A Walk in the Park

I have always been fascinated with the English language.  I am an avid reader, a crossword puzzle fanatic, and I pride myself on my diverse vocabulary.  Recently however, I was at a loss for words when asked to accurately define the difference between game and play.  I knew what both the words ‘meant’ but I couldn’t vocalize the root difference.  I took the logical next step and sought out official definitions of both words, they are as follows:

Game: “activity engaged in for diversion or amusement” (From Merriam-Webster)

Play: “recreational activity; especially the spontaneous activity of children” (From Merriam-Webster)

These definitions do not clarify the difference, as they are nearly identical.  We can agree that both games and play are active, and they are both for amusement, but what sets them apart? In order to explore the difference between games and play I have gone through a step-by-step visualization… just bear with it.

Its Saturday afternoon and you head down to the local park.  The air is crisp and the sun is shining.  You lazily stroll along a winding path until you come upon a group of toddlers.  The small children seemingly wander about aimlessly, but upon further investigation you realize that they happen to be chasing small butterflies.  You think to yourself that these children are at play, innocently engaging in a freeform activity for the sake of amusement.  You continue along the path until you come across jungle gym swarming with 9-year-old children.  The children seem to be participating in a game they refer to as cops and robbers.  At first the activity seems to be completely devoid of structure, but upon further investigation you find that there is a rudimentary rule set.  There are two teams, waging battle, but you would not necessarily consider this a game.  Children switch sides at will and they fail to follow any unified set of conventions.  Soon the activity ends as children begin to wander off.  This seems to be a more organized form of play, but it’s not quite a game.  Once again you proceed along the path until you come across a group of elderly gentlemen playing chess.  Surely we consider this a game.  The men play for amusement, but unlike the younglings they follow a strict set of conventions.  Each piece has a unique style of movement, limiting the player’s options.  The battle is waged turn by turn until one player reigns supreme, there is a clear end game.

Hopefully what this visualization shows us is that a clear set of rules separates games from play.  The toddlers activity is completely spontaneous, it is play in its most basic form.  The 9-year-olds are participating in something slightly more complex, as they are beginning to form a rule set.  Cops and Robbers is somewhere in-between random wanderings and chess.  The elderly gentlemen are completely dependent upon a rule set, and it’s the rules that separate games from play.


An Albatross Around My Neck?

With a name like Worlds of Wordcraft, it goes without saying that we play a substantial amount of video games in this class. So far, it’s been mostly contained to Lord of the Rings Online, but this is changing with the introduction of Neverwinter Nights 2. Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a gamer; I’m nowhere close to that. In fact, outside of what’s required for this class, I haven’t played video games once. I have, however, dabbled in video games over the years. I’ve owned a few game consoles, starting with the Sega Genesis, and including the Nintendo 64 and Xbox 360. Yet, not once has any aspect of my life, whether academic, personal, or otherwise, suffered. I play them when I have time, and enjoy doing so.

The games in this class, however, I do not enjoy. Don’t get me wrong; they’re both two great games, but just not my cup of tea. I guess that quests are just for certain people, and I am not one of them. This doesn’t bother me, nor should it bother the game designers, or the professors. After all, you can’t please everyone.

I don’t spend my free time playing computer games. This class  gives us that option, and suggests that we do. Under normal circumstances, this would be a conflict. However, one of the great things about Worlds of Wordcraft is its flexibility. For the most part, we’re only required to spend a minimal amount of time playing them. We’re encouraged to play more, if we desire, but not forced to. Our gaming experience has no effect on our grade, and I like it that way. These games aren’t for me, so I play them minimally. I’ll play them as much as I need to, and won’t forego my responsibilities in the class, but I won’t play them beyond what’s necessary. Therefore,  I don’t feel like playing games takes away from my personal and academic lives.

In fact, only once have I felt like playing these games was a burden. This occurred while I was writing the second paper. I needed all the time I had to write, and during that time was my one opportunity to go on a raid with the class and collect pictures of the old forest. Obviously a conflict arose, and I ended up writing instead. I was forced to compromise, and take solo pictures of the area, and of myself being eaten by the weakest of monsters. That being said, gaming for the class has not been an albatross around my neck.

