If We Could Go Back In Time…

Text by A.A. BENJAMIN, Game Demo by JO KIM, Characters by SPARLING

Our fictional Once Upon A Time Machine video game proposal (<–see our powerpoint presentation here) had one obvious blunder. We had a cool game demo but treated our presentation as separate from the demo.

As we talk about hyper-meditation in this English New Media course, finding ways to merge the two would have been an opportune way to express what we’ve learned in the course. However, timing issues and mishaps aside, the highlight of this project was collaboration. Our bouncing ideas transformed into a proposal that mimicked gameplay and a fun intertextual commentary that made gaming attractive to a target audience.

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The Narrator

We built a video game model off of the arcade style and well-known Mario Kart race track design. The premise of the game is that you can choose one from ten playable characters designed from H.G. Well’s novel, The Time Machine. You then race against your friends in your choice of eight vehicles derived from methods of time travel across literature and film to date, all with their pros and cons. Along the courses which follow the novel’s plot, you use items and special weapons to work your way to first place, surviving the clingy Eloi and destructive Morlocks. Our game provided some intertextual game play for intellectuals in their 20s and 30s, as well as sci-fi and steampunk fans. We also took liberties with H.G. Well’s more obscurely described characters to create gender and race-inclusive characters.

The most enjoyable part about this project, to me, was the generation of ideas together and then watching them develop through art and imagery. One thing we would have needed to do if this were a real proposal would have been to fully design our own concepts and/or cite our sources (drawing them would have been super fun). Though we wouldn’t have to consider copyright issues with the aged H.G. Wells novel, we concluded that we could keep the vehicles as direct references under the Fair Use doctrine. Also, as indicated by our classmates, we could have described the functions of more of our characters, vehicles, and levels rather than focusing on one or two, so here some drafts that didn’t make the cut:

 

Man With A Beard
Man With A Beard–Spontaneous combustion whenever using matches

 

Time_Machine__in_Engine_by_natetheartist
Time Machine Sled–Can hold endless items. The more you have slower you are. Items attract Eloi, sled itself attracts Morlocks. Enables use of mace
Tardis–Unaffected by villains. Overheats when lighting matches. Your matches don’t work on villains (because you’re in a box. Basically, just avoid matches). Disappears momentarily. Works best with Medical Man
HyperSpace
Final Stage Kill Screen: In the old arcade games, the machines had limited space and therefore when players got far enough the graphics began to devolve. The Time Machine ends with the Time Traveller disappearing without a clue of where he went, so the last stage could be a “kill screen,” racing at length until the game graphics begin to deteriorate.

Unfortunately, we are mere undergrad students incapable of rendering the game in such the intricate way that we imagine, so if we were to get a chance to build it, it’d probably be less compelling. But it was fun to dream, anyway. Isn’t that where all great games begin? Progress!

–A.A. Benjamin

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A “Grue”some Comeback

BY A.A. BENJAMIN

I might be digitally illiterate.

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Please excuse my crappy highlights. I edited these on the go 😦

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I’ve already admitted that my values of perseverance in video games is shamefully low. The mobile Zork app has kicked my butt. Trying to play this new age Zork has given me a new appreciation for the gamers of old. After watching King of Kong, reading Ready Player One and being schooled by Professor Clayton, I realize how much more dedication the games of the past demanded.

While working on The Stanley Parable I wanted to analyze it as an evolution of the Text-Based Game. It followed narrative as if it were a written story, and like TBGs it gave open-ended game play. I thought I’d love it because of its writerly aspects, but I quickly learned that the gaming methods I’d picked up over the years wouldn’t fly in the Zork world. I ran into dead ends, I had no idea what to do with all my fragmented inventory items, and I felt like there was some inside knowledge going on that was miles away from me. We talked about how The Stanley Parable relies on endings for its appeal…and the fact that Zork felt endless made me stop the game many times without getting much further past the introductory mailbox scene.

The mechanics of the game also stumped me. You have to think of EVERYTHING ahead of time, otherwise you’re screwed. I made the overly excited mistake of going down a trap door without first taking the lantern described in the previous scene. I spent the next twenty minutes being eaten by grues and then repeatedly being told that I couldn’t escape or defend myself because it was too dark to see.

Would I have jumped down a dark trap door in real life without taking the obviously placed lantern?

It was then I learned to appreciate the game’s lack of forgiveness. It forced me to think harder, rather than throwing the rules of real life to the wind.  While I doubt I would have lasted a second in previous gaming culture, this reproduced Zork invited me in as well as challenged the way I think about writing.

My theory about The Stanley Parable as a Text-Based Game is vaguely wrong. The Stanley Parable is not on par with the mechanisms used in TBGs, or at least in Zork. However, the fact that TBGs are making a comeback under the guise of “interactive fiction” shows that arts and methodologies are once again merging, now into the virtual and digital world.  As books become more outdated we use Kindles and Nooks. Building off of Ernest Cline’s model of free knowledge in Ready Player One, so too could the digitization of literature spark dreams of accessibility and appeal to younger and more diverse generations.

It was for this reason that I was so eager to label The Stanley Parable as text. In other aspects, it is literature. It even tells you so directly in a certain “Window Ending”. But it is not quite a TBG. Zork reminded me that some things don’t fit in boxes so easily. (Ironically, the entire Zork adventure happens in a text box. Things you forget.) Even still I can’t help but feel that because of these waves of interaction between old arts and new something explosive could happen to literature. I want to know that literature can still be at the head of modern advancement, and not the archaic tail.

Until then I’ll be walking around taking unwanted grammar lessons from an old game.

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

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.

