Gaming Has Positive Effects On Your Health… So Where’s The Hype?

By Sparling Wilson

In class, we have discussed how video games incorporate many different philosophical, artistic, historical, and social issues across their many forms and types. For some games, relaying information or a critique to the player is the end of goal, while others incorporate these elements more subtly to make a deeper and more complex gaming experience. Even first person shooter games incorporate high though, such as Bioshock’s blatant critique of Ayn Rand’s objectivism. However, even games that are not as cerebral can benefit the players.

Heath and mental benefits of these games range. According to Dr. Daphne Bavelier players’ eyes may actually benefit from looking at a screen for hours, improving the ability of people who play most to distinguish gray scale and the definition of objects. She also indicated that playing certain kinds of games have positive effects on people’s ability to multitask and on their attention.

Here is the video, where you can see Dr. Bavelier giving the talk..

Ted Talk On The Benefits of Gaming

This Ted Talker spoke about designing games to be useful for rehabilitation or specific learning purposes, which of course is valid. At the same time, I must offer a critique on her idea, and specifically her presentation of it. While she just spoke about the benefits of playing video games, and most importantly first person shooter games, which have long been considered the most extra-regular of the gaming family (minimal story line, all focused on simple, repeated task of shooting enemies), she just took a major step back and gave a large blow for the gaming community. Sadly, she separates games played for pleasure from games with a practical application. If you watch the video, she spends a great deal of time relaying how these pleasurable games actually do have a practical application, and yet, she does not consider games played for pleasure to be completely as applicable as a game designed with a more scientific purpose.

Personally, I am constantly befuddled at the mainstream community and scientific community to continually write off gaming and gaming culture,  especially after seeing the great deal of high-concept thinking that video games employ. Why can’t we accept that games are a valid form of media, and event at their most basic form, they provide health and mental benefits when used in moderation?

I have come to view gaming as awesome: it incorporates visual art, audible art, narrative, philosophy, history, culture, participates in remediation, and critiques itself, probably more than any other form of media. What’s more, I’ve come to regard it as one of my favorite forms (although I’m still new) because it’s interactive and challenging: I am able to participate in the art and narrative in a way that is unique to gaming.

I guess going back to my previous question about people accepting the validity of gaming in the mainstream, I can relate to the haters. A few months ago, I didn’t really understand much of the hype or the depth that games can possess; I merely thought of gaming as entertainment. My assumption is that as gaming continues to attract more and more followers, both through a diversity of genres and increasing accessibility because of platform integration (hello, mobile games), people will begin to see games as a more valid form of media. As a result, more scientific and sociological research will be done on games, and then, once the artistic and scientific communities fully accept games, the medium will receive the respect it deserves. It is sad that acceptance necessitates this kind of validation, but I really hope that it comes soon.

Super Meat Boy Uses Psychology to Keep You Playing

By: Thomas C Adams

Super Meat Boy (2010) is an indie platformer developed by Team Meat. This game is commonly considered one of the most frustrating games to play much less actually complete. In fact, I still haven’t beaten it myself (I’m on the last level). Being a very frustrating and challenging game, you would think most players fiddle with the game for a few minutes, maybe an hour, and eventually give up. However, many people who play the game play it to completion (or almost-to-completion in my case). How can such a frustrating game keep players interesting and wanting to progress?

The beauty of Super Meat Boy (SMB) lies in its replay system. Once you complete a level, you get to see all your previous attempts at the level play at the same time. Here’s a video of a replay so you can understand what I mean:

As you can see, the game gives you feedback as to how you are learning and progressing on each single level. After you spend numerous attempts (maybe even hundreds) to complete the level and finally do, it’s a very rewarding experience. Moreover, you see this replay on your screen of your attempts. You will see many of the first attempts die within seconds. You will see how you learned from past attempts and changed your strategy. And in the end, you will finally see the one meat boy who finally made it to the end of the level.

Feedback is a very important part of maintaining a behavior. In this case, that behavior is playing SMB. Numerous psychology studies have shown that if you give feedback for a behavior change (such as playing a certain game or recycling), subjects are more likely to continue that behavior. (Larson et al. 1995, Seligman and Darley 1977, DeLeon and Fuqua 1995).

As you progress through the challenging levels and then see your progression at the end of each level, you are noticing your improvements and are becoming optimistic about future attempts. Of course, the game gets harder as you progress, but you’ve seen yourself get better and better each step of the way, so there’s nothing to say that you wouldn’t be able to complete any of the later levels. I’m not sure if it was deliberate or not, but Team Meat’s incorporation of the replay system very likely has a cognitive affect on players using feedback and could be what keeps them playing, despite their hours of frustration.

– Thomas

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.

