STEM Education for Everyone

In this day and age, there has been a major push towards encouraging previously underrepresented populations into the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Most specifically, there has been a major focus on STEM programs for young women, such as Girls Who Code and Scientista. However, there are many other underrepresented populations who have a passion for and interests in STEM, including those who many still disregard, such as students in prison. The importance of rehabilitation over punishment and penalization has been increasingly studied and understood, especially in the wake of increased incarceration rates due to the war on drugs. According to College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons by Christopher Zoukis, published in 2014, he states that 2.3 million people make up the United States prison population, with over 70% of those in prison being non-violent. The rate of recidivism, the rate in which people return to prison, decreases by an astounding amount when an individual in prison invests in their education. According to Zoukis’s data, the rate of recidivism for those with high school diplomas is 55%, and goes down to a return rate of 5.6% with a bachelor’s degree.

Screen Shot 2018-09-18 at 09.39.18

So why specifically STEM Education? In its program’s mission, STEM-ucate Initiative for Reentry explains: “Recidivism research indicates that education and/or vocational training drastically reduces an individual’s chance of returning to prison. The STEM-ucate Initiative for Reentry (SIR) will educate formerly incarcerated individuals, develop their STEM skills, and provide them with the resources needed to succeed after incarceration in the 21st Century.” STEM-ucate is unique even for a reentry program because of its focus on both the education and preparation for STEM field jobs. This program has taken experts in their fields and used their knowledge and connections to not only educate men and women in prison, but to use their connections to help the students create their own network in the STEM field of their choice. Additionally, STEM-ucate uses predictive information about future large job markets such as IT to make sure their students aren’t just getting the education, but are hopefully able to put it to use as they build their new life outside of prison. 

Screen Shot 2018-09-18 at 10.41.48.png

Dr. Lauren Wolf, a former teacher of Math in New York State Prisons, who now works with SIR.

In addition to STEM-ucate, there are other programs, such as STEPs to STEM, created by chemistry professor, Jannette Carey, and astronomy professor, James Gunn of Princeton University. This educational pilot program hopes to shift the school-to-prison pipeline to “a statewide STEM pipeline within an integrated program of community college education throughout the state prisons of New Jersey.”  These types of programs are crucial because those who find themselves involved with the criminal justice system are often left to fend for themselves once released. This might manifest as being expected to leave prison after having served their time with no resources or specific skillset to help them find a sustainable job. If the purpose of prison is to have people learn from their prior mistakes and come out a better person,  they must have the support and education in order to do so.

Leah Fogel


Department of Chemistry, editor. “PRINCETON SPONSORED PRISON STEM EDUCATION PROGRAM RECEIVES NSF INCLUDES AWARD.” Department of Chemistry, edited by The Trustees of Princeton University, 13 Sept. 2016,

Stem-ucate Initiative Reentry, editor. “Stemucate Initiative.” Stem-ucate Iniative Reentry,

Zoukis, Christopher. “College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons.” Prison Education, 2014,



The latest on Billy Mitchell

For students, past and present, who have marveled at the film The King of Kong, take a look at this breaking news from NPR:



Ready Player One – the future and the past?

“Will this really happen in the future?”

This is a natural question that everyone asks when reading Ready Player One. Nerds like me ask this with a hopeful tone, wanting a society (without the overcrowding and unemployment) where escaping to a video game has become the cultural norm. When the feasibility of The Oasis was questioned during class discussion, people acknowledged that it would be tremendously difficult from a technological standpoint.

However, games have already proven that they can evolve quickly. Despite its short history, games have made tremendous improvements. Just ~40 years ago, we had simple games like Space Invaders. Today, there are games like the No Man’s Sky that have computer generated open universe with 18 quintillion planets. Players can explore every detailed inch of these planets, collecting resources or combating hostile creatures in the process. Players can also engage in space battles against pirates trying to steal your loot or against sentinels (who attack you if you engage in piracy yourself). Although No Man’s Sky has received mixed reviews, it illustrates that video game developers today can make a simulated universe with a vast number of planets that each have their own unique weather, terrain, and inhabitants.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 12.44.08 AM

Space Invaders (1967)

giphy (1).gif

giphy (1) copy

No Man’s Sky (2016). Top gif shows player gathering resources at an unknown planet. Bottom gif shows player engaged in a space battle. 

