Fiction and Reality

Starting off with Braid, we are faced with a very familiar looking platform game. While in the beginning, the game seems to be a take on the Super Mario Brothers game, as we delve deeper, we see that Jonathan Blow has used the seemingly simple platform to tell a far more modern and complex story. As with any platform game, the player goes through a series of levels to complete challenging puzzles. However, Blow’s placement of books at the beginning of each ‘world’ offer a much more exciting gameplay narrative, which gets increasingly complicated and ambiguous as the game progresses. The plot follows the story of Tim, who seems to have made a mistake regarding the princess and is trying to get her back. Each world gives us some hints as to what had happened. As I was reading through the description of the game, I was very surprised to see that they called it a “non-linear” game. This came as a big surprise as platform games, by nature, are linear. But as I played through the first couple of worlds, the presence of the books and the ambiguity present in the narrative of the game clearly pointed to a non-linear plot.

While being a story very similar to that of Super Mario Brothers, the game has a very self-reflective nature. Several themes of forgiveness, frustration and regret are scattered throughout the plot of the game creating some tension between reality and fiction. One thing related to this I found very striking was the fact that Tim seemed very out of place in the setting of the game. While the game is set in a place with castles and magic, Tim is dressed in a suit. At several points in the game, it felt as if the game was a way for Tim to escape the tragic reality and trauma of what he has gone through, especially when the different powers he gets aid him to redo many of his steps. I thought this was very point as often gamers play games to escape reality and the fact that the protagonist of the game is doing the same made for a very interesting experience.

Fiction Interrupted

The game Braid seems to be at once a parody of Mario Brothers in the form of a modern realistic story (what with the essential objective of saving a princess), and simultaneously this beautifully crafted fantastical world. Indeed the whole game seems to hinge on this tension between reality and fiction. This is best illustrated in the contradicting visual of the game. While the setting is a scene of clouds, castles, and beautiful greenery, our protagonist, Tim, is dressed in a business suit featuring a tie and everything. Another hint of reality seeping into this world, are the poetic but ambiguous story lines we get at the beginning of each world. While Tim speaks of rescuing a princess, the themes of forgiveness, isolation, and most significantly, regret, speak to a more serious adult tone. This tone seems only to be emphasized by the puzzles which form pictures of what appears to be a sad, dark home-life. As mentioned previously, regret seems to be an essential part of the plot, explaining the emphasis in the game of being able to control time, and therefore fix the past over and over until it is done right.The game seems to be more of a dream or a psychological coping mechanism; I can’t help but feel that Tim is using the game as an escape from his reality, in a way similar to those who play the game wish to escape real life.braid_screenshot11

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

Romance and The Hero’s Journey In Ready Player One

By: Sparling Wilson

In Joseph Campbell’s A Hero With A Thousand Faces, he outlines the stages of the hero’s journey. Of these elements, he does not fail to mention romance, which he calls the “Meeting With The Temptress”. Campbell explains that in traditional stories of the heroic kind, romantic encounters serve as a kind of sidetrack or distraction for the hero from his journey. In the sense of accomplishing his mission, these encounters are definitely seen as negative. Ready Player One reflects this view in its portrayal of romantic relationships within the novel.

A comical and salient parody of Campbell's model for the hero's journey.
A comical and salient parody of Campbell’s model for the hero’s journey.

In many young adult novels, one can expect to find romance to be at least a part of the story. In the age of young adult novels that center their plots on romance, but combine their genres (so they are more like YA + dystopia, YA+ paranormal activity), it is strange, but also refreshing, to see a novel take a more classical approach to romance. Ready Player One steps away from the modern notions of romance in novels (hello, Twilight) and moves back towards a more classical approach towards this topic in terms of the hero’s journey. As we talked about it class, yes this novel contains romance, but the whole plot does not center itself on pursuing a relationship or finding love in the midst of dystopia. Like more classical hero’s journeys stories, such as The Iliad or The Odyssey, Ready Player One includes romance as a part of the journey, but does not make it the purpose of the journey.

The basic plot of Twilight and other current YA literature. Also, let it be known that this photo was entitled, "Who Is The Hottest", which I think is very telling of the genre.
The basic plot of Twilight and other current YA literature. Also, let it be known that this photo was entitled, “Who Is The Hottest”, which I think is very telling of the genre.