Concerning Hobbits: How the Smallfolk Saved Middle Earth

By Thomas Adams

Warning: If you have not seen the rest of the Lord of the Rings series and do not want it spoiled, do not read this post.
After watching the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, I was inspired to finish the rest of the series (again, for like the 5th time). So I went on to watch the extended edition of The Two Towers and The Return of the King. This time, instead of watching for pure entertainment, I was watching to learn – about the world, character development, the motivations of peoples, and many other things. Near the end of The Return of the King, the four hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin) start to bow to Aragorn, the new King of Gondor. However, Aragorn stops them and says, “My friends, you bow to no one” and bows before them. The rest of the people around follow suit.

I don’t think it can be understated how true Aragorn’s statement is and how important the hobbits were in saving Middle Earth. Let’s look at each one individually.

Merry

At the end of Fellowship of the Ring, Merry is capture by Uruk-hai, along with Pippin. When the Uruk-hai and Orc begin fighting with one another, the two escape into Fangorn Forest where they meet up with Treebeard, a tree-herder. Once Merry learns of this new race of trees, he tries to get Treebeard and his ent company to fight against Sauron and Saruman. Eventually, the council of trees decides that this is not their fight to fight. When he begins taking Merry and Pippin back home to the Shire, Merry convinces Treebeard to take the south route, which goes right past Isengard. Merry says this would make the most sense, since Saruman would least expect it and Treebeard obliges. As they continue on the path, Treebeard comes to an opening in the should-be forest. He realizes that his tree friends have to cut and burned down to fuel the fires of Isengard. Unsurprisingly, this angers him greatly, and Treebeard calls upon his tree friends to fight Isengard. The destroy a dam, flood Isengard, and win the battle to take control of Isengard. Merry’s part in the story here cannot be understated. He single-handedly convinced tree beard to take the route that would lead him to see the destroyed forest and make Treebeard realize that this was their fight. If Merry had not convinced Treebeard to turn around, Isengard would have been left unscathed and many of the following events would have never occurred and the rings may never had been destoryed.

Pippin

in The Return of the King, Pippin accompanies Gandalf to Minas Tirith to convince the Steward of Gondor to ready his armies for battle and call to Rohan for aid. This battle would be the last battle to determine the survival of Men in Middle Earth. After a conversation with the very stubborn steward of Gondor, Gandalf is unable to convince him to light the Beacons of Gondor, which would signal to Rohan that Gondor calls for military aid. Gandalf has another plan. Using Pippin’s size to their advantage, Gandalf instructs Pippin to climb the beacon’s spire and light the flame himself. Pippin is able to do this successfully and alert Rohan to their need for help. Eventually, the message reaches Rohan and they ride out for battle. If Pippin did not accompany Gandalf to Minas Tirith (the reason for which is another story in itself) and if Pippin was not able to successfully light the beacon unseen, Rohan would have never made it to the battle for Minas Tirith, and the Realm of Men would surely have fallen.

Sam

There’s so much that can be said about Sam that it is really difficult to focus on one particular instance that had the most influence. But after watching the Return of the King, there is definitely one that comes to mind. After Sam is banished from the quest by Frodo (for supposedly eating all the lembas bread and wanting the ring for himself), Frodo and Smeagle venture into the Spider’s tunnels. Smeagle did this so the Spider would eat Frodo, and Smeagle could then take the ring for himself. As Sam is venturing back down the Stairs, he sees the lembas bread remains that Smeagle threw over the edge. This was the turning point for Sam, as he knew Smeagle had ulterior motives and would end up killing Frodo for the ring. Sam starts back up the Stairs to save Frodo. Sam gets there just in time to stop the Spider from eating Frodo (who is paralyzed at this point). He battles with the spider and eventually wins, defending Frodo for the time being. Unfortunately, some Orc come near, Sam hides, and they take Frodo’s body to their nearby tower and Sam follows. Once again, the Uruk-hai and Orc begin fighting among each other. Sam takes this opportunity to head up the tower and defeat a few foes before getting to Frodo just in time. Had Sam not gone back to help Frodo, and successfully fought off the Spider and Orc, Frodo would have never made it out alive and the ring would have not been destroyed – and worse, would have probably fallen right into the hands of the Enemy.

Frodo

Since Frodo’s main purpose is to carry the ring and destroy it, it would make sense that this is his most important task. Frodo did not have as many “breakout” moments as the other hobbits in the movie. On the contrary, he slowly just became more and more corrupted by the ring and eventually tried to take the ring for himself while standing at the edge of the fires of Mt. Doom. However, against all odds and with the help of a few friends, Frodo was able to get the ring to Mordor and get the ring destroyed, ending the battle against Sauron and his forces – solidifying the victory for Man. Frodo was never suppose to make it to Mordor alive, much less actually destroy the ring, but he did it. And that’s the most important thing that could have been done.

