Virtual Hopes

VR is an exciting way to experience media in a more immersive way although it still has a long way to go before it is truly available for everyone to experience in their daily lives. This is largely because of the cost for a single setup even before you buy any games or interactive experiences to enjoy with your headset. You can either have no interaction with your environment other than turning your head or you can have a fully immersive experience that costs a ton. Another major setback is that these expensive setups that can track your movements are not always very accurate which was a problem we ran into while solving a puzzle in our first experience with the HTC Vive. We were far enough from the walls and close enough to an object in the game that we should have been able to pick it up but the tracking system believed that we were much closer to the wall and prevented us from being able to grab the object until other people in the room moved around and the tracking started working correctly again. It is also rather obvious that you have a screen right in front of your eyes no matter which virtual reality setup you were using and depending on how clear the resolution is and how the screen is created it can get hard to watch really quickly.

Even with these limitations there is a lot of space for VR to expand in videos, games, and simulations for educational purposes. For example, it would be cool if they could have doctors practice surgeries in virtual reality so they don’t have to get cadavers all the time and they can practice over and over with different representations of peoples bodies. Personally, I would like to see VR improve with its tracking capabilities so that it becomes more immersive and can truly simulate real world experiences. VR has already been able to explore many concepts and styles of play by transforming regular three dimensional media into something you can stand in the middle of and feel like you are actually interacting with your environment rather than just sitting in front of a screen where you can’t touch any of the objects surrounding you. For example, there are many VR experiences that allow you to experience things that you wouldn’t be able to do in real life. This includes climbing Mount Everest and becoming a bunny in an animation. Experiences such as this where you can walk a plank at great height can even allow people to experience the things that terrify them without facing any real danger. VR can even transform games that start out as PC games into an immersive experience  allowing you to become a surgeon or play fruit ninja in almost real life. A great side effect of games in virtual reality is that it allows you to become active and practice archery or tennis without ever having to go too far or find a gym to work out in. And if you want to be able to play sports with friends or strangers around the world then you can do that as well though you can’t play with any friends who do not own their own VR setup. Virtual reality can even allow you to experience completely impossible environments that have an animated, drawn, or dreamlike feeling. Though these are all really cool advances in virtual reality that demonstrate how it can be used socially or in an active or dreamlike environment to enhance the way you experience a piece of media the tracking and visibility are not quite at the level they would need to be for it to be used in a truly educational sense for surgeries and other applications. Once these advances can be made and the price comes down to an accessible level then it everyone will truly be able to experience and enjoy virtual reality.

Beauty for beauty’s sake(./?)

Apologies for the late blog. It’s been a week of shifting, as a number of major parts of my schedule are either being moved or disappearing. In any case, I was able to give Journey a few hours of my time (of many, many more to come, I’m sure), and, simply, I was amazed. I’ve known about the game for quite a while, and I’ve spent more time with the score than I care to admit.

But the thing about so comprehensive a work of art as Journey is the additive impact of all creative aspects upon each other. The gameplay of Journey is nothing short of sublime. It’s deeply immersive, visually stunning (to say the least), and sonically superb (again, to say the very least). The character, though only vaguely developed, is masterfully crafted to evoke a sense of calm, wisdom, and camaraderie, even though he/she stays largely mysterious. The world itself is unique and gorgeous, and the physics strike a dreamlike balance of grace and realism. The result of all of these working in tandem? A fantastic, immersive, and starkly beautiful experience.

There is something to be said for the engineering of so unique and compelling an aesthetic. The overall aesthetic of a fictional world can only be quantified to a certain point, after which comparison and experience become more useful tools. Journey transcends the mystical, entering into a space of profoundly unique fantasy and artistry. Aesthetically, I find Journey similar in some ways to the world of The Old Kingdom (Abhorsen) series by Australian author Garth Nix. Both are set within beautifully depicted ancient, abandoned kingdoms, with feminine main characters who operate more upon grace and wisdom than on valor and strength (à la many typical masculine protagonists). Nix, too, evokes a specific imagery regarding the world of The Old Kingdom that seems to echo Journey’s imagery. Highly recommend this series.