-Matt Thumser

Striking a Balance

Seeing as how the online game has the ability to consume a player’s life just as the bottle can take over a drunk, the uneducated observer might conclude that our class is more or less engaging in the facilitated use of digital drugs.  While this assertion might not be too far from the truth, it is important to note that, just like any other addictive activity, moderation is key. By controlling the degree to which one participates in an addictive hobby, the user is able to reap most of the benefits while bearing a minimum of the costs. As I have been an avid gamer for almost my entire life, this economic process of moderation is something that has been more or less self-taught throughout my grade-school years. By pressing the power button, a player accepts nature’s unwritten agreement that, in a person’s full schedule, engaging in one activity will necessarily deallocate the time alloted for another. The solution (as it is more or less a personal formula) to a successfully-balanced life is to arrange said schedule such that work, play, and other miscellaneous activities are all optimized. Thus, playing LOTRO has had a minimal impact upon the rest of my life since I merely stuck it into the time slot that I had reserved for gaming, anyway.

As LOTRO has slowly shifted to Neverwinter Nights 2, so has my allocation of time in that slot. I still do all the work I need to do, and I still spend a healthy amount of time (and have a lot of fun) with my friends. But, my bipolar life is such that I have more fun overall when I spend an equal amount of my “play” time with friends and video games. After I’m done being a socialite, I go and isolate myself from the outside world with an absorbing video game. I have learned through experience that, for me, this method maximizes the amount of fun I have on both fronts. I head directly from the frat party to BioShock; from Assassin’s Creed I leave for the concert. I succeed (or at least I’d like to think so) in this balance because I am naturally motivated to do my work with the end goal of existing on one of these ends of the social spectrum, knowing that I’ll also get to travel to the other. By economically maximizing the amount of fun I have, I also optimize the amount of work I am able to accomplish via a strengthened motivation.

Yet, I am a rare breed. Many are unable to recognize that each necessary (and healthy) activity should have a minimum amount of time allocated to it. For example, just because I love a new game does not mean it would be wise to forsake my friends to play it; it merely increases the amount of fun obtained from gaming and, thus, my overall fun. The new game will only take full effect if strategically integrated into my life in the first place, so attempting to reduce its effect by allowing it to consume more time in my schedule would be a fallacy indeed. Unfortunately, many fall prey to the addictions caused by such absorbing games as LOTRO and World of Warcraft. They fail to allocate their time correctly, and the time originally reserved for the game expands, taking over other necessary activities in its conquest.

So how, then, does one know when enough is enough? When does one log out of the virtual world and once again exist in the real one? The answer to this question is personal in nature. I know people who play 6-8 hours of Halo 3 every weekend, yet still function perfectly in every regard. On the other hand, if I ask another kid to play 2 hours of Soulcalibur IV with me, I could easily disrupt his perfectly-balanced life, sending it into a chaotic downward spiral. Everyone simply has to figure out for themselves a manageable, sustainable amount of time for which to engage in their favorite activities. An enjoyable activity must not consume a person’s life, but it also must be present in order for any enjoyment to come of it. Although my analysis of a balanced life may sound economic and mathematical in nature, I assure you I don’t have a formula chart to determine how much Mass Effect I can play tonight. It’s just like learning to ride a bike; you may fail the first few times you try, but eventually you get the hang of it and develop a very useful skill.

-Billy Bunce

Hey! No running near the pool! -300 points!

by Calvin Patimeteeporn

The debate of over play and games have raised quite a debate in class, with arguments ranging from rules of games being the main construct of the definition of game to random inclusions of Newton’s laws of gravity. About 90% of the time when we talk about play v.s. games we bring up one defining factor of games: rules. While this is a huge part of the gaming as it basically provides the structure of games, we cannot define anything with rules as a game as we have done for quite some time.

Almost everything has rules, from basic etiquette to swimming pools, yet none of these can be considered as a “game”. This is, of course, the reason why we must narrow down our definition and stop subjecting life as a game simply because we “obey the laws of gravity” (This is for you Tyler). So, while rules play a part in gaming we must also consider another trait of games and not play: a removal of the individual from reality and into a gamespace.

