Podcasting — The Future of News Media

With the increasingly shortening attention span of the average person, the printed newspaper has become the least popular medium for news. News is now transmitted through a variety of different formats — such as television, internet, and video — and you would be hard pressed to find anyone that still reads the morning paper. Hell, I cannot even remember a single time I have read a newspaper throughout the 19 years of my life. The limitations of the printed medium just can’t compare with the affordances of new visual and auditory media. As a result, news media outlets are adapting to the current social climate.

News media outlets such as Vox Media and Vice News have taken advantage of the growing popularity of YouTube by creating informative, infographic videos that incorporate animations, video clips, and graphics with the spoken word to capture the audience’s attention. On the other hand, broadcast companies such as Fox, NBC, and CNN have taken advantage of television broadcasting to disseminate the news and reach broader audiences. These visual mediums have infinitely more potential to capture one’s attention than the small black and white words that fill newspapers.

Just take a look at the video and newspaper below. Which one would you be more likely to read or watch?

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The video, right? I agree. There is simply no comparison between the two mediums. With print newspaper, there is just not enough stimuli to compete with these other forms of news. Just like the common idiom states, a picture is worth a thousand words, and there is no way in hell I am going to read a thousand words; so, just show me the picture.

While these mediums do a great job of capturing your attention, they require your complete and undivided attention. People are busy. Most work 9 to 5 jobs, more people than ever commute to work, and a lot don’t have the time nor the energy to engage in these news mediums. So, how can the news be translated in another way to adapt to our busy lifestyles?

Podcasting has emerged as a new, great alternative for consuming the news. It allows for the average person to keep up to date with the news, while performing their routine day-to-day tasks. Depending on the type of job you have, you could be listening to podcasts the entire workday. News media outlets need to take advantage of this emerging medium. With podcasting, news media outlets have the opportunity to be in the ears of the masses for large portions of the day.

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Newspaper The New York Times has taken advantage of this opportunity with its podcast The Daily. They take the most significant current news stories and thoroughly examine them in a condensed 20-40 minutes. This audio format affords them a lot more freedom than print newspapers. For the Blasey-Kavanaugh hearing, they took actual recordings from the hearing, brought in guest speakers who have personal connections with Kavanaugh, and commented on specific key incidents that occurred during the hearing. There is a lot more nuance that can be conveyed in this format.

By listening to the actual hearing itself, a lot more is conveyed than words on a page. You can hear the intonations of their voice and emotions in their speech, and you can form your own opinions based off them. It makes it much more difficult to take out of context, and it holds a much more significant impact when you actually hear the words coming from their source. Podcasting also gives the audience a much more human take on the news. Hearing the reporter’s analysis through his or her voice helps the audience identify the difference between analytical opinions and objective facts.

With that said, podcasting offers an exciting, new alternative to traditional forms of newscasting, yet few news broadcasting companies have begun to utilize it. Podcasting is slowly growing in popularity, while these other forms are quickly declining. These companies need to advance into the future and pick up this growing medium. It is only a matter of time before podcasting becomes a significant component of news media.

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/dir-33yyz-4bc4d9f

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/n7abi-4b59fac-dir?from=share&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&download=0&vjs=1&skin=1

*Sorry, I know it’s annoying to click a link, but WordPress is being a butthole and I have been trying to fix it for hours.

Ethan Nguyen

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Subverting Tropes in Video Games

Tropes and subversion are nothing new. Tropes range from Chekhov’s Gun to the oft-maligned “110%”. It is hard to define exactly what a trope is, but sites like tvtropes.org exist solely to track and explain tropes that exist in all forms of media. And where there are tropes, there are creators and creative minds trying to avoid being too cliché. Marvel films have received great critical acclaim for finding humorous and interesting ways to subvert the tropes audiences have come to expect in superhero movies. The Cabin in the Woods is a famous example for intentionally subverting as many tropes as possible present in the horror film genre. When any work plays with expectations, it feels fresh, new, and exciting. This is especially true in traditional forms of media because the mediums are old enough for writers and critics alike to thoroughly understand them.

But video games have their own tropes. Press A to jump. Sure, you jump a lot, so the button closest to your thumb makes the most sense as the jump button. The standard progression through a series of levels to reach an eventual conclusion and end game screen is a trope. It makes sense from a game design perspective, and allows developers to break up their games into smaller chunks that give players more obvious checkpoints and frequent feelings of accomplishment. Usually, tropes make sense.

