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

Rewind and Go Play Braid

Squidward – Author

 

I’m motivated. I like to push myself to be my very best and I know I’m not alone. However, we all need to be motivated differently in order to study, run, call our family, and finish projects we have started. Personally, I love video games, I’ve played most genres and have definitely developed a taste for what drives me most to finish a video game. Typically, I’m not the guy that will collect every secret and beat every challenge a game has to offer. What I look for in a game is development. Once a story gets old, gameplay grows stale, or I feel like there is no more personal growth for me, I stop playing. This set of feelings has me quitting about 50% of games before completing the main story line or delving deeper into games. When I first opened up Braid, I thought I’d crush a few hours of game before moving on – completing the story wasn’t my plan. After about an hour, I craved to finish the story because although the gameplay is simple, Braid challenges the player to get better, think outside the box, and forget about immediate rewards in exchange for the long-run growth of skill and story.

When playing video games, most players are going to categorize a game by comparing it with personal favorites. For me, I immediately begun to stack-up Braid next to The Legend of Zelda, League of Legends, Star Wars Battlefront, and Elder Scrolls. It didn’t fit into any box and I had to figure out what about Braid made me like it so much when it had seemingly little in common with my favorites. You walk back and forth, you cannot die, and there is no fast twitch actions challenging the player. At the same time, I don’t know what exactly I’m fighting for, the character’s background, and no items or powerups for me to work for. So, what holds it together and why can I say I can compare it to games I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing? Simple, I (as a gamer) haven’t stopped growing and gaining skill from this game – and it’s as motivating as any weapon or quest in Skyrim.

Right of the bat, there is a great freedom to move to any level and finish the levels quickly without getting too caught up on menial tasks. I’m skipping puzzles I can’t figure out because I know I can come back once I get better. Every level has something unique but the gameplay skills the player gains from one can be used in the others. I’m constantly getting better and that is what excites me. There is this one puzzle piece I still cannot get (…my way of admitting I still haven’t beat the game) and I keep coming back to it. Every time I see it I have a different plan as well as faster, smarter fingers. I’m not leveling up my skills, unlocking new skins to show off, or getting a rush off the gameplay, but the fact that I have to have a set of puzzle-solving skills in order to say I’ve beat Braid just makes me want to beat the developers challenges and figure out why the protagonist has to combat time in order to get back what he once had.

I’m glad Braid didn’t pass me by, it’s a fun genre of its own that gets the gamer to play through intrinsic motivation. Whether I’m growing my skills, digging the artistic beauty, or guessing the ending of the story, all I know is this game makes me love video games….and I haven’t felt that in a while.

My Thoughts on Braid

Braid started off interestingly, with the dark shadow running through a background of skyscraper silhouettes. The graphics on the main character seemed very cool and I especially enjoyed that his hair and jacket blew in the wind as you run and jump. This beginning really did well with setting the tone for Tim’s ‘mysterious’ back-story, where he apparently betrayed a princess. This is where the Mario comparisons started to enter my mind. The books with background story were a pretty cool touch, though, and I got a heaven/hell sense with the coulds in comparison to the darkness of the first scene. Further the graphics of the grassy area and backgrounds were beautiful and the music was soothing.

 

The mechanics of the game were simple enough, but the game-play reminded me too much of Mario, to the point that it felt unoriginal. I did enjoy the shift function and found it quite innovative. It also fit the theme of a troubled past. As the game progressed, it was frustratingly similar to Mario, with the goombas, piranhas, and the ragdoll dinosaur that you met at the flag marking the end of each “World” (another Mario term). The rabbits were a more original feature (in my experience) and I liked the way the manipulation of time interacted with the glowing objects. I really began to excel with the way the game was played when shadows came into play and I thoroughly enjoyed the mental challenge it presented because it wasn’t a one-and-done system. For example if you mess up with the green keys, its over because they don’t move back in time.

 

My major problems were that the game was not immediately rewarding of good play, most of the levels could be skipped if you did not want to collect puzzle pieces, and that there was only one way to complete each level. The game was stimulating enough but without a perfect score, which I didn’t have the time/patience to achieve, you don’t see any reward for some of the harder things to do. There was also a lack of ability to interact with terrain, a feature that could have added a great deal of depth to the game. I suppose that I enjoyed it, overall, but I definitely don’t think it’s worth $10.