Beauty for beauty’s sake(./?)

Apologies for the late blog. It’s been a week of shifting, as a number of major parts of my schedule are either being moved or disappearing. In any case, I was able to give Journey a few hours of my time (of many, many more to come, I’m sure), and, simply, I was amazed. I’ve known about the game for quite a while, and I’ve spent more time with the score than I care to admit.

But the thing about so comprehensive a work of art as Journey is the additive impact of all creative aspects upon each other. The gameplay of Journey is nothing short of sublime. It’s deeply immersive, visually stunning (to say the least), and sonically superb (again, to say the very least). The character, though only vaguely developed, is masterfully crafted to evoke a sense of calm, wisdom, and camaraderie, even though he/she stays largely mysterious. The world itself is unique and gorgeous, and the physics strike a dreamlike balance of grace and realism. The result of all of these working in tandem? A fantastic, immersive, and starkly beautiful experience.

There is something to be said for the engineering of so unique and compelling an aesthetic. The overall aesthetic of a fictional world can only be quantified to a certain point, after which comparison and experience become more useful tools. Journey transcends the mystical, entering into a space of profoundly unique fantasy and artistry. Aesthetically, I find Journey similar in some ways to the world of The Old Kingdom (Abhorsen) series by Australian author Garth Nix. Both are set within beautifully depicted ancient, abandoned kingdoms, with feminine main characters who operate more upon grace and wisdom than on valor and strength (à la many typical masculine protagonists). Nix, too, evokes a specific imagery regarding the world of The Old Kingdom that seems to echo Journey’s imagery. Highly recommend this series.


Journey accomplishes something that is its own feat as well, however. It successfully brings the world of art into the medium of gaming. Following the New Yorker (full article here), the late Roger Ebert would argue the following:

“…The ultimate objective of a video game—unlike that of a book, film, or poem—is to achieve a high score, vaporize falling blocks, or save the princess. Art, [Ebert] argued, cannot be won.”

But Journey does in fact make “winnable” art! Of course, the entire point of the game is the path (journey) to the end goal, but it does have a teleology that Ebert seems to think cannot be artistic. Despite the sparse “narrative” of Journey, it does successfully combine a game’s immersion and drive to participate with an artistry of imagery, sense, and mechanic. This is largely new territory for the video game, as the vast majority of releases at this point are merely readaptations of concepts and ideas that have been proven to work (and make money). In this kind of dynamic, artistic endeavor becomes secondary, if not tertiary.

But Journey has successfully brought it back to the surface with a game that operates more than anything on an enjoyment of the beauty that is its design. Yes, the goal matters in Journey, but Journey is not beautiful to serve the purpose of the narrative. It is beautiful for the sake of being beautiful! Beauty, in this case, becomes its own end, while still operating within the goal-oriented teleology mandated by the medium video games.

But, does the vagueness of Journey’s narrative weaken it? Surely we can all, with a bit of effort, learn to enjoy the sort of Zen relationship to beauty that Journey offers, but could it become even stronger artistically and more accessible if there was just a bit more narrative for players to chew on? Does it need anything else? Can strong narrative and beauty for its own sake be married into one cohesive product? Of course, these are questions for the future. Nevertheless, Journey is, as it stands now, one of the greatest achievements in contemporary video gaming. So let’s bask in it just a bit longer, almost as most players will undoubtedly want to do within the game itself.


Let’s play —-> Retsupurae? Is this ok?

Hello friends,

Sincerest apologies for posting this blog so late. The end of last week was extraordinarily hectic and I could barely keep track of what needed to be done.

Today we’re going to have a brief discussion about Let’s Plays and their implications on the gaming community as a whole.