Unlike other forms of media, though, some video game tropes exist simply because they have always existed. Some have good reason, others do not. Nearly every 2D platformer – think Super Mario Bros. or Donkey Kong – starts with the player moving to the right. There is no objective superiority to going right instead of left, and yet because games exactly like Super Mario Bros. featured levels in which the player only ever progressed from left to right, nearly every other game that has followed in its footsteps has done the same. Being able to defeat enemies by jumping on their heads is another trope that came out of Super Mario Bros. It makes little sense – why is jumping on something the only way to kill it? When was the last time you saw someone get into a fight and win it by planting their feet onto the top of their adversary’s skull? The limited combat in the early games that defined the medium was born from the limitations of the platforms they were developed on, and yet even as technology has progressed and we have the possibility to create combat systems in games that are much more complex, the notion of jumping onto an enemy to knock them out remains present in a surprising number of games. Some, like Yooka-Laylee and even more recent Mario titles like Super Mario Odyssey, still even focus on it as the primary means of combat, trying to use nostalgia as a driving element in their design.

But not every game falls victim to the oft dubious tropes common in the industry. While many games are happy to include left-to-right movement and jump-centric combat, others like to ask questions and reconsider the assumptions most games and gamers make about the medium.

Undertale is one of the most popular examples of a game that strives to do exactly this. The question it asks is, “Are enemies really enemies? Do you need to fight them?” And with that question, it toys with its players’ expectations. It puts the player into combat against monsters with the cursor automatically hovering over the fight option, and it fully expects its players to fight and slay the creatures. At the end of the game, however, it asks players if what they did was really necessary. Who was the real monster – the aggressive invader slaying creatures in their home, or those same creatures trying to defend themselves and their society against that invader? The game encourages players to play the game again, and it quickly becomes obvious that it is possible to end every encounter peacefully. The game takes on a lighter, happier tone as you progress through a second, pacifist playthrough, and the empty landscapes the player experienced on their first run are instead vibrant and filled with the life that had been killed on the first run.

It’s a really simple question that Undertale asks, and yet it makes a lot of sense. Most traditional forms of media do not involve slaying monsters and frequent combat, so why are those elements deemed almost vital to video games? Is it fun? Can’t we have fun some other ways, too?

Another great example of subversion is the game Antichamber, which really aims to question everything about the medium. If you’ve got the time, this introduction to the game (with commentary from the developer) exemplifies what it is about: 

The gist, if you couldn’t watch it, is that we don’t need to take anything for granted. Falling down into a pit doesn’t have to be defeat for the player. A choice need not be whether to go left or right – why not turn around? A wall isn’t even necessarily a wall. Just walk through it.

Next time you’re playing a game, maybe ask a few questions. It is easy enough to get used to something and expect that to be the way it will always be. But in a medium so new and unexplored, we have a lot of interesting things we can do outside of the tropes we’ve built up around it.

Same Old, Same Old?

Throughout this course we have gone over the influential nature of literature movements on newer forms of media and how varied—but sometimes similar—themes are evoked through different mediums. Specifically, we have studied the effect of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work on the evolving media landscape. To credit Tolkien and his legendarium, it’s easy to say that his work inspired Dungeons & Dragons and other pen and paper role playing games, helped grow the fantasy genre’s books and movies, and effectively made video games in that genre more popular. If we look at publishers like BioWare, Blizzard, Bethesda and more, we can highlight games such as Baldur’s Gate, The Elder Scrolls, World of Warcraft, Everquest, etc. that are all grounded in Tolkien fantasy.

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Screenshot from Shadow of Mordor, one of the many games that take place directly in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

As an avid Tolkien fan, I love that he gets the praise for his vast influence. However, I think it is unfair to not credit the myriad of literary legends that helped pave the same path. Authors like H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, Robert Bloch, Orson Scott Card, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and so many more fleshed out the iconic nature of science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres (which combined are called speculative fiction) that laid the foundation for many of the best videogames in existence.

To highlight a few of these examples we can inspect Lovecraft who’s mastery of macabre literature aided the popularity of sci-fi and horror style games like Eternal Darkness, Alone, and Bethesda’s direct adaption of Call of Cthulhu. Robert E. Howard illustrated worlds around characters like Kull the Conqueror and Conan the Barbarian which influenced games like Thief, Rune, Gauntlet, and Dishonored. I could highlight even more specific examples about the direct impact of literature on the speculative fiction genre and its growth into the digital media age, but the overwhelming amount of connections led me to ask the question: “where did these authors find their influence from and are they connected?”

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Left – comic book cover for Conan the Barbarian. Right – cover art for the 1985 hit game Gauntlet. Eerily similar?

With some minor digging and some understanding of the history of literary trends, it is easy to see that many of the most popular games, and more importantly their literature influencers, can be linked back to ancient mythology. At the heart of these classic, successful stories and games lies the interaction with worlds that are timeless and universal…perhaps so ubiquitously because these worlds and myths reflect something deep within a set of collective human themes.

