a look at this photo from Steamboat Willie. This was one of the first cartoons ever created by Disney (d23.com). Notice how the drawings are very saturated and the lines rich. This was because, of course, that the company hand to draw every one of their first characters to create an animation on the screen. The music was also very rich and but sharp, with mostly a treble and mono audio output. The actual animation was nothing like today, but still spectacular for its time. One of the more popular scenes of all of cartoons is right above, with mickey stomping his foot while steering a boat.


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d23.com

 

“Brought to you by, Technicolor”

Soon after, in the latter 1930’s (d23.com), Americans and viewers across the world were able to see the adventures and fantasies created by the Walt Disney Company in color. Providing ric reds and sot blues, this photo from Snow White captures the power of enhancing outlined drawings with rich saturation of color. While the color is not yet advanced, it did allow for less speculation and provided a more unified interpretation of the scenes visuality.

 


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fanpop.com

 

I’ve enlarged this picture to show you the advances in color and cartooning. Here, you can see more vibrant whites and a larger color platform available. While the original snow-white had limited color variances, the Walt Disney Company advanced their media through updating its color palette. Moreover, the animations were advanced in there were examples of “shimmering” crepuscular rays (sun rays) and rolling clouds- an animation technique not available with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Flashback to Age 13

Going off EveryMinorDetail’s stellar post on the variety of issues in Ready Player One, I’ll jump into the personal experience this novel has left me with.

As I’ve been commenting occasionally in class, Ready Player One is bringing me back to a very specific period in my literary life—that of the Young Adult (fantasy) Novel. Picture Bradley, some time in middle school, laying down on my shag carpet floor with Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code held up above my head, flipping through the pages furiously. Or late at night, hidden in a fort of covers, devouring Christopher Paolini’s newest installment in the Eragon series by the light of a headlamp. Or walking out of Borders with the next Percy Jackson novel, trying to finish the first chapter before my mom pulls out of the parking lot.

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And who could forget this dense gem of a series.

I’m sure many of us were this child at some point, probably for a number of years. From the Magic Tree House and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that started it all around age 8, to eventually moving on to high school sports and running out of time for fun reading, there existed a period in which I read young adult novels like nobody’s business. I wouldn’t doubt that this was a major part of why I, and anyone else who is experiencing nostalgia right now, decided to become an English major at university.

Coming back to Ready Player One, my experience in listening to Ernest Cline’s novel has been one of pleasant nostalgia indeed, mixed with a fair bit of cringing. As we’ve discussed, these novels tend to have frustratingly flat characters and, in general, devices that would certainly not be considered academic. But although I’m not sure I’ll ever elect to re-read the thrilling tale of James Patterson’s bird children, that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth reading at that time—or indeed ever, for anyone who gets a genuine pleasure out of them. These books will always have a place in my heart, and although they may have left me with a bit of a manic pixie dream girl complex, I’m grateful for the expanded vocabulary and imaginativeness they hardwired into my developing brain. So although hearing Wade’s thoughts makes me want to shrivel up and pretend I was never a teenager, the truth is that I’ve loved reading Ready Player One for the experiences it has reminded me of.