Journey accomplishes something that is its own feat as well, however. It successfully brings the world of art into the medium of gaming. Following the New Yorker (full article here), the late Roger Ebert would argue the following:

“…The ultimate objective of a video game—unlike that of a book, film, or poem—is to achieve a high score, vaporize falling blocks, or save the princess. Art, [Ebert] argued, cannot be won.”

But Journey does in fact make “winnable” art! Of course, the entire point of the game is the path (journey) to the end goal, but it does have a teleology that Ebert seems to think cannot be artistic. Despite the sparse “narrative” of Journey, it does successfully combine a game’s immersion and drive to participate with an artistry of imagery, sense, and mechanic. This is largely new territory for the video game, as the vast majority of releases at this point are merely readaptations of concepts and ideas that have been proven to work (and make money). In this kind of dynamic, artistic endeavor becomes secondary, if not tertiary.

But Journey has successfully brought it back to the surface with a game that operates more than anything on an enjoyment of the beauty that is its design. Yes, the goal matters in Journey, but Journey is not beautiful to serve the purpose of the narrative. It is beautiful for the sake of being beautiful! Beauty, in this case, becomes its own end, while still operating within the goal-oriented teleology mandated by the medium video games.

But, does the vagueness of Journey’s narrative weaken it? Surely we can all, with a bit of effort, learn to enjoy the sort of Zen relationship to beauty that Journey offers, but could it become even stronger artistically and more accessible if there was just a bit more narrative for players to chew on? Does it need anything else? Can strong narrative and beauty for its own sake be married into one cohesive product? Of course, these are questions for the future. Nevertheless, Journey is, as it stands now, one of the greatest achievements in contemporary video gaming. So let’s bask in it just a bit longer, almost as most players will undoubtedly want to do within the game itself.


Let’s play —-> Retsupurae? Is this ok?

Hello friends,

Sincerest apologies for posting this blog so late. The end of last week was extraordinarily hectic and I could barely keep track of what needed to be done.

Today we’re going to have a brief discussion about Let’s Plays and their implications on the gaming community as a whole.

For the uninitiated, a Let’s Play is a video recording of a gamer playing through a game, often while providing some idiosyncratic form of commentary or dialogue for the viewer. The most famous Let’s Play star of YouTube is undoubtedly PewDiePie,Image result

a Swedish YouTuber who has an almost cultish following at this point. For him, he makes multiple millions of dollars a year in sheer views alone, and no better figure personifies the incredible gameplay commentary culture that pervades gamer sentiment today. But before he even became well-known, countless other gamers were posting all kinds of different Let’s Plays that massively varied in quality. Another YouTube channel, Restupurae, sought out the worst of the bunch, and uploaded their own critical commentary of the player’s commentary, providing plenty of laughs at the Let’s Play gamer’s expense.

As of today, Retsupurae has over 120,000 subscriber, and you can see that the demand for gameplay commentary extends even to commentary of the commentators! But, it is worth mentioning that a decent amount of the YouTubers targeted by RestuPurae actually approve of the publicity and jokes made. Ironically, their most popular video is a piece that brings together other video game streamers who react negatively to PewDiePie’s style of commentary. Here is another video that is far more representative of what they originally created to get their own start. My question to you all is: do you believe the critical commentary and entertainment provided by a pair of YouTubers like Retsupurae is appropriate? Do you think that this qualifies as pure cyber-bullying even though the other YouTubers are purposefully uploading their own Let’s Play content for public consumption?

Emotionally Practical: That Dragon Cancer

There exists in this game a clear, apparent purpose by the authors/developers to ensure that those of whom are playing this game are given the ability to feel and to express emotion. I argue that it is not the purpose for this game to necessarily be satisfying in a typical FPS or level-up sense, but more so satisfying with regards to wisdom achieved or deeper understandings by the games end.

By just a little bit after the intro/begining, you will see how it already will be sectioned off into the life of the young child, with us eventually landing into the hospital. What was most intriguing by having this setting in a hospital is not necessarily showing or simulating that the parents were in the hospital, but it portrayed this dark ambiance, almost dark and mysterious feeling towards the players of the game. Even more so, one could feel extremley saddened by the juxtaposition of life- the young child- and there that of death- a happenstance that one only hopes to experience years well into adulthood- well into being elderly.