In less words, I venture to say that if literature is the groundwork for which a large collection of the world’s creative minds turn to for modern inspiration, then ancient myth and folklore are the foundational roots that lie even deeper. Additionally, I think that at the end of the day, it is noteworthy that every author that has ever lived can only pull inspiration off of their own experiences which includes the literature and storytelling that they’ve been exposed to. This is not to say that the world is devoid of original thought, but instead that every creative output is at least slightly meta-referential, and usually that reference is inlaid with ancient mythological tales.

To support this point regarding the importance of mythology, I want to take a quick look at some of the most successful, acclaimed, and lucrative games in memory. One of the most successful game series of all time, Tomb Raider, has over 30 video games and 3 feature length films in the franchise. Additionally, the entire series is based heavily on the use of mythological narratives originating from the Mayans, Greeks, Norse, Egyptians, and more. The hit franchise Turok: Dinosaur Hunter directly rips off of Native American mythology, and the 8 prosperous games in that series would say that clearly this type of story works in the gaming world. All-time acclaimed RPG Shadow of the Colossus is based entirely on Japanese myths. Household name franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Assassin’s Creed, and Prince of Persia all rip off of popular mythic characters and universally the mythological theme of the monomyth or hero’s journey (think Homer’s Odyssey). It’s mind-blowing to think that some of the most iconic, foundation-breaking releases in gaming history all stem from the collective themes of mythic folklore.

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Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft exploring puzzles and finding treasure related to the Greek myths.

However, there might be no game that integrates mythology better than the God of War series. Besides the fact that it has reached astounding commercial success, the newest installment solidified the franchises legacy through flipping the traditional hack & slash nature of the games on its head while still keeping mythology at its core in the best of ways. The 2018 God of War brings about the best of the past, the present, and the future of speculative fiction. The game ties in great storylines and characters from mythic pasts in a stunningly beautiful form. It synthesizes pantheons from the Greek, Nordic, and Egyptian traditions which creates a new yet seemingly classic world. It triumphantly tackles combining successful game interfaces like The Last of Us, The Witcher, and Skyrim. In a time where online games, shooters, and battle royales dominate the market, God of War uses these classic stories to showcase that the traditional immersive third-person RPG is here to stay, iterate, improve, and succeed as long as the genre garners influence from the right type of relatable storytelling.

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God of War (2018)

So I’m curious, what do you think? Do you see the commonality of these themes in popular games? Do you think I am completely off my rocker? Do you agree that the blanket of myth lore when applied to games has made your gaming experiences most enjoyable? Or do you think that the application of the more refined story-crafting nature of referential literature has brought you your best gaming memories? Let me know in the comments!

Ben Root

Player Interaction in MOBAs

Hello! I’m Kevis Tsao. I’ve been an avid moba gamer all my life, from the earliest flash games like Minions and VORP! to the largest franchises today like League and Dota 2. I love all kinds of games, especially roguelikes, deck-builders, and strategy turn-based games, but the genre that holds my heart and my mind is the MOBA.

MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena and is synonymously known as the RTS, or Real Time Strategy. Mobas take two teams of players, from 3v3 to 6v6, and place them within an arena in which they select characters to outfight and outwit the enemy team. Many believe that games are just that: games. Things to waste time. Some games might not have any effect after finishing it, but I think mobas have lessons to teach. Continue reading “Player Interaction in MOBAs”

Learning the Ropes about Tropes

ENGL 3726 - Gone Home

Spoiler alert for Gone Home — Don’t read further if you want to avoid spoilers.

Just say the word “western,” and I can immediately visualize a high noon showdown, as if I were hiding behind a barrel on the porch of a saloon. Say “sci-fi,” and now we’re zipping by the stars at light speed and shooting lasers at corrupt galactic empire forces. I played a game called Gone Home recently, and everything about it was telling me “mystery” and “horror,” so you can well imagine my thoughts as I stepped into the dimly lit, sparse mansion in the middle of a forest on a dark and stormy night.

Turns out, it’s not horror — your character, Katie, is just trying to figure out why the house is empty on the night of your return from abroad. The reasons are dramatic, rich with complexity, but totally benign of anything supernatural.

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Why was I so scared, though? Why were my immediate thoughts upon entering my family’s new home, “Something horrible has happened here”? Granted, I scare fairly easily, but I think there was more than my lack of fortitude at work. I’d like to say a word about tropes, how they’re used in Gone Home, and how mystery and horror tropes were perfect for this game.

trope is an easy way to make the participant feel standard things: just like I described at the top of the post, they provide a framework for thinking about setting and emotions. I’ve definitely been one to harp on tropes in the past, but really, they’re crucial to storytelling. Without some expectation for what’s about to happen, there can be no surprises, no twists, no novel deviations — the things that are more beloved of a story. Tropes may be a heavy-handed way of establishing the expectations, but they can be incredibly important when used right!