Games today have realistic graphics, support millions of players simultaneously, and are on the verge of significant improvements in augmented and virtual reality experiences. All of these contribute to creating a virtual world that gamers can be immersed in.  Because technology tends to improve exponentially, improvements at this rate will lead to games that are indistinguishable from reality. Therefore, it does seem likely that something like the Oasis is in our future.

However, many people have asked a different question about the virtual worlds depicted in Ready Player One and The Matrix.

Are we living in a simulation?

This is the same thing as asking if a virtual world , completely indistinguishable from the real world, has already been developed in the past and we are the subjects in it. When Elon Musk , CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, was asked this question in an interview, he replied saying, “ the odds that we are in a base reality is one in a billions.” Meaning, he thinks that there is a 99.99% chance that we are living in a world of Sims.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 4.01.10 PM

Fun fact: Lord of the Rings is one of Elon Musk’s favorite book as well as his source for inspiration for saving humanity. 

He’s not alone. Many relevant articles seem to indicate that the Silicon Valley is obsessed with the simulation hypothesis. An interview with Sam Altman, CEO of Y Combinator that develops tech companies, revealed that two unnamed billionaires are funding scientists to break out of the matrix. It was also reported that a Bank of America analyst believes that there is a 50% chance that we live in a Matrix – like simulation.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 1.51.51 AM

Elon Musk and others are convincing not just because of their accomplishments and enormous salaries (think billions). The logic also makes sense. As we are on the cusp of a new wave of augmented and virtual reality technologies, it has become clear that virtual worlds such as the Oasis and the Matrix are very possible in the future. If they are possible, then how can you say that they haven’t happened yet? To many, the question of the future of virtual reality is really also a question about the past. When you ask about one, you are also asking about the other.

Humans and Monsters

Level Up Gif
Leveling Overlay in MMORPG Maplestory

“Yes! Finally level 150! Time to grab that sweet gear!”

“Amazing, I’m only level 100. Gotta go grind more mobs to catch up, I guess.”

The feeling of euphoria and achievement when reaching high levels in RPGs after killing many thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of computer-controlled monsters is not at all uncommon to many online video-game players. After all, that time and dedication paid off in the form of higher character statistics! Now your warrior can swing that blade even harder and mage can cast fireballs that burn even brighter! All… to what, kill even more monsters? Look cool in your fancy new armor?

Have you ever thought about all of those monsters’ lives that you took to get a little tiny bit more EXP?

MMO Monster Kill
Fighting in MMO Canto

No, I have never.

That is, until I discovered the RPG named Undertale.

Undertale Logo
Undertale Logo

(Huge spoiler alert for Undertale!)

I know, I know, for those of you who already know of Undertale, even bringing up its game can cause lots of groans and shaking of heads, but hear me out. Undertale, for me, completely changed the meaning of a RPG and how it conveyed such deep and emotional meaning about how a player normally treats games astonished me.

Here’s the rundown:

Undertale, a wildly successful indie game with its endearing 8-bit art style, starts out the same way as many single player RPGs do. The main character, a human played by you, had climbed a very tall mountain, found a crater, and fell down into the underground, where all of the monsters have been exiled to after losing a war to the humans.

Fallen Down
Undertale: Fallen Down

The obvious goal is to get past all of these monsters trying to kill you and return to the overworld. Almost immediately, you notice you have a LV number, HP (hit-points), and AT (attack), DF (defense), EXP stats.

Stat Panel
Undertale: Character Info (Note: This player named themselves “Shulk”)

Again, highly reminiscent of most RPGs. However, Undertale has one glaring difference. You can progress through the entire game without killing a single monster. As the story unfolds, you are informed that the monsters attack due to their fear of humans, but you can choose to talk to them, give them mercy, and spare them instead of killing them. Undertale’s fighting mechanism is bullet-hell, meaning that your Soul, represented as a heart, must dodge all of the missiles in a box to avoid taking damage.

