Those were my exact thoughts the first time I read the syllabus. About three months later, I have never been happier to have taken this class. When my friends and family found out that I indeed was taking this class they were all perplexed. I had never been interested in video games, but I discovered this class was about way more than that.
I have learned considerably more in this class than I could ever imagine. Because of this class I pushed the limit of what I thought constituted school work. Playing a video game for homework? Some of my friends were jealous, but for me it was just as rigorous as some of the work I am assigned in my other more traditional classes. I had to learn video game jargon, how to move my fingers swiftly, and the method of thinking that develops over time after playing video games. I love to be challenged and this class has challenged me academically.
Never before had I contemplated the stories of video games. The main theme of our class has been remediation. I realized that every mode of media was intertwined and often drew upon each other for story lines and inspiration. The majority of our class focused on The Lord of the Rings. I was exposed to a whole culture based on a work of literature that I had never experienced. From the die hard fans who have learned the elfish language to the father and son that play LOTRO on the weekends I discovered that there is more to Lord of the Rings than funny character names and weird looking creatures, but rather it has the power to bring people from all over the world together over a common ground. It only makes sense in our globalized and technological world that literature should adopt to new forms.
So what have I learned this semester, Dad? More than you could ever imagine – watch me kill this wolf. Just wait until you see the video game I helped create.
Playing the Sims was an instant throwback to my elementary school days. My friends and I would load the CD into the CPU and wait anxiously huddled around my desktop computer for the game to load. But times have changed! Emily showed up to class with her laptop and simply clicked for the game to start. Almost instantaneously we were transported into a virtual reality. First off, we created our Sim character. The number of options available for making a human is astronomical! I could not believe all of the different choices to make. It is no longer as simple as choosing hair and eye color, but rather we could choose their body weight and muscle definition, whether or not they have freckles, the shape of their eyebrows. Does this really matter when playing a video game? After a while it became tedious. It seemed so superficial that in a video game we have to care about outward appearances. Not only did we have to choose outward appearances, but also we had to pick their interests, personality, and life goals. Personally, I don’t really care if my Sim wants to be a 5 star chef or an international spy. Finally, we resorted to choosing characters created by the randomization tool since making each separate character was so time consuming. When we got past the part of making characters we had to choose a house and furnish it. While this part was entertaining, I found there were too many options. I’m indecisive in my own real life and almost felt like the video game was mocking me! We didn’t get to play much of the action part because we ran out of time, but I’m looking forward to playing in and creating a virtual world.
The romance circle is common in all great epic stories. It starts out in childhood, then there is the threshold where the voyager leaves home for the first time, then the initiation, then the dedication to the quest, then the underworld, then the harrowing of Hell, then temptation, and lastly recognition. However, I don’t think the circle ends there. Life is a series of romance circles forming one large romance spiral.
Throughout life we are faced with many “voyages” or “adventures” creating one long spiraling journey. For example, college itself has been somewhat of a quest. You could analogize the process of applying to school, going to school, and graduating from school to Frodo’s own quest. Childhood instead would be high school and going to visit colleges would be leaving the threshold. Next, initiation would be acceptance to college and dedication to the quest is committing to a school. The next part I find rather comical where all of the classes and work throughout college are analogous to the underworld and the harrowing of Hell. Sometimes all of my work was a bit hellish. Temptation is all of the fun you have in college and your longing for the real world. Finally, recognition is equivalent to graduation where you gain recognition for all of your hard work.
Your life doesn’t end when you finish college (even though it feels like it). Therefore, instead of the circle ending there, rather it repeats itself and spirals into a long and great epic.
As I said previously in my first blog, I am not a gamer. I think I got a little over ambitious when I played Braid and seemed successful. However, if I thought Braid was hard how did I think I could play Lord of the Rings Online?!
After my friends and parents tried to talk me out of taking this class because they know I cannot play video games, I took their doubts and turned it into my determination. I became determined to learn how to play LOTRO and to be good at it. It turns out yes, I can play it, but no I am not very good at it. My movements around the game are awkward and dizzying. I often run around in circles looking for exits or the end of the quest when it is right in front of me. It took me quite a while, staying up late many nights, to get through the intro. When I finally made it to the Prancing Pony, well after all of my classmates, I was ecstatic! If I could get through the intro I could do anything.
After the intro though, I was on my own. I had to find my own quests and figure out how to get from place to place. There are so many rules and specific ways to do things that make the game hard to play for a casual player. Its impossible for me to remember every little detail that goes into this game, whether it be the correct way to write in the chat, or how to buy travel rations, or even how to check the map.
In playing LOTRO I have gained a lot of respect for my fellow gamers, well the ones a lot more experienced than I. They have learned and mastered how to exist in and navigate a totally new world. Video games are a lot harder than they look; it takes concentration and dedication to truly engage in the game.
There is a whole culture behind video games that I was completely unaware of – a culture of competition and pride. The film King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters seriously caught me off guard with the intensity and seriousness surrounding arcade games, specifically Donkey Kong. While it is nice to be the best in the world at something (not that I personally would know) it seems like grown men were putting their whole lives on hold to achieve the goal of being the best.
Throughout the movie I felt overwhelmingly sad for the family of Steve Wiebe. His wife was left alone to raise their children while he was cooped up in the garage playing Donkey Kong or travelling to prove his merits as a gamer. It seemed as if his family came second to Donkey Kong, which made me even more impressed that throughout his video game career his wife had unwaivering support for him. However, even though the Wiebe’s opened up their lives to the cameras, it would be interesting to see if behind the scenes there was tension in the marriage or the family stemming from his obsession with Donkey Kong.
What surprised me even more was being exposed to the worldwide phenomenon of record holding in arcade games. I had no idea that gamers across the world were in competition with one another, let alone that there were world records for such a thing. Twin Galaxies operates out of someone’s apartment where he watches tapes and decides which are valid. It’s crazy that people all over the world film their games and send them in just to be recognized and have a feeling of validation from one organization. The referees and the organization hardly seem fair. The main referee was a good friend of Billy Mitchell’s and favored his top score even though it was in the form of a video, something that was not allowed for Steve.
Overall, the movie was a classic story of the triumph of good over evil. Billy Mitchell was portrayed as being an arcade bully while Steve Wiebe was struggling to gain notoriety in the gaming world. Each time Steve broke a record Billy hit him right back with a video of a higher score (which may or may not have been edited). It was great in the end when they highlighted that by 2007 Steve had beaten Billy and was the world champion.
This was the first time I played a computer/video game in a very, very long time. I’m not very good at them and I definitely do not consider myself a “gamer”. I was a little hesitant when the homework assignment was to play Braid. Kelly and I sat anxiously as the game loaded- what had we gotten ourselves into we thought.
We started to play and it didn’t seem too hard. Space bar to jump, right and left arrows- even I could do this! It soon became clear that the goal of the game was to collect the puzzle pieces, it was the game progression behind the narrative. However, it got more and more difficult to get the pieces. The game defied the normal notion of moving forward to achieve a goal by allowing us to reverse time. At first it seemed as if we just couldn’t die, which was awesome since jumping into fire pits and getting killed by little monsters happened more often than not. Then we realized manipulating time was a key strategy to the game! We were confused as to how we were supposed to know this, but I guess that is part of video gaming- not having the rules explicitly spelled out for you. It kept the game interesting and allowed us to think of other possibilities of manipulation, like using the puzzle piece as a bridge. We soon got into the game and found ourselves talking to Tim as if he could hear us rooting for him to make the big jumps. I’m a little embarrassed, but hey I guess the gamer in me has been unleashed.