All that said, I think Gone Home uses tropes expertly. In Gone Home, even the title screen, with its silhouettes, secluded look, and one light eerily lit, is a trope of horror, and it immediately makes you feel jittery. I even used the word “eerily” just now, and I’ve already played the game and know it’s not horror! Throughout the game there are a number of tangible cues that make you feel like something in the house is amiss: the house is called “The Psycho House”; the lights flicker constantly; your father has an obsession with conspiracies; the list goes on. My favorite example is the upstairs bathroom stained with red, but you find out it’s just hair dye.

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You might now be thinking, “So what? Why does it matter that Gone Home uses these tropes?” Well, if you think about it, this game desperately needs to rely on them. You are the only player in the game, and you have only one environment to explore. Without the notion of mystery and horror, you would have very little incentive to explore the house — actually, you would have no incentive to explore. This and many other games relies on the assurance that the player, when confronted with a mystery (Sam saying, “Don’t try to find out what happened”), will promptly disobey and begin to search. The trope of flickering and dim lights, secret passages, and a paper trail are tediously common, but they draw you in so the true story can unfold. I guess that’s what I’m trying to get across: the tropes do not make the game; they create the tension players need to discover the game.

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Moreover, I find the implications of the horror tropes in this game fascinating. How many times have you awakened in the wee hours, gone to the bathroom, and then the floor creaks in just the wrong way, making you complete your mission a little too early? Certainly in such circumstances, we have the very same tropes of horror in mind, but we can still recognize they’re just fiction, right? I think Gone Home recreates the very same effect we experience in real life. There is absolutely no danger in the game, but good grief it just feels like something is going to get you!

I’ll leave you thinking about that — is a trope really something you feel just in a book, a movie, a game? Or is it something you carry with you and project? Gone Home wrestles with these questions and blurs the lines between virtual and real experience. It makes an ordinary home come alive with mystery, mythos, and the thrill of discovery. Isn’t that what we all want, a way to make the unremarkable, unforgettable? If that’s the case for you, I have a great game to recommend.

Thanks for reading!

Matthew

Tell me a story

What do you value over everything else when it comes to video games? For me it’s story, every time.  I don’t care if it’s an old game or if the graphics are just bad, or if the gameplay is a little clunky, or if it’s too long or short of a game.  If it has an original and/or compelling story, there’s a good chance I’ll like it quite a bit.

Recently I’ve been quite into the fantasy/dark fantasy genre, specifically Dark Souls.  Through my experiences with the Souls series, I’ve realized that it’s not only the content of the story that I enjoy, but how it is told and presented to the player.  In many games, the story is basically told to you straightforward, without making the player do a whole lot of work to discover the story.  There may be puzzles or little notes that you find to delve deeper into the story, but it is rare to find a game that just says “Go.”  That’s essentially what the Dark Souls series does to the player.  You begin the first game with a cutscene that means  quite a lot if you are familiar with the series’ lore already, but is quite overwhelming to the novice player. The player is then given a simple instruction to ring two bells and then gets tossed in the (kinda) right direction.  Now this might just seem like a bad game and, based on the evidence I’ve given, that wouldn’t be a terrible first impression.  I promise that’s not the case.

Dark Souls found a way to have a vastly complex world and lore, with interesting characters and history; and the game doesn’t hand any of that information to you.  You have to go out and throw yourself at seemingly impossible levels until you master them or quit.  And bit by bit, the more you explore and the more characters you meet, the more of the story you uncover.  FromSoftware took a gamble with this style of storytelling (which they started with in Demon’s Souls, the spiritual predecessor to Dark Souls).  If you put in the work to find the story and learn what all is going on, Dark Souls will be one of the most satisfying gaming experiences you have.  Because it’s not just about what the story is, it;s about how you tell it.

Going, Going, Gone Home

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One of the many objects you can pick up and interact with in the game

Playing Gone Home this week I was struck by the notion that it seemed like large chunks of the story were either missing or obscured by a false sense of horror. As you explored the house it was easy to follow the story of Sam and Lonnie because it was read out loud in the form of journal entries Sam wrote to you. Each entry was tied to an object or location in the house so that the story naturally unfolded with your exploration and you could hear the inflection in her voice as if she was telling you her story in person. If you were an observant player you could also notice what was going on in the lives of the other family members and the history of the house. However, this part of the story was told entirely through scraps of notes and objects left lying around the house. You could read letters written by various family members and look at your past school projects but it was easy to miss the details of the story when presented with a wall of text. The story was also obscured by the fact that the game insisted on attempting to be creepy when there seemed to be no real reason for it. There was just a constant sense of dread since the lights kept flickering and turning off so you got the sense that something would jump out at you even though it never did. I would have enjoyed the game much more if it didn’t have this false sense of horror and I was able to equally explore each of the characters presented instead of just focusing on one story that was read aloud since I often missed details and had to go back to figure out what was going on with the rest of the family.