In fact, the story really emphasizes the classical view of romance in stories of this kind by making Art3mis be the protagonist’s “femme fatale”, if you will. The author literally brings this point forward by having Wade confess his love to Art3mis at a club called the “Neo Noir”. I found that point to be very funny in a film-geek kind of way. In noir, the femme fatale was the love interest of the protagonist that lead him to ruin, and the author makes it clear that Wade’s obsession with her is doing just that (at least in terms of his standing in the competition). Anyway, this reference makes a really salient point that while there is romance, the author does not take a positive stance towards it. Perhaps things will shape up positively for Wade in the end, but so far the author is placing romance purely in a classical view. Ar3timis is the “temptress”, if you will, that puts our hero off of his course.

To me, it is refreshing to see a lovesick teen in a dystopian hero’s journey not have the girl fall right into his lap. I love that in this modern, YA novel, being a borderline stalker does not reward the character. Also, I applaud the author at realizing there are so many interesting aspects to this universe that need exploring rather than just Wade and Ar3mis’s relationship, as well as his clear understanding of the proper structure of literature. You go, Ernest Cline.

Want someone to read your book? Try offering $500K in gold.

By Carly Vaughn

My little sister, who devours books as quickly as I did at thirteen, called me the other day to tell me about her newest book. She likes to do this, call me when she either buys or finishes a book, to either beg me to read it with her or summarize the plot in great detail. I’ve told her many times that this strategy is pretty ineffective.

“So I was at Target trying to get this book, and they didn’t have it, so I got a different one and I saw a little Caesars Palace logo on the back so I did a little digging and found out that there’s this contest and there are clues hidden throughout the book and the first one to find them wins $500K in gold, and there’s going to be three books and the money just keeps getting bigger. And Mom was saying that if we put our brains together we could probably win.”

I was reminded, powerfully, of Ready Player One. Three books, three prizes, three keys, three gates. What an amazing marketing strategy! Offering a prize that seems like it would be so attainable. Solve some clues, win some gold. And you don’t even have to memorize 1980’s trivia!

The contest seems legit, as evidenced by the media coverage, and author James Frey has my respect. The book is called Endgame: The Calling and I’m probably going to go out and buy this thing, even though I have no idea what it’s about. It doesn’t hurt that LCD Soundsystem played at the treasure hunt launch in Las Vegas. If the prize was Daft Punk playing at my house, instead of 500K in gold, I might be even more motivated to play.

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.

Shadow of the Colossus Review

By Jo Kim

 

When I first heard that Shadow of the Colossus, a game that I enjoyed playing during the PS2 era, was getting a HD makeover, I was excited. On 2011, the game came out for the PS3. Not owning a Playstation 3 for my own, I had to go over to my friends to play the game occasionally. To say it bluntly, this game is one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played on a console.

 

 

First of all, for an action game, the controls give a slightly heavy feel for the players, meaning it isn’t your everyday upbeat action games. In another view, it also means that it is also a quite cumbersome game, as you have to find out the weakness of the colossus in order to defeat them. In a way, it’s even like solving a puzzle. The giant colossus (who are more than 100 times your size) fill the entire screen, and the player can feel the intensity  of the scenes. When you are hunting these colossus one by one, the immersion the player feels is out of this world.

In addition to the action packed boss fights (which are the only type of fights available in the game), the design of these colossus also play a large role in the players’ immersion experience. Starting from a flying eel-like colossus to a scorpion-like colossus that burrows under the arid desert, the colossus come in varying types and sizes. Each of these colossus looks so real and large that the players sometimes feel intimidated by them. Below is an example of what boss fights are like in the game (Note that this is only the 3rd boss out of the 14, meaning that it’s on the easier side).

 

In addition to its ingenious game play, the game also offers one of the best narratives in the industry. Unlike other games where the players have to deal with pointless side quests that seem to be non-related to the story whatsoever, Shadow of the Colossus only focuses on the boss fights. There are no side mobs, NPCs, nor quests. The game offers a straightforward experience to the players who just wants the story to get going.

Overall, I recommend this game to anyone that likes a good action and to those who love a great narrative within a game. The makers of Shadow of the Colossus, being the pioneers of the gaming industry with their iconic game, ICO, masterfully crafts a realm that the players can’t help but to fall in love with.