Act Menu
Undertale: Actions Menu in a Monster Encounter

While the player continues not to kill any monsters, the main storyline progresses. The human is taken through the whole underground on their main mission to leave the Underground, forming friendships with the boss monsters along the way. Notable ones include Toriel, the tu“Toriel” monster who teaches the player to be merciful at the beginning, Papyrus, a goofy skeleton-soldier-in-training, Sans, Papyrus’ interesting and punny brother, and Asgore, the king of the Underground.

Pictured from Left to Right: Toriel, Asgore, Sans, Papyrus

The player learns that the monsters are kept Underground by a magical barrier that was created after the war to keep humans safe that will not allow monsters to pass. Only a being with the both the soul of a human and a monster is allowed to exit from the Underground, and the barrier can only be shattered with 7 human souls.

Undertale: The Barrier

Coincidentally enough, there are 6 already collected… and you know what this means.

You’re up next.

Collected Souls
Undertale: Collected Souls

Furthermore, the player learns of the first human to ever fall into the Underground. This person was adopted by Asgore and Toriel, who were the royal couple back in those days. The human was the pride and joy of the Underground, and was treated the same as their biological son. However, the human became sick after eating too many buttercups, and became terminally ill. Their last wish was to see the golden flowers in their home village. Thus, Asgore and Toriel’s son absorbed the soul of the human and passed through the barrier to carry their now-lifeless body to the flowers.

Golden Flowers

Undertale: Golden Flowers

While the son held the human though, other villagers witnessed the dead human in the arms of a monster, and assumed he had killed them. The humans mauled Asgore’s son nearly to death, but had enough strength left to straggle back into the Underground and die on a bed of buttercups. Due to the war to force the monsters out of the Overworld and this event, monsters were persistently seen by the humans as purely malevolent creatures and would be killed on sight, like in almost all other MMORPGs.

This idea was interesting to me because in all other games, I simply accepted that the monsters were “bad” and killed them because they hurt me. I never considered that it could be a world where the monsters were forced off of their rightful territory and killed due to their resistance, a surprising connection between MMORPGs and European history.

Christopher Columbus arrives on the San Salvador peninsula, Bahamas, 1492. (John Vanderlyn)

Now here’s the twist:

In Undertale, I had mentioned you can be kind and spare all of the monsters, but there’s another path as well. You can choose to fight and kill every monster you encounter, even the ones that would have become your friend and are the main characters. You can walk around and discover monsters (much like Pokémon), then kill them all, until instead of encountering a monster, only a dialog pops up on the screen reading, “But nobody came.”

Undertale Hit Gif
Undertale: Fighting
Nobody Came
Undertale: But Nobody Came

Killing all of the monsters in every area takes quite a while to accomplish, and the player is met with sad lines with each kill, such as:

“Froggit is trying to run away.”

“Lesser Dog tucks its tail between its legs.”

“Whimsalot’s flying stutters.”

However, the effect on the player diminishes after many monster kills. I have watched many, many playthroughs online on Youtube of players who first completed the “Pacifist Route”, where they made friends with and spared all of the monsters, and then started the “Genocide Route”, what killing every single monster in the game is called. They all initially felt that killing the monsters was wrong, but cared less and less about the monsters after each kill. Not too long afterwards, they treated it more like a chore to sit through and kill each of them.

When the player continues on the Genocide Route, all of the previous map puzzles are gone, the dialog between boss monsters and the player is altered, and notably, the player’s LV rises. After the player kills every monster in the game up until the Last Corridor, their LV reaches 19.

Undertale: LV 19 Stat Panel in Hallway
Last Corridor
Undertale: Last Corridor

Once the player reaches the hallway to Asgore’s chamber room, they are unexpectedly met with Sans standing at the end of it. This hallway is named the Last Corridor. He speaks to the player and if they are on the Genocide Route, says the following:

Sans Talk Genocide
Undertale: Sans Genocide Speech

“heya. you’ve been busy, huh? … so, i’ve got a question for ya. do you think even the worst person can change…? that everyone can be a good person, if they just try?”