A swimming pool, although filled with rules, is not a game as it does not actually transfer the user to another virtual realm. The pool doesn’t take the user into a fantasy world where there is an objective, goal, or conflict, it instead just gives you a hole with water and rules. Hardly a game. Thus, we can’t consider the difference between play and games as simply rules, but rather the transportation of the user.

For instance, games such as Grand Theft Auto take gamers into a different world with different rules. A player in Liberty City in the game are subjected to different rules and privileges that normally wouldn’t be socially acceptable in real life, a key difference between games, play, and life.

“In hindsight, I can see why this may have possibly been a bad idea”

That being said, I conclude that play and games are, indeed, different, but the difference between them are not just rules but rather an inclusion of a gamespace as well. A classroom has rules but it is obviously not a game (or play for that matter). Thus, these arguments of life being a game or trampoline also being a game due to the laws of the universe, can be refuted as neither of which bring the user to a gamespace.

Nerd Cred and the Gateway MMO

One year, when I was still in elementary school, my mother found that she needed advice. Dad’s birthday was coming up, and she simply did not know what to get him. So, being the kind and thoughtful person she is, she phoned Uncle Pat, one of Dad’s best friends, for some help. “Try Everquest,” he said. “I’ve got it and it’s a lot of fun. I think he’d like it.”

After that, our lives were never the same.

Mom unknowingly went down to the store and picked up what I like to call the gateway drug of MMOs, and much to her dismay, both of her daughters and her husband have been hooked ever since. Though I never played Everquest myself, I enjoyed watching my dad play. To my eight-year-old mind it looked like a movie, but you were the main character! It was YOU who got to slay monsters and explore a new world and outfit yourself with armor befitting a great hero. When I got a little older, I stepped into the online worlds of Guild Wars, SWG, and others, and never looked back.

I think, because I grew up with games, I have learned how to not let them affect me too much. I have an ‘rl’ life much larger than the one I have online, and never let a game release get in the way of homework. I’m also pretty picky about which games I like, so I’ve never had to watch my spending either. It’s the way I present my gaming to the world at large that has always required delicacy. Mostly it’s a matter of who I’m talking to. When asked what writing seminar I was taking by a fellow first-year, I would say, “The one where we get to play video games for class.” Though this is somewhat inaccurate, it allowed me to not only avoid the social stigma of the ‘online gamer’ but to arouse jealousy in the questioner, who usually had a seminar in the wonderful and captivating field of British War Writing. With my friends, however, I could brag all I wanted about the fact that not only was my homework to watch The Fellowship of the Ring, I got to play LotRO for college credit. It’s all about the audience. Not everyone responds to the same things.

That’s not to say that I am not proud to be a nerd, a geek, or a sci-fi aficionado. I just know how to balance them so that those on the outside (you know, the normal people. There’s one! Did you see him?) can still be friends with me–whether or not they speak Klingon (just for the record, I HAVE NEVER STUDIED KLINGON–seriously). Though gaming is one of my favorite things to do, it’s not all I do, nor is it ever all anyone does. If anything, gaming this semester has merely given me extra nerd cred with my high school friends, and made some classmates green with envy. So why is there even a stigma associated with gaming? I could go on all day on that, but, it’s another post.

May the Force be with you!


The Lost Joy of Gaming

 I have been playing video games since when I was eight years old, and I still remember the day that I got my first Game Boy Color. It was the most fun toy I had ever gotten up that point, and I spent hours playing all my favorite games on it. When I was 12, I got my Xbox. It was like a completely different experience for me when I saw the 3D graphics, complex storylines, and real music. It was as if I had literally found another dimension. The upgrade to the Xbox 360 was just as good; it opened up a whole new level of gaming for me. Although video games weren’t a huge part of my life, they were still a great way to relax and could always be counted on to provide fun when I was bored.

Although it wasn’t my first or second choice for a writing seminar, I was looking forward to my first Worlds of Wordcraft class, where it would be fun to talk about, write about, and most importantly, play video games. Since my other classes were chemistry, physics, and multivariable calculus, I thought it would be a welcome change from the equations and formulas that usually occupy my thoughts during class, and talk about video games instead.

