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?

GAME OR BUST. Probably Bust Though….

By: Squid

 

In King of Kong – A Fistful of Quarters we witness the underdog, Steve, tackle the task of getting the world record score in the arcade classic Donkey Kong by practicing for hours a day and performing under pressure. The other side of the story shows a demigod of the arcade world, Billy, as he constantly displays a smug grin while maintaining his super star status from the comfort of his home. It really is a great story of a clash of titans that have mastered their craft to an uncomfortable level. By the end of the story, Steve’s works pays off and the audience is left with the knowledge that he successfully holds the top scores on Donkey Kong (live and recorded). Everything is right in the world – Billy and his goons don’t come out ahead, and the audience can stop feeling sorry for Steve. But what if he didn’t get the record? What if he just failed and I was just left there….cringing and feeling sorry for Steve, his wife, and his kids? Well, if that happened, Steve’s story would be like thousands of gamers around the world — thousands of gamers in the United States that all play the same game: League of Legends.

League of Legends is a notoriously addictive game. It has everything it needs to capture gamers and keep them playing the game. One of the biggest features of LoL is the immense professional scene that allows top gamers to make salaries and become famous like Billy Mitchell. But unlike Steve, most League of Legends players will never come close to becoming professional because they lack the work ethic and skill. The saddest stories are the players that come close to making it and end up failing; they put their money on the line, they move to a gaming house, take off college, and walk away with nothing…their dreams shattered. For young players that is a huge fear when trying to become the best. In Steve’s case, not as much was on the line, but he was clearly obsessed and had the risk of walking away as a failure who threw away valuable time.

Games can consume so much of an individual’s life. From the hours spend casually, to thousands of dollars gambled on the opportunity to become do what you love most, professional gaming is risky. When watching King of Kong, I couldn’t help but imagine the Steve that could have been: a sad, broken dude who obsessed over an arcade game. Steve is more than a character in a great documentary. He is a vivid example of what it takes to be a professional gamer; it’s hard; it requires countless hours of practice and dedication; you have to juggle real life with your dream; the chance of failure is high. In the end, you might fail….or you could play video games for a living….which is rad.

King of Kong: Arcade Gaming Culture vs. Modern Gaming Culture

By Jo Kim

When I was in elementary school in South Korea (back in 2001), I was, too, a part of this “arcade gaming culture.” Though as not as intense as one portrayed in this movie, I too had my taste of arcade gaming. Every time I got out of school, I would rush to the nearest stationery store (or Moongoojeom in Korean), and insert my coin in to the gaming machine. Normally, I would play something like Tekken or FIFA. Normally, when I played a game, other kids would surround around me just to watch me play games, and at times, other kids would join in the game from the other side to play against me.

Like portrayed in the movie, the Arcade Gaming Culture seems to be more group-oriented (or social) than the modern gaming culture, which revolves around computer gaming/console gaming.

gameroom2

This is not to say that modern gaming culture is not social. There are PC cafes and console cafes where people gather around to play their favorite games on the PC or game systems (shown below [an internet cafe]).

피시방

As seen by comparing the above photos, you can see that the modern gaming culture relies less on group communication and focuses on the individual’s game play experience. Because of this, there is less pressure playing games in the modern gaming culture than there was in the arcade gaming culture. In the movie, Steve was constantly pressured under the viewing eyes when competing for the Donkey Kong title. However, nowadays, unlike in the movie, one does not have to make oneself vulnerable to such causes by playing at home (online tournaments). There are times in the modern gaming culture where one has to play in front of large audiences (offline tournaments), but these are limited to the select few only.

In conclusion, the modern gaming culture has shifted away from the arcade gaming culture’s group-oriented way of gaming to more of an individual-based way of gaming. I personally favor this change, as I am more comfortable in a such setting than I am in front of a mass group. What about you guys? Which type of gaming culture do you prefer?

Laughed at and not with: Why I’m mad at Seth Gordon

Following two men’s battle for the world record for Donkey Kong, Seth Gordon’s documentary “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” tells a universal David and Goliath story of a meek and likeable middle school science teacher toppling a video game empire run by a self involved hot sauce tycoon. Applauded by both viewers and critics, the documentary quickly rose to cult status. It received an astonishingly high score of 96%, especially considering its obscure and potentially inaccessible subject.

However, when I kept reading about how “remarkably hilarious” all the critics thought it was, a sour and sad feeling kept sneaking up on my chest. Obviously, it was the humour that had won all of the critics over, but the problem is that this movie was not a fictional comedy whose winningly clever writing and acting got us all snickering. What we were all laughing at were real lives of real people. None of these characters were trying to make us laugh. What made me sad and a little angry for the characters was the fact that we weren’t laughing with them. We were laughing at them.

It was almost cruel how Seth Gordon ruthlessly edited this movie into a parody of the subculture using the genuine words and actions of those who living in it. I kept cringing over and over again at the character’s earnestness and total lack of awareness of how much we were laughing at them 

To these men, keeping or winning the world record for Donkey Kong was a serious matter; they had devoted an almost pathetic amount of their lives to it. Placing these people and their obscure obsessions and quirky inner lives on display for us to laugh and point makes me resent the filmmakers for sneakily make me snicker and ridicule these innocent people. I was uncomfortable with how shrewdly the editing and storyline made it so I couldn’t help but bleakly pity these men and their sad obsessions. 

