Why We Cheat: The (perceived) Necessity of Walkthroughs in Modern Gaming Culture

I know it’s a long title, but bear with me.

There’s a phenomenon that has arisen in modern culture of thoroughly dissecting and analyzing storylines and our entertainment options. Whether it’s the hyperprevalence of YouTube videos providing explanations of episodes or theories about the small actions of characters. It has led to the hyperprocessing of most media, and near obsessive attention being paid to the stories, so it feels impossible to surprise someone – what used to be foreshadowing is now obvious telegraphing.

What would otherwise be just attention to detail in costumes turned for some people into an obvious twist in this episode of Game of Thrones.

This culture has extended to video games as well. Not counting the numerous “Best X in Game Y” videos, there are plenty of sites and videos discussing story-affecting (and some not) decisions to the level that every single one can be calculated instead of chosen, and discovering the consequences afterward.

But why? There could be plenty of blame attributed to the increased amount of content that is accessible for gamers. With the invention of YouTube and Twitch, games are much more accessible to people who haven’t purchased the game or are playing it. Exposing gamers to the future or climactic moments in a story is part of the biggest moments in streaming and walkthroughs, so without them the game is showcased less than the streamer/youtuber’s personality. But in this case plot points and decisions are spoiled.

In addition, Wikipedia articles for games are very important and often visited. Whether it’s to tell someone how to access a certain character’s dialogue or even the path to use to escape a map, it is a resource that many players do not waste. But like walkthroughs in puzzle games, how detrimental is this?

There are some benefits to gamers getting super deep into games. While you won’t be able to necessarily get people on critical decisions that have complex repercussions, you get a playerbase that on the whole is much more interested in achieving these end results, and knowing the path are more likely to invest their resources heavily into getting them. Someone who values the best weapon and has done research to know that you’re getting the absolute best weapon if you farm tons and tons of items in Kingdom Hearts is more likely to actually do that content, and possibly see more of the game through that. Similarly, I’m definitely going to be more interested in passing Garrus by in Mass Effect if I am aware that I can, to unlock dialogue scenes in the second which I had never encountered.

Overall, I think the hyperanalyzation of media is a shame, and people are not playing goal-oriented games to enjoy them as much as they could. But there is something to be said that with the growth of the video game industry there are options for the more hardcore and driven gamers as well as those who are casually enjoying them.

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Disney and Media (for B8 due on 11/18)

In honor of our brief discussion of Disney during our class today with its relationship to art and media as well as my recent move to invest in the The Walt Disney Company, I wanted to discuss just a few of the many ways Disney advanced in media over the years.

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d23.com

 

First, let’s take a look at this photo from Steamboat Willie. This was one of the first cartoons ever created by Disney (d23.com). Notice how the drawings are very saturated and the lines rich. This was because, of course, that the company hand to draw every one of their first characters to create an animation on the screen. The music was also very rich and but sharp, with mostly a treble and mono audio output. The actual animation was nothing like today, but still spectacular for its time. One of the more popular scenes of all of cartoons is right above, with mickey stomping his foot while steering a boat.


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d23.com

 

“Brought to you by, Technicolor”

Soon after, in the latter 1930’s (d23.com), Americans and viewers across the world were able to see the adventures and fantasies created by the Walt Disney Company in color. Providing ric reds and sot blues, this photo from Snow White captures the power of enhancing outlined drawings with rich saturation of color. While the color is not yet advanced, it did allow for less speculation and provided a more unified interpretation of the scenes visuality.

 


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fanpop.com

 

I’ve enlarged this picture to show you the advances in color and cartooning. Here, you can see more vibrant whites and a larger color platform available. While the original snow-white had limited color variances, the Walt Disney Company advanced their media through updating its color palette. Moreover, the animations were advanced in there were examples of “shimmering” crepuscular rays (sun rays) and rolling clouds- an animation technique not available with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Flashback to Age 13

Going off EveryMinorDetail’s stellar post on the variety of issues in Ready Player One, I’ll jump into the personal experience this novel has left me with.

As I’ve been commenting occasionally in class, Ready Player One is bringing me back to a very specific period in my literary life—that of the Young Adult (fantasy) Novel. Picture Bradley, some time in middle school, laying down on my shag carpet floor with Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code held up above my head, flipping through the pages furiously. Or late at night, hidden in a fort of covers, devouring Christopher Paolini’s newest installment in the Eragon series by the light of a headlamp. Or walking out of Borders with the next Percy Jackson novel, trying to finish the first chapter before my mom pulls out of the parking lot.