For the uninitiated, a Let’s Play is a video recording of a gamer playing through a game, often while providing some idiosyncratic form of commentary or dialogue for the viewer. The most famous Let’s Play star of YouTube is undoubtedly PewDiePie,Image result

a Swedish YouTuber who has an almost cultish following at this point. For him, he makes multiple millions of dollars a year in sheer views alone, and no better figure personifies the incredible gameplay commentary culture that pervades gamer sentiment today. But before he even became well-known, countless other gamers were posting all kinds of different Let’s Plays that massively varied in quality. Another YouTube channel, Restupurae, sought out the worst of the bunch, and uploaded their own critical commentary of the player’s commentary, providing plenty of laughs at the Let’s Play gamer’s expense.

As of today, Retsupurae has over 120,000 subscriber, and you can see that the demand for gameplay commentary extends even to commentary of the commentators! But, it is worth mentioning that a decent amount of the YouTubers targeted by RestuPurae actually approve of the publicity and jokes made. Ironically, their most popular video is a piece that brings together other video game streamers who react negatively to PewDiePie’s style of commentary. Here is another video that is far more representative of what they originally created to get their own start. My question to you all is: do you believe the critical commentary and entertainment provided by a pair of YouTubers like Retsupurae is appropriate? Do you think that this qualifies as pure cyber-bullying even though the other YouTubers are purposefully uploading their own Let’s Play content for public consumption?

Emotionally Practical: That Dragon Cancer

There exists in this game a clear, apparent purpose by the authors/developers to ensure that those of whom are playing this game are given the ability to feel and to express emotion. I argue that it is not the purpose for this game to necessarily be satisfying in a typical FPS or level-up sense, but more so satisfying with regards to wisdom achieved or deeper understandings by the games end.

By just a little bit after the intro/begining, you will see how it already will be sectioned off into the life of the young child, with us eventually landing into the hospital. What was most intriguing by having this setting in a hospital is not necessarily showing or simulating that the parents were in the hospital, but it portrayed this dark ambiance, almost dark and mysterious feeling towards the players of the game. Even more so, one could feel extremley saddened by the juxtaposition of life- the young child- and there that of death- a happenstance that one only hopes to experience years well into adulthood- well into being elderly.

With regards to this newfound wisdom aforementioned in this game, I as a gameplayer was not privy to all of the different happenings goings (sic)  on with regards to dealing with the sickness of cancer. For instance, [below]


one can see that what seems like a race-track game with the kids is actually a way to collect different procedures for dealing with cancer. It listed differnt types of blood-works taken when one collected a token during the race, as well as listed other procedures such as chemotherapy. While I did know of the procedure of chemotherapy, I was not previously aware of all the different types of bloodwork taken while being treated for cancer, therefore, as a gameplayer, my real-world knowledge was increased from playing this particular game.

What was most present though was the emotional forethought put into this game. Let’s take this scence for example [I’ve enlarged it a bit]:


We can see hear the warm colors of the sun contrasted though with the hospital lime green of the Intravaneous fluid attached to the toddler. Specifically, what you can’t see, or hear that is, in here, is the baby’s crying. I remember having to turn down my computer’s volume when the baby cried, because of how loud and rough it was. This certainly was the most emotional part of the game-play- and in particular- made me as a gameplayer more aware of the struggles of taking care of a toddler  while you are in fatigue and exhaustion, on top of the worry for the baby’s well–being itself. \

Certainly, this game brings out the cultural awareness of the dealings with of cancer in the most practical, simulated sense. I would rate this game an 8.5-9/10.

Character development and communication in gaming

There are a lot of ways that characters can be developed in games. This could be something as simple as their communications with other characters in the game, dialogue, or simply a narrative. Every game has a different approach to the way they develop their characters, however almost every game depends on some form of communication to achieve this. Some of my most favorite games such as the Ratchet and Clank series on the Play Station Portable follow the idea of using a narrative to develop characters. The game uses short films in the middle of game play to both develop characters and further the plot of the game. This form of character and plot development is seen quite often in many games.