Oh, by the way, if you’ve assumed that I meant “level” up to now by LV, you should now know that it actually stands for LOVE, or Level of Violence… which explains why it rises with every kill. Attack also rises because for each Level of Violence you gain, you feel less and less sympathy for them and are able to do more damage.

Reflecting on this, it made me think about how Sans had really believed in the human to change and make the right choice not to kill everything and everyone completely. It made me think about the outside world, and how even people who have done terrible, terrible things have realized their faults and mistakes, then changed to become a better person. However, in this game on this route, the player cannot decide otherwise at this point. After Sans finishes saying this, the player sprite moves forward at him involuntarily. The player is now locked in on True Genocide and must fight Sans. He is, hands down, the hardest boss fight in the entire game.

Sans Fight Gif
Undertale: Sans Fight

This is because Sans is trying to stop you, the monster, from destroying the entire world outside of the Underground too. At this point, you are no longer the protagonist, but the antagonist, and this fight against you can be compared to a typical player fighting the end boss of a video-game, stereotypically, the “one who is going to destroy the world”.

Grinding mobs? Check.

Gaining higher stats? Check.

Obtaining and using better gear to do damage? Check.

Super-ultra-difficult boss fight that you will eventually attempt over and over to beat?



By slowly reversing the roles in the Genocide Route, making the player feel nothing while killing their former friends, Undertale has successfully mimicked the layout of a typical RPG while conveying the opposite message. I was completely enthralled at how Undertale managed to make me feel so many different emotions regarding a game style that I had played for years upon years, and never gave a second thought to. My childhood consisted of another popular MMORPG at the time, named Maplestory, but I had never considered the cute, pixelated monsters as anything else besides bags of cash and items to wear.

It really made me think about forced points of view within games… and within societies in general. At war, your own country or your own “team” always seem like the Humans, and the opposing side always seem like the Monsters, but there are two sides to the coin and there are always two different stories.


Who considers your Humans, their Monsters?

 – Vivian Li

By The Way

Choices (Don’t) Matter

I never knew how to raise a family.

Back in 4th grade, I was introduced to video games for the first time. My initiation into this inescapable obsession began with The Sims 2.


The layout of The Sims 2’s game screen

Games in The Sims franchise belong to a genre called “life-simulation” where you create virtual characters called “Sims” and control them to literally play out their lives. But it is not that simple: every Sim has its own “Wants” and “Fears” just like normal human beings, as well as basic human needs like hunger, hygiene, social interactions, etc… not to mention some hidden interactions between Sims with different character traits and horoscope signs, as well as unforeseen consequences for any actions taken. My 4-year-old self who created a family of four had no idea how to effectively manage that household and frantically scrambled around the house, switching from one Sim to another and trying to keep them all alive. However, my futile efforts led to the father being hospitalized from not having enough sleep and two children failing all of their classes.

In video games, the player’s choices are absolutely vital to the gaming experience. The Sims 2 serves as one prime example: how the player chooses to control their Sims directly affects the state of the household they’re managing. Every single action has a small influence on Sims, and as the player queues up actions after actions, they’re slowing changing the outcome of the household. The power of the player’s choices also applies to other game genres. In real-time strategy games where players build their army to battle each other, one single miscalculated move can cost you the whole game. Professional players from famous strategy games like Warcraft or Starcraft all design for themselves specific game plans that they follow with pinpoint precision. If they somehow make even just a single mistake, their opponents are very likely to take advantage of it and gain the upperhand. In some role-playing games like Skyrim, your choices can grant your character more powers and stats or conversely, harm your character. In The Witcher series, where more recent games remember and import data from previous titles (supposing the player has already played those), the player’s choices are even more significant, since it gives them the power to alter the storyline throughout the whole franchise (It’s interesting to note that, just The Witcher 2 alone has 16 different endings, depending on your deeds and decisions throughout the game.)