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And who could forget this dense gem of a series.

I’m sure many of us were this child at some point, probably for a number of years. From the Magic Tree House and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that started it all around age 8, to eventually moving on to high school sports and running out of time for fun reading, there existed a period in which I read young adult novels like nobody’s business. I wouldn’t doubt that this was a major part of why I, and anyone else who is experiencing nostalgia right now, decided to become an English major at university.

Coming back to Ready Player One, my experience in listening to Ernest Cline’s novel has been one of pleasant nostalgia indeed, mixed with a fair bit of cringing. As we’ve discussed, these novels tend to have frustratingly flat characters and, in general, devices that would certainly not be considered academic. But although I’m not sure I’ll ever elect to re-read the thrilling tale of James Patterson’s bird children, that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth reading at that time—or indeed ever, for anyone who gets a genuine pleasure out of them. These books will always have a place in my heart, and although they may have left me with a bit of a manic pixie dream girl complex, I’m grateful for the expanded vocabulary and imaginativeness they hardwired into my developing brain. So although hearing Wade’s thoughts makes me want to shrivel up and pretend I was never a teenager, the truth is that I’ve loved reading Ready Player One for the experiences it has reminded me of.

Things to Ignore When Reading Ready Player One

Writing a book is hard. Trust me, writing a blog and maybe a poem every other week is enough for me. So I give a thumbs up to Ernest Cline, the author of Ready Player One, and everyone else who decides to make art. So in this post, I’ll give RPO a thumps up with one hand and use the other to write (yes, this was all on paper originally) my critique.

The pervading problem with this book is that it is way too extra for me to enjoy, allowing for both contradictions and superficiality that lessen the immersion and importance of its subject matter. The paragraphs will focus on poverty, A.I., Wade’s skills, Wade’s love interest, a list of other ways the book was extra, a passionate discussion of Aech, a complaint on how the’80s theme was handled, and a conclusion. So While I encourage you to read all of it, becauuse it all points a thesis that I hope you’ll agree with, if not also feel in your bones, at least there’s a guide if you just want to pick and choose from my buffet of complaints.

One of the first contradictions that this book makes is between the overwhelming poverty in its dystopian setting and the isolation Wade feels for being poor in the OASIS. This book doesn’t really hold back on describing the world as being impoverished: energy crisis, mass migration, stacks, etc. So on one hand there is a world of poverty, which is fine on its own. On the other hand, there is a social elite, complete with virtual space ships, teleporters, planets, expensive virtual clothes, etc. So lots of stories explore this dichotomy, but they are consistent in a way that RPO is not. In this story, Wade seems to be the only poor person in school, and this is a major factor to his character and narrative. Every time Wade mentions the poverty or the rich people in his school, I found myself asking: where are all the poor students? Wade barely had decent grades, and halliday made sure that the OASIS public school system would receive funding forever, so why was Wade given a headset and no one else who was poor? This is a relatively unimportant contradiction, but it was the first I saw and it was repeated often, so I thought I’d start here and give harsher criticism later.

Another way that being too extra makes a thematic contradiction in this story is when Wade plays against the A.I. guarding the first key. On one page, he says that A.I. could never be like humans because the software can’t “improvise,” (82). In the story’s logic A.I. could never beat humans because they cannot do what humans do, so thus they are definitely not human. This would have been fine, but then the book goes further by having Wade also think that he “was actually playing against Halliday,” (83). He could have thought that he was playing against Halliday’s creation or something, but instead he breaks his own internal logic by saying both that A.I. can never be like humans and that the A.I. is Halliday. This is a simple contradiction that could have been easily avoided if the book wasn’t trying to be so extra.