With regards to this newfound wisdom aforementioned in this game, I as a gameplayer was not privy to all of the different happenings goings (sic)  on with regards to dealing with the sickness of cancer. For instance, [below]


one can see that what seems like a race-track game with the kids is actually a way to collect different procedures for dealing with cancer. It listed differnt types of blood-works taken when one collected a token during the race, as well as listed other procedures such as chemotherapy. While I did know of the procedure of chemotherapy, I was not previously aware of all the different types of bloodwork taken while being treated for cancer, therefore, as a gameplayer, my real-world knowledge was increased from playing this particular game.

What was most present though was the emotional forethought put into this game. Let’s take this scence for example [I’ve enlarged it a bit]:


We can see hear the warm colors of the sun contrasted though with the hospital lime green of the Intravaneous fluid attached to the toddler. Specifically, what you can’t see, or hear that is, in here, is the baby’s crying. I remember having to turn down my computer’s volume when the baby cried, because of how loud and rough it was. This certainly was the most emotional part of the game-play- and in particular- made me as a gameplayer more aware of the struggles of taking care of a toddler  while you are in fatigue and exhaustion, on top of the worry for the baby’s well–being itself. \

Certainly, this game brings out the cultural awareness of the dealings with of cancer in the most practical, simulated sense. I would rate this game an 8.5-9/10.

Character development and communication in gaming

There are a lot of ways that characters can be developed in games. This could be something as simple as their communications with other characters in the game, dialogue, or simply a narrative. Every game has a different approach to the way they develop their characters, however almost every game depends on some form of communication to achieve this. Some of my most favorite games such as the Ratchet and Clank series on the Play Station Portable follow the idea of using a narrative to develop characters. The game uses short films in the middle of game play to both develop characters and further the plot of the game. This form of character and plot development is seen quite often in many games.


Journey is one game that uses a very different way to develop the main character and communicate between characters and the gamers. Journey is set in a vaguely Egyptian region, with appearances of several things such as many glyphs and symbols and of course the figure that possibly depicts the Egyptian goddess Isis, that point to this Egyptian influence. The way this game communicates between characters and gamers is something I have never seen before and find very interesting. Throughout the game, we control a robed figure that travels through a desert towards the mountains in the distance. What’s surprising to me was that the game had no mechanics allowing us to communicate with other characters, and we didn’t even see any cinematic scenes where the characters talked.


We start off as single player but often come across other characters, soon to realize that these are actually other players playing the game from around the world. Usually in cases like this, you would expect to be able to communicate with those players, for example, in Lord of the Rings Online, the world chat enables us to communicate with those characters, and we can also interact with them, and challenge them to duels or form a fellowship with them. However, in Journey, we can’t do any of this and the only possible way we could “communicate” with those characters is by “singing” and signaling to them. I found this form of communication very interesting, and after watching a couple of walkthroughs, I found that gamers ethos plays a big part in the game. I saw that many gamers would guide new gamers through the game and wait for them as they followed them – even though they didn’t actually know them. The game has an overlaying theme of maternity and has a very calm feel to it, and the actions of the gamers really represents it. The game shows clear and definite themes of romance, and this game really shows that games allow portray their creativity by using familiar themes in and shows that the same effects can be achieved in different mediums in variety of different ways.

Sunk Cost versus Characterization

There are a lot of good reasons to like a character in a narrative, whether it is a novel, movie or even video game. They can be written well with witty dialogue, have upstanding morals, or even can just be attractive. But there are those characters, who, like in Journey, are likable despite not saying anything or doing anything significant on their own. Now, there are micro-manipulations writers and developers can make to influence the consumer to actually want to like their creations (e.g. their physical mechanics including gracefulness, their coloring, the music that plays when focusing on them), but one possible thing to take into consideration is how much time the player is putting into these characters, and how that interacts with the character’s likability.

There’s a well-known fallacy/concept known as the sunk-cost fallacy, in which a businessman (or investor, etc.) will continue to put resources into something, despite having already put irrecoverable resources into it with no real gain previously, simply because they invested in it (and often heavily). This fallacy mostly is constrained to the world of economics, where it is most relevant, but it may be interesting to investigate its possible interactions with video games.