When the Men of Gondor bow to the four hobbits at the end of the Return of the King, it is very much deserved. Their actions throughout the story single-handedly turned the tides of battle back into their favor and eventually ended the war. Had they not been successful with their respective tasks, Middle Earth would have surely been taken over by Sauron and his evil forces. Of course, many other characters had influence on the outcome of Middle Earth, but it is most certainly true that the smallest persons had the largest impact.

To the Moon: Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background:

To the Moon is a RPG (Role-Playing Game) produced by the indie company, Freebird Games. It is both their fourth product and their first commercial product. This game was developed using the RPG Maker XP Engine.

Game play:

Just like most other games created with the RPG Maker XP Engine, To the Moon incorporates the top-down view in the game. The controls are very simple as well, only requiring the arrow keys and the z/x button. Unlike most other games, the game play in To the Moon mainly focuses on exploring a character’s memories to collect his important memory pieces. This does not involve fighting enemies nor solving puzzles. You simply walk around in the map, interacting with people to gather clues and the obtaining the necessary objects. Once you have collected all the pieces in the surrounding area, you can combine the memory pieces (which requires a bit of puzzle solving) and move further into the character’s childhood (you go back in time). Once you have gathered all the objects in the places ranging from Johnny (the dying character)’s old age to infancy, you can then begin to manipulate this memories to create a new “fake future” for him. Overall, the game play is extremely simple and enjoyable (a bit repetitive, but the cut scenes and the story makes up for it).

Story:

The story mainly focuses on the interaction between the Sigmund Corp. Employees, Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, and the characters in Johnny (the dying character)’s memory. The Sigmund Corp. offers artificial memories their customers, using a special technology. Because this requires you to interfere with your real (actual) memory, this service is offered to dying customers only. Our main customer is a character named Johnny. He asks the doctors to send him to the Moon, but when asked why, he answers that he doesn’t understand why he wants that himself (only that he has wanted it for as long as he can remember). In the process, the doctors, for strange reasons, fail to manipulate Johnny’s memory with ordinary means, and the mystery deepens as they go further and further back into Johnny’s memories. Overall, the game offers a melancholic yet sweet story that is EXTREMELY enjoyable.

Soundtrack:

Unlike most RPG Maker Games, the soundtrack in this games are extremely beautiful.

Here is an example: 

Throughout the game, these excellent BGMs synchronizes with the heart-wrenching moments to create a mesmerizing story.

Overall:

To The Moon offers an extremely enjoyable story (it takes around 3-4 hours to complete the game) for its price $9.99 on steam. Though I have not bought the game myself (I got it from a friend), I’d think it was worth the price if I had purchased it for myself.

 

– Jo Kim

Where My “Nerd Girls” At?

Professor Clayton asked a question on Thursday that has stuck with me. Are those of us who were excited about Nashville Comic Con, who are into gaming and sci-fi and fantasy, outliers in the Vanderbilt community?

I’d like to say no, outright. But in my last writing workshop we were critiquing a story that made me think of this class, and how I might answer this question, especially in regards to gender. There have already been some posts on female inclusion into the male dominated world of gaming, but I’d like to throw my opinion into the ring as well.

nerd girl

The story was based around the Slender Man stabbing story in Wisconsin, and two high school aged couples that talk about video games, violence, and love. The majority of women in the class, the author included, spent a lot of time distancing themselves from the idea of gaming by saying things like “I really know nothing about it,” or “The only games I play are on the Wii.” There’s obviously nothing wrong with playing Wii, but it seemed like perhaps these women sensed a stigma around being both female and interested in gaming, a big part of “nerd culture”. The author’s female character that was into gaming was characterized as weak and subservient to her boyfriend, a kind of wimpy, clingy mess, who was only interested in gaming because her boyfriend was. I thought to myself: Is this really how other women perceive female gamers? That we’re only into gaming because we want to meet guys, or impress guys, or otherwise connect ourselves with men? Is this how men see us?

glasses

I think that female gamers and Doctor Who watchers and comic book readers are not outliers in the Vanderbilt community. There are probably hundreds of women on campus that enjoy gaming and reading fantasy and watching sci-fi. But I think there is still a stigma in being a “nerd” girl, mostly because the interest in gaming and “nerd culture” is still rooted in masculinity, and women who claim interest are sometimes pegged as imposters. There’s even memes about it!

imposter

So, no, I don’t think we are outliers, but I do think that there are many more women who would enjoy gaming if they felt safe to express that interest without being labeled as “fake geek girls”.