The Eye: In Gaming and Other Forms of Media

A. A. BENJAMIN

 

I’ve noticed a trend in the different mediums I’ve come in contact with lately.  

TheEYE
Movie: The Fellowship of the Ring
Game: A Story About My Uncle (PC)
Game: A Story About My Uncle (PC)
Game: Journey (PS3)
Game: Journey (PS3)
Article: some Uber alien game that hasn’t come out yet
Article: some Uber alien game that hasn’t come out yet

What is the cultural significance of this eye and why do we fear it? It drives us instinctively to hide even when it has not been explained—game, movie or otherwise—why we should hide in the first place. Something fictitious puts such a deep anxiety in our hearts that I have to wonder what about this fear is real.
 
 
 
My first instinct is to run to Orwell’s “Big Brother” in 1984. This could possibly be a subconscious cultural and political commentary of modern day lack of trust in structures of authority and power. This unifying symbolism shows a thread of fear that weaves these creative minds together as they form a common enemy.
 
The looming watchful eye always takes a grotesquely large and bulbous shape, anywhere between orange to reddish in tone, sometimes with that cat-like slit that seems to be that much more evil. It is always THE eye. One, not two.
 
 
 
Not only does the singularity suggest the disturbing all-powerful theme explored in 1984, but it also creates this alien-ness that makes it hard for us to fathom what the one eyed creature would do with us if it did catch us. The unknown stirs our deepest fears…
 
Though recurring images across mediums may not be intentional, I think it’d be a bit naïve to assume that they are by accident. What are we trying to tell ourselves, with the continuous return of this monster? Maybe we fear imposing onlookers stripping away our privacy and autonomy. Maybe we fear spectatorship, which is quite interesting considering the mediums in which this monster takes form. If we conflict with a culture of spectatorship, we must be using some strange counter attack that involves becoming the looming spectator ourselves. We can comfortably strip Frodo down with our own eyes, but God-forbid the camera turn on us. Our first instinct is to hide and fear, and it appears that game developers continuously use this easy fix to propel gamers through their desired narrative.
 
I still can’t pinpoint, though, WHY The Eye is such a universally easy fix. How has this organ become a fearsome symbol through time?

The Eye of Providence, or what illuminati conspiracy theorists call, the Eye of Horus  (U.S. Dollar Bill)
The Eye of Providence, or what illuminati conspiracy theorists call, the Eye of Horus (U.S. Dollar Bill)

A Story About My Failure

By A. A. BENJAMIN

There’s a game sitting in my Steam queue that I haven’t played for months. I’ve gotten to the very last level, and just can’t get across this dreaded chasm.

A Story About My Uncle

It’s called A Story About My Uncle, and trying to “grapple” with computer keys and a touch pad didn’t drive me nuts until this stage. In class on Thursday I was struck by the “I don’t care if I fail” consensus. It was so interesting to me, to see how a person can be both competitive and yet so careless about failure. Commence brain malfunction in 5…4…3…

I think I have a problem. I have diagnosed myself with “sore-loser” syndrome. It’s not that I kick my feet and whine about how it’s not fair or that the computer “cheated.” I just give up. I tell myself I can’t bear to get so far again, just to have to do it again, and again, and again. I tell myself I have to drastically change my strategy each time rather than just trying the same strategy again with more patience. So, A Story About My Uncle sits in my queue undefeated indefinitely. (A quick note: I absolutely love these kinds of simplistic games for their visuals and story lines…quite stimulating for an aspiring author. But that’s another story.)

Oh, but it doesn’t end there! My relationship with LOTRO began with me blazing through the Intro and Prologue. What did you say? I can do side quests? You mean stop and help those peasants with their remedial chores? BAHA! I think not…But first came the warg, when I got too cocky curious. Then came the marsh, where some short marsh thing blasted me with a firebomb and I almost ran away crying. Almost. Then came Bree, and all the smack of reality that comes after it. I found myself dying. Once, twice, three times, nooo! Then I was not only dying, but failing quests. Then not only failing quests, but having quests lined up in red because my level was so “embarrassingly” low. And don’t even talk to me about the Old Forest. The last time I just tried to make it out alive with a bucket of water, and when I finally made my last steps toward victory, time ran out and the bucket disappeared. You can probably guess I haven’t gone back to try again. Then I killed a little girl, Leila, because I wasn’t prepared to fight every living breathing thing in the Barrow Downs as she dragged me around looking for her cloak. (At least she did find her cloak. At least she was nice and warm when the skeletons got her.)

Then, THEN—for goodness sake— I couldn’t even figure out the CHICKEN RUN. I finished all the prerequisite quests but failed in the part that really matters. Why? Because it was late, and I was too frustrated to even process information properly.

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Yep. I logged out with the chicken run literally right in front of my face, because I was too frustrated to pay attention. “But where’s the race?!” *Puts on dunce cap and goes to sit in a corner.* I’m beginning to wonder if this is a “real life” problem.

If how we behave in video games reflects our reality, I’m going to hit a mid-life crisis real soon. That’s why our discussion last class struck me. If we can theorize that gamers are more inclined to take risks and make waves, what does that say about discouraged gamers? What about those “when I’m good, I’m great, and when I’m bad, I’m terrible” people? There’s no in-between. Which is quite a premature attitude to have. Ironically this attitude appears to be a recent installation in my life, because some years ago when I cared less about pride and more about fun, I completed more games.Therefore, I’m assigning myself an era of reform in gaming. To all who claim that gaming sucks us out of reality, I’d like to be the counterpoint. Perhaps gaming puts the deeper reality we can’t see, touch, or feel right in our faces.