“Failing to Ignore Sunken Costs”

In a lot of video games, especially ones with heavy grinds such as MMO’s, the sunk cost fallacy manifests itself very strongly. Take, for example, the game Runescape, which is essentially one whole time sink machine. For most people, the ultimate goals are to reach the maximum levels in their skills (99 for oldies like me), which involves hundreds of hours of time put into single skills and eventually hours upon hours for single levels. If you’ve already put two hundred hours into reaching the next milestone, you will be much more reluctant to give up your lot and simply stop playing without actually reaching the milestone.

Narratives will have a different interaction with the fallacy than things like Runescape, though. In games like Journey, you’re not spending hundreds of hours trying to reach the end of the game. But you’re still putting in time, guiding this red-robed character with no real unique identification markers across the world to the mountain for the goal of completion. It is hard to say that the player-controlled character has any real markings of characterization – we don’t know its gender, it doesn’t speak, and we certainly don’t know what the exact motives of the character are throughout the story. Part of it might be that we have such a high level of control compared to many other games, where the character is predetermined, but in Journey the player is in charge of everything the character actually does.

Without real characterization, it might be hard to really answer why this character is likable, why we would want to sympathize with this character. I would primarily lay my claim as the idea that, by the time we start really thinking about whether or not we care about the character, we have invested enough time into the game for us to not really care about what’s been given to us about them, just that we’ve spent enough time with the character to want to ride out the rest of the story with them.

Which is certainly not to say that Journey isn’t worth finishing by itself. With such a fantastic soundtrack, interesting mechanics, intriguing and well-built up mystery, and some interesting but not complex landscape puzzles to figure out, the game maintains enough drive for the player to want to see the ascent up to the top of the mountain. While Journey certainly comes lacking in characterization, it is rare to find a game like it that can pull off that kind of experience without needing it.








Cathedrals on Cartridges: can gaming give us a spiritual experience?

Are video games the next frontier for spirituality? The indie video game Journey takes players on a, well, journey through a vast desert dotted with ruins, an “underworld” patrolled by menacing stone automatons, and finally an ascent up a mountain. The player may collaborate with other players they meet along the way, the two journeying characters becoming companions as long as they stay together through the levels. Players are unable to communicate with each other except for a musical “chime” sound.

Critics have praised Journey for its visuals, soundtrack, and story. Much of the praise, however, focuses not only on gameplay mechanics and visuals but on the experience of playing. Reviewer Christian Dolan of Eurogamer calls the game’s aesthetics “a kind of sparse… Biblical imagination” and called the game “an attempt to manufacture a kind of non-denominational religious experience for players: to make them feel like a small yet crucial part of something vast, mysterious, and powerful.” Finland says that the efforts fell short until he encountered a companion player: “all the convenient metaphors and artificiality melt away. The game’s lunges at profundity disappear, and you’re left to focus on the core of the experience: a pilgrimage.”

The description of this game as a “pilgrimage” caught me by surprise. the characters’ garb may recall religious wear, and the vast beauty of Journey’s setting can amaze and inspire, but do these elements create a sincere pilgrimage – even a truly spiritual journey – for the player?

It isn’t unusual for video games, especially rpgs set in fantastical worlds, to have their own religions and pantheons: the Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age franchises, for example, both boast elaborate pantheons of gods who often meddle in mortals’ affairs and send the player on quests, but few would call these interactions with a programmed deity a religious experience.

Though there are many video games that focus on real life religions, That Dragon, Cancer was the first I’d heard of that achieved widespread acclaim. That Dragon, Cancer boldly and directly shows the creators’ spiritual journey and Christian faith as their son Joel fights terminal cancer. Their faith is never reduced to a game mechanic, but the player is an intimate witness to their spiritual evolution: one of the most powerful moments of the game, for me, was when the player (as Joel’s father) is unable to soothe cancer-pained Joel; after trying everything without success, the father prays, and finally Joel is able to find piece and fall asleep.

Journey doesn’t profess allegiance to any real-life faith or even claim a directly religious message – the player is free to interpret everything, including the large white-robed figured that occasionally appear, however they like. The open-ended nature of the game means that many, like Donlan, draw comparisons to a spiritual or secular-spiritual journey. Can video games like Journey or the very difficult That Dragon, Cancer share a genuine spiritual/religious experience with players, or can games not (or should not) convey sun an experience? How do technology and new media influence or transform how we interact and interpret the “sacred?” Have you ever had a spiritual experience with a cheek game or encountered a game that tried and failed to achieve that experience?