And then of course, when talking about players’ choices, we have to take into account interactive, narrative-oriented games. I find these games especially interesting, more so than game of other genres, since players most often have to put themselves in the circumstances of the characters and see the situation from their point of view.


(An example of the dialogue options in a scene from The Walking Dead: The Game)

Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, based on the comic series of the same name, presents to its players a breathtaking immersive story that includes countless decisions that the player has to make. Dialogue choices as well as player’s actions during quick time events (when one has to choose, for instance, who to save, or what direction to proceed) affect how the story plays out and affects the relationships between characters in the cast. The game forces you to actively question yourself: “What would I do if I were him/her? What would be the best choice in this situation?” in order to get through many challenges and obstacles. However, it’s not always that easy – the game is filled with moral dilemmas and you never really know the consequences of your choices until the story continues, so sometimes what seems to be the right thing to do turns out to be a disastrous decision to make. The player is constantly put on the edge of their seats, wondering whether they have paved the way to a better future or pushed their favorite character to their doom.


An honorable mention here would be the Japanese type of game called visual novel that was mentioned in Ethan’s blog post. In most cases, there is almost no gameplay mechanics in these visual novels, although you do ‘play’ them by making your decisions at certain plot points. The focus is all on the story and character development, and you are subjected to an even more complicated network of chocies and consequences. It’s super obscure and in certain titles you can almost never know how to proceed the story in the direction you want to just because of the sheer number of possibilities the developers have prepared for the plot.


This is just one example of how convoluted the choice system in visual novels is

After all these years, I’ve taken quite a liking to games like these. I am fascinated with seeing how my choices alter the storyline and the fact that with every playthrough, I am presented with a whole unique, different experience from the last. I had the same mindset when I came across Emily Is Away (free on Steam, and spoilers ahead!)


Emily is Away is the same kind of narrative-based, story-driven game (albeit much, much shorter than The Walking Dead) In the game you are taken back to the 2000s and chat with your friend and potential love interest through the AOL messaging system. Occasionally you are presented with 3 options to reply to Emily’s messages, and apparently your choices are supposed influence how Emily feels about you. So I went into the game carefully selecting my dialogue so that I could woo Emily, and I really thought I made the best choices.

But in the end, Emily just drifted away.

So I tried again, and again, and again, until I made sure to even try the most nefarious responses. That was when it hit me that in this game, choices don’t matter. No matter what you decide to reply to Emily, the end result would always be the same: you will never be able to get Emily.

This gives me a fresh perspective into yet another way of presenting the narrative in video games. In Emily is Away, to portray the distance between people who have grown apart and use online messaging to converse, the developer puts in an unchangeable ending to emphasize that feeling of futility in players – it’s certainly very disheartening to know that despite all of your efforts, you can never achieve your goal.

To wrap up, I think that the way developers present choices to gamers and how players interact with these choices is absolutely one of the most fascinating aspects of video games. Whether in the case of meaningful choices that influence the story, or choices and don’t really matter at all, the player would always have an unique, memorable experience with the game’s narrative.



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.

2018-02-25 (4)

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.

2018-02-25 (3)
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.

2018-02-25 (2)

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!


You Can’t Beat Video Games

You know you’ve finished a book when you read the last page; you know you’ve finished a movie when the credits roll. But how do you know when you’ve finished a video game?


I’ve finished the main story line of a handful of video games: Mass Effect, Portal 1&2, Skyrim, all the Bioshock Games, Arkham City, Until Dawn, Tomb Raider and a few others. I’ve seen the final cutscenes and the end credits on all those games, but I don’t feel as though I’ve beaten or finished any of them. Sure, I may have played out the narratives, but in Until Dawn I’ve only achieved one of the possible final outcomes and earned 20% of achievements. In Mass Effect I’ve only maxed out one of the romance options and I never even started acquiring the in-game collectibles. In Bioshock I’ve never gotten around to finding all of the audio diaries, and the list goes on.


Despite all this, I consider myself a completionist. That is not to say that I am prone to completing all side quests, finding all collectibles, and completing the main storyline on all difficulties (as I’ve mentioned, there’s no game in which I’ve done this). I do, however, imbue those aspects of video games with immense value. If I put a game down before I achieve completion according to every possible metric, I feel like a quitter. I don’t feel like I can say I played the game anymore than I could say I’ve read a book that I never finished.  