Seth Gordon is obviously playing on the stereotype of white middle aged men playing games in their mother’s basement. It was almost unbearable watching Steve pathetically hunched in his garage for hours, ignoring the desperate cries of his son. Gordon including unnecessary details story-wise like the hand weight exercises and comparisons to Olympic titles is exactly how he crafted a film I couldn’t help liking. I just wished that it hadn’t made me feel like a bully in the process.

–Diana Zhu

Limitations of Genre in “King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters”

I read some critique of the King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters. Although the film grossed over $700,000 globally (not bad for small-budget documentaries) and achieved critical acclaim (Rolling Stone calling it “roaringly funny”) others had their concerns. After some poking around, most critique falls into one of two categories:

1. Subject matter: many critics disliked the movie because they found the topic of video games inaccessible. Ann Hornaday, a film critic for the Washington Post, opens her critique with the question “what is more tiresome than watching somebody play video games?” This type of critique has nothing to do with director Seth Gordon’s movie making ability or the strengths/weaknesses of storytelling, but dismisses the film for its subject matter alone. While I don’t think this is a very salient argument, Hornaday does have a point: King of Kong will most likely not attract non-gamers, regardless of the actual mechanics of the story or art of the film.

2. Unoriginal themes and “lack of depth:” Hornaday criticizes Gordon’s “all too familiar formula” and says that the film’s “structure … has become increasingly hackneyed with the glut of competition documentaries” (She cites Mad Hot Ballroom and Spellbound as probable inspiration for Gordon.) Other critics think the film relies on stock characters and overused themes which make the film one dimensional and unoriginal. Blogger Paul Dean agrees that the story is a simple “story about good pitted against evil.” However, Dean doesn’t think this is necessarily negative, but rather essential to writing a compelling story about video gamers, which most of the world is unfamiliar with.

These types of critiques struck me because they were extremely similar to the type of critique that Lord of the Rings (and the fantasy genre) typically receives: either people can’t connect with the subject matter, or they find the themes elementary. I had not thought of King of Kong as a “fantasy” because of its documentary quality, but now I’m not so sure. Examined under the same critique of fantasy, it appears that Gordon does prey on elements of fantasy storytelling to create his film: he sets up an unfamiliar world, describes the rules of that world, and forces the audience to connect with the characters despite their unique reality. King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters is not a fantasy film, but it invites the audience into a sort of virtual world. To do this successfully, the filmmakers used techniques of fantasy storytelling, and thus are met with similar criticisms. For me, this was an awesome exercise in the possibilities and limitations of genre (documentary, fantasy) and I’m curious to see how some of these critiques are either dodged or manifested in other mediums (film, written narrative, video games) as we move through the course.

-Emma Baker 

 

Story and Perspective in Braid

I found the Braid game very interesting in terms of the story. Usually, when I’m playing a game or watching someone play a game, I skip over the storyline to try and quickly progress through the game. But with Braid, the story or titles of the levels often gave hints and tied in with the game in innovative ways. For example, the level “irreversible” is solved by refraining from reversing at the start of the level. I couldn’t help peeking ahead on Wikipedia to read the ending of the game, because I was very curious. Everything from the music, to the odd puzzle pictures, to the characters’ melancholy expression evoked a very different feeling than I’m used to with platform games. Mario is peppy, happy, and upbeat. In Braid, the music seemed darker. Even the weather responded with a pathetic fallacy, as it rained often in the levels. The ending didn’t disappoint me. I won’t spoil it here, but the twist was fascinating from a story standpoint. It certainly made me consider perspective in games. Everyone thinks they are a hero, and everyone is a protagonist in their own story, but Braid challenges players to consider how this can change with time.

 

This is a particularly interesting point in gaming, since users can often choose their avatars and design characters. How do these characters reflect or misconstrue our own identities? On a fun level, I think of the song in the web series “The Guild,” “Do you wanna date my avatar,” because it can be entertaining to play or design characters that look awesome. In LOTRO I liked designing my own character, because I could choose good qualities and make a super version of a hunter. It can be interesting to play characters that represent ourselves (for example, characters that dress like we do like Tim in Braid with a suite and tie), but there are more facets to this idea. Most stories have protagonists and antagonists, and things change with perspective.

 

Some of my favorite stories are escapist, because I love fantasy and stories set in other worlds. In a way, Braid lent itself to that idea, because of the quest-like tone and beautiful artwork. But ultimately, the theme seems to reflect on the inescapable quality of time. I enjoyed the game as a cool, but challenging, platform game before I read the ending. When I read the ending, I had a completely different perspective. Each level seemed sinister, and I had a bad feeling throughout. Maybe this is also indicative of perspective and time—hindsight is 20/20, but we can’t actually go back in time. When I knew what was going to happen, I wanted to make different choices, but time ultimately only moves forward.

-Julia