Journey is one game that uses a very different way to develop the main character and communicate between characters and the gamers. Journey is set in a vaguely Egyptian region, with appearances of several things such as many glyphs and symbols and of course the figure that possibly depicts the Egyptian goddess Isis, that point to this Egyptian influence. The way this game communicates between characters and gamers is something I have never seen before and find very interesting. Throughout the game, we control a robed figure that travels through a desert towards the mountains in the distance. What’s surprising to me was that the game had no mechanics allowing us to communicate with other characters, and we didn’t even see any cinematic scenes where the characters talked.


We start off as single player but often come across other characters, soon to realize that these are actually other players playing the game from around the world. Usually in cases like this, you would expect to be able to communicate with those players, for example, in Lord of the Rings Online, the world chat enables us to communicate with those characters, and we can also interact with them, and challenge them to duels or form a fellowship with them. However, in Journey, we can’t do any of this and the only possible way we could “communicate” with those characters is by “singing” and signaling to them. I found this form of communication very interesting, and after watching a couple of walkthroughs, I found that gamers ethos plays a big part in the game. I saw that many gamers would guide new gamers through the game and wait for them as they followed them – even though they didn’t actually know them. The game has an overlaying theme of maternity and has a very calm feel to it, and the actions of the gamers really represents it. The game shows clear and definite themes of romance, and this game really shows that games allow portray their creativity by using familiar themes in and shows that the same effects can be achieved in different mediums in variety of different ways.

Sunk Cost versus Characterization

There are a lot of good reasons to like a character in a narrative, whether it is a novel, movie or even video game. They can be written well with witty dialogue, have upstanding morals, or even can just be attractive. But there are those characters, who, like in Journey, are likable despite not saying anything or doing anything significant on their own. Now, there are micro-manipulations writers and developers can make to influence the consumer to actually want to like their creations (e.g. their physical mechanics including gracefulness, their coloring, the music that plays when focusing on them), but one possible thing to take into consideration is how much time the player is putting into these characters, and how that interacts with the character’s likability.

There’s a well-known fallacy/concept known as the sunk-cost fallacy, in which a businessman (or investor, etc.) will continue to put resources into something, despite having already put irrecoverable resources into it with no real gain previously, simply because they invested in it (and often heavily). This fallacy mostly is constrained to the world of economics, where it is most relevant, but it may be interesting to investigate its possible interactions with video games.

“Failing to Ignore Sunken Costs”

In a lot of video games, especially ones with heavy grinds such as MMO’s, the sunk cost fallacy manifests itself very strongly. Take, for example, the game Runescape, which is essentially one whole time sink machine. For most people, the ultimate goals are to reach the maximum levels in their skills (99 for oldies like me), which involves hundreds of hours of time put into single skills and eventually hours upon hours for single levels. If you’ve already put two hundred hours into reaching the next milestone, you will be much more reluctant to give up your lot and simply stop playing without actually reaching the milestone.

Narratives will have a different interaction with the fallacy than things like Runescape, though. In games like Journey, you’re not spending hundreds of hours trying to reach the end of the game. But you’re still putting in time, guiding this red-robed character with no real unique identification markers across the world to the mountain for the goal of completion. It is hard to say that the player-controlled character has any real markings of characterization – we don’t know its gender, it doesn’t speak, and we certainly don’t know what the exact motives of the character are throughout the story. Part of it might be that we have such a high level of control compared to many other games, where the character is predetermined, but in Journey the player is in charge of everything the character actually does.

Without real characterization, it might be hard to really answer why this character is likable, why we would want to sympathize with this character. I would primarily lay my claim as the idea that, by the time we start really thinking about whether or not we care about the character, we have invested enough time into the game for us to not really care about what’s been given to us about them, just that we’ve spent enough time with the character to want to ride out the rest of the story with them.

Which is certainly not to say that Journey isn’t worth finishing by itself. With such a fantastic soundtrack, interesting mechanics, intriguing and well-built up mystery, and some interesting but not complex landscape puzzles to figure out, the game maintains enough drive for the player to want to see the ascent up to the top of the mountain. While Journey certainly comes lacking in characterization, it is rare to find a game like it that can pull off that kind of experience without needing it.