When we first started playing LOTRO, I was excited that we were finally able to start playing games. However, when I first started playing it, I was getting bored within a few minutes. I was totally confused about what I was supposed to do, and I didn’t really care to find out. After trying for about five minutes to get out of the first room, I closed the game and did not play it for another week. I kept getting reminded that I had to join the kinship, so I eventually had to complete the introduction, which took me about two weeks. Games are usually fun for me, but playing LOTRO felt more like homework than fun. After I joined the kinship, I thought I was done with the game, but when I found out that I had to go back in it to write the essay, I was fairly annoyed. I ran through the Old Forest and Barrow Downs quickly, took some screenshots, and closed the game for good.

I thought this class would make me enjoy games more, but instead it has made me indifferent towards them. Since I arrived at Vanderbilt, I have not really played any video games, and I didn’t even bring my Xbox 360. I barely played LOTRO, and I haven’t started Never Winter Nights. I’m not entirely sure why my attitude towards video games has changed; it may be because I didn’t like LOTRO, or maybe because I have no experience with MMORPGs, or maybe I just don’t have time for them. However, I think the main reason is that this class has turned video games into work instead of play. To me video games are a way to have fun and relax, not a serious topic to analyze and write essays about. When I think about games now, writing  five page papers and long reading assignments come to mind, not the enjoyment and carefree fun they provide. I really do like games, so I hope I start enjoying them for what they are when this class is over. On the plus side, games have not affected my academics, social life, or athletics at all, so it might be a good thing that I’m not playing video games.

-Kashyap Saxena

The Way of the (virtual) Warrior

~ Breon Guarino

It’s been a long hard path. It really has. For some reason, I find myself hearing from students around me that my struggles for mastery are misguided and unnecessary. There are those that would argue that I am “wasting my time” or “not setting up my priorities properly.” There are those that might assume that I am not performing my duties as a student in the proper manner.

Bah! Fie on them! What is Calculus to me, a minor deity in my own right? What hold could the pitiful mental thrusts of General Chemistry hope to have? My mind has been strengthened in close combat with the Mind Flayers of the Illithids! I have stared into the maw of Elder Beholders and survived! I have championed causes and fought at the forefront of dozens of campaigns across a dozen more planes than this one! Surely such paltry foes are no match for my might!

Is it so wrong to find the dulcet tones or gunfire soothing? Is it so terribly strange to savor the sound of close combat through the medium provided by my computer? In so many ways, gaming actively has boosted certain aspects of my personality, but I willingly grant that my education may have suffered in others. I find the level of focus attained when striving to target a distant opponent thrilling.  It’s such a lovely combination of skill and luck, demanding no personal character development. The objective, for once, is simple and easy to grasp; I possess a weapon, and my opponent possesses a weapon, and I must damage my opponent until they are no longer able to wield that weapon effectively in an offensive manner.

In short, I must kill them. Simple, isn’t it? It just warms my heart, how simple it is.

This simplicity contrasts quite sharply with the ever-daunting task of optimization problems in calculus. I don’t want to be bothered with it, in all seriousness. If it was a piece of nigh-indecipherable literature that had to be read completely by the end of the week, that would be one thing. I would have fun with that, honestly. That is an objective that I can throw myself at willingly. Calculus…simply is not. It gets more difficult to focus on the calculus work when I think about how I could be easily focusing on anything more enjoyable. I can empty a figurative magazine of bullets into calculus and see it rise up again like the Flood, and when I’ve expended all of my mental ammunition it seems to laugh for a moment before gathering all of my hopes and eating them. It EATS them. It slaughters them like animals and DEVOURS them.

With that said, I’ve learned several things during my time as an actively gaming student, and all this experience is moving towards leveling up and upgrading my stats. I’m done letting myself shift the focus away from my work so easily; after all, it’s better to work towards goals that I enjoy achieving that will aid me in return. Oh, and forget calculus. Seriously, truly, deeply, forget calculus.  I’m SO done with calculus. Calculus is a Mind Flayer in its own right, and it is only proper that one would withdraw in the face of an opponent that one has no reason to face. Courage and temperance must be taken in equal measures, after all.