(Though I’ve completed the main story line of Batman Arkham City, I’ve only completed 57% of the game)


Check the global stats for any game, however, and you’ll see that most people don’t complete anywhere near 100% of the achievements, and in many games most players don’t even earn all the achievements related to main story completion. People don’t often “complete” games, and in most games true completion is nigh on impossible. Games differ from novels and film in that they aren’t designed for everyone to stop at the same point; there isn’t always a clear end or a point of victory. Because of the numerous metrics of accomplishment built into video games, of which main story completion is only one, the definition for the “end” of a game based artistic medium is far more fluid than the end of a written work, film, musical work, etc.


(The Last Laugh achievement indicates that you’ve completed the main storyline; only 19.5% of players earn that achievement)

Take, for instance, the Pokemon games. When I was young I thought I’d beaten  Pokemon Fire Red because I defeated the “Elite Four,” who serve as a final trial for aspiring Pokemon Masters, and signify the end of the main story line. But I realized my friend had cataloged more Pokemon in his Pokedex, so suddenly I was playing the game again trying to catch up. I collected nearly every creature in the game, but eventually, due to some difficulties acquiring Golem and Machamp, I stopped. Even if I had collected all of the Pokemon would I have beaten the game? The answer is simply no. The main story and the Pokedex are only two of a potentially infinite number of metrics for success. The game lays out level and stats as metrics of success as well, so maxing out all of those values would be necessary for the game to be truly completed. Additionally, the Pokemon games include incredibly rare algorithmically generated “shiny” Pokemon with alternate colorations. Collecting all of these shinies creates still another metric of completion. Even if every metric within the game was fulfilled (which would require thousands upon thousands of hours of grinding and spec training) there are countless player created metrics, such as the famous nuzlocke challenge, that could be used to paradoxically complete the game more.


Increasingly such functions are incorporated into games by the developers themselves. The “new game plus” feature has become more and more common; once you’ve completed a game, you can complete it again with increased difficulty and all the abilities you may have earned in the principal game. Furthermore, achievements and trophies (awards granted out-of-game to individuals who complete certain tasks) have created a game within a game. In video games, most actions are considered positive or negative based on the in-game effects they produce. For instance, in one game, firing a rocket directly at your feet is considered a negative action because doing so heavily damages your character and yields no reward; in another game, it is considered a positive action because you take only a small amount of damage and launch yourself vertically to double your standard jump height.


(damage taken+no gain=negative action)


giphy (2)

(little damage taken+double jump=positive action)


Achievements bypass this evaluative frame by encouraging actions which often have no discernible effect on the gameplay (such as the Transmission Received achievement in Portal). Developers can direct players to accomplish tasks which outline an underlying component of the game not apparent in an achievement free play through of the game. Thus, a subtextual game within the principal game can be established by achievements, and this subtextual game can often be no less important than the principal game itself. This introduction of additional material to the game via achievements results in games that very few people actually complete. The numerous metrics of success in every game allow the player to decide which metric indicates that he or she has beaten the game, and when that metric is fulfilled the player will either quit or establish a secondary metric to pursue. This process can repeat itself a potentially infinite number of times, as there is no finite number of metrics in any game.


The only potential exception to this is pure progression based games, such as Until Dawn and those made by Telltale Games, in which the primary gameplay mechanic is decision making. In these games you can in fact attain all permutations of the game in a relatively low number of playthroughs and achieve something as close to completion as possible. It is that fact, along with their lack of endgame, which aligns such platforms with novels and movies, which, as I mentioned at the outset, have a clear beginning and end. With nearly every game outside of this genre, however, the player is essentially unable to “complete,” he or she can only decide when to quit. This is an element of video games which imbues them with a realism absent from most artistic mediums; as in real life, there’s always more you could have done, and how far you go is determined by the difficulty of the challenge and your own desire to keep fulfilling the metrics of success.