Pokèmon, Attritive Familiarity, and the Snowball Effect

The monumental popularity of Pokèmon Go has illuminated a number of interesting tendencies of new media regarding the pace of growth of one’s popularity. There’s an old, by now origin-less adage that someone needs to hear something on average fourteen times before it finds a lasting place in the strata of their day-to-day thoughts. I can’t speak for the verity of this claim, but it doesn’t take much to prove that the more we hear about something, the more likely we are to remember it. At least, this certainly seems to have been the case for my own entry into the world of Pokèmon Go. Now, I grew up playing Pokèmon. But, for me, the release of Pokèmon Go largely went unnoticed at first. I had heard about it here and there, but it never really struck me as something I should try, that is, until I had heard about some specific number of times and at some specific frequency that I finally could ignore it no longer.

As humans, we share. We discover things that we enjoy, and, for a number of reasons (this isn’t a psychology assignment), we tell others about them. So, what did I do after I had discovered that Pokèmon Go was in fact a delightfully refreshing, captivating, and unique re-contextualization of a world with which I and most of my friends and family were familiar? I told people about it. And so did at least thirteen other people they knew. Then they couldn’t ignore it anymore. Whether out of curiosity, genuine interest, or FOMO, family members, friends, and colleagues jump on the bandwagon. And they tell people. And as soon as those people hear it just enough times, the cycle continues.

Immediately the exponential nature of this growth becomes apparent. The rate of growth of Pokèmon’s popularity accelerates. The snowball begins to gather more and more snow at a faster and faster rate. Indeed, this might very well be an underlying aspect of popularity itself. Though, Pokèmon seems to indicate that a more unique popularity is required to achieve such effortless and powerful growth. Pokèmon Go is a brilliant revival of a concept that has proven its appeal in the past and one that can easily be applied to the novelty of augmented reality, another new and powerful medium. Perhaps it is this balance of novelty and familiarity that allows content to reach a snowball state? Or is it inevitable for almost any popular piece of content?

Braid: Postmodern? Does it matter?

Is it ever possible to approach a new piece of media or content without applying prior context and experiences to it? Is that a viable and fulfilling concept upon which to base creation? A Postmodernist would argue no, and then yes, that all art exists within a set of very specific sociocultural contexts and it’s success is contingent upon its placement within those contexts. Thus, the postmodern piece of creation necessarily contains traces of these surroundings and can use these surroundings to its advantage. The first and most significant aspect of Braid that struck me was its Postmodern treatment of reference. As a platform game, it’s already limited in the scope of its execution, narrative, and variety (compared to something like an MMORPG). By now, the vast majority of these possibilities have been largely exploited in platform games, so creators are potentially faced with a dilemma: do we let the genre of the platformer die out, or do we seek alternatives? Braid, it seems, has chosen to use the fact that the realm of possibility of the run-and-jump game has been fully explored to its advantage. Braid is rife with references to the king of all platform games: Mario, the one game almost everyone is sure to know. From piranha plants, pipes, and the structure of a number of the levels (one of which is an almost explicit transfer from Donkey Kong), Braid plays like a generic platformer with an almost tongue-in-cheek atmosphere in that there are so many explicit references to Mario. Even the narrative is almost exactly that of Mario, to save a princess from a number of castles in which she turns out not to be once you get there. It’s impossible, as anyone who’s lived and played a game in the 20th and 21st centuries, not to think of Mario when playing Braid, bringing into it a brutal self-awareness characteristic of Postmodernism. Perhaps it is this idea that gives Braid is uniqueness and its appeal to some, but it calls into question how sustainable and fulfilling this technique of game creation really is. Can we use reference and self-awareness more than once to fuel new creation? Is this kind of pastiche really a fulfilling direction to take one of the most limitless and profound forms of media to-date?