Speaking of being too extra, let’s talk about how much praise the book gives Wade for his video game skills and 80’s knowledge. Wade, after not playing a game for 2 years, beats the A.I. on his first try. Then he goes on to beat every other challenge without breaking a sweat. This means that our hero never fails, never has to reflect on the fact that he isn’t a perfect gunter, because he is. This really takes out the tension of each challenge and makes the story less interesting, since we don’t know how Wade reacts to not being perfect, which is something that everyone deals with. Not only this, but it is also unrealistic for him to be so good. UNREALISTIC!? But it’s just a book, who cares. The author, for one, seems to. He also seems to think that we will, since he goes into a lot of effort to show how much time Wade puts in to playing games to justify his perfection. In bragging to us about how much Wade knows, Wade concludes by telling us that he studies “Twelve hours a day, seven days a week” (64). If we factor in 40 hours for school and only 7 hours of homework a week, that means that he only sleeps for 37 hours throughout the week, which is just 5.3 hours per week every day during the school year. I’m no doctor, but I’d imagine that if someone only got that much sleep for the school year for 5 years, he’d be dead, or at least unable to function even in the virtual world. His knowledge, talent, and obsession is just too extra to be realistic or entertaining narrative-wise.

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This shit is serious. I’d like to see Wade halllucinate, or at least yawn.

Wanna talk about the character of Wade being extra? Let’s talk about how far the author goes to show how genuine and accepting he is. When describing how his crush is pretty much the only person in OASIS to have a female avatar to not have “the absurdly thin yet wildly popular supermodel frame, or the top-heavy, wasp-waisted porn starlet physique” we get the impression that his crush is genuine because he likes her for who she really is (35). First, the stereotype of almost everyone changing their body in such stereotypical ways is too much to even be called cliche; second, the fact that she is one of the few who break it is such a “she’s not like other girls” trope used to – third – show why Wade isn’t like other guys, because he likes the genuine girl. Also, he has a crush on her. No, not a crush, more like an unhealthy obsession, going so far as to keep a picture of her to look at. Next, lets look at her narrative: she gets helped (read: saved) by the protagonist for parts of the egg hunt, opens up about her personal life to someone she really doesn’t know and thus of course falls in love with him, breaks up with him to work on her own, then realizes what a great guy he is after the final battle and gets back together with him. Her journey revolves around realizing how genuine the main character is. Blegh.

I could talk about a LOT more: Halliday’s inconsistent, unimportant platitude to live in the real world, Wade’s lack of reaction about the deaths he caused by refusing Sorrento (wow look how alpha and determined he is!), their portrayal of internet culture with I-Rok and how the WORST aspects of the internet were staged in front of a cheering crowd without any deeper reflection (for heaven’s sake, they call him a retard and two derogatory terms for gay people without a blink of an eye), the constant insistence that just because Wade knows a lot about 80’s culture means that he somehow deserves to win the prize attached to the contest (does anyone remember how he wanted to spend it all on escaping Earth?), Halliday’s creepy and unrealistic, and seemingly justified obsession with someone who doesn’t like him, the total lack of anything but superficial character growth, predictable ending, the constant use of deus ex machina explained after-the-fact (oh he bought a tool to hack IOI’s network! and Pacman gave him the extra life!), the undeserved and superficial reference that turns out to be totally irrelevant of ““No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful,” (199), the constant spelling-out of references, and the amount of times that the book gives us the same exact piece of exposition over and over again (how many times have I read that about Halliday’s backstory?). Sure, this is all extra, but there are two more topics that I want to talk about in more depth.

The first is the reveal of Aech. I’ll start with the artistic decision to make her a checkmark for every victimized identity he could think of: female, black, lesbian, and heavy. This would be amazing if Aech’s character was actually influenced by her identity. Instead, we get a short backstory that seems to only explain why she has a van and why she doesn’t live with her parents. Before and after this, Aech’s identity DOES NOT MATTER. It impacts nothing, and we learn nothing more. Is Wade interested in how she feels about not representing her race/gender and thus not providing a good model of those minorities? Surely she has some opinion on that. What about how weird it is that she feels discrimination in the real world and not in OASIS? Or how her family feels about this? Or about how her behavior is sort of encouraging her to be ashamed about her identity? What about how she feels when people talk poorly about any of her identities in the game (what about when Wade calls I-Rok a twink or when I-Rok calls them fags?). There is a wealth of characterization here, and we don’t get more than two paragraphs about it before we return to how Wade feels about all of this.

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When Southpark gives their tokens a stronger racial identity than Ready Player One

All of this, all of her identity checks, backstory, possibility for characterization, is all just there to show that Wade is a good person and that he will still be friends with Aech despite this. F*ck that bs. I already disliked this book a lot, but this made me throw the book against the floor. Marginalized identities to a side character should not be used to make the main character look more accepting. They should not be used as just a plot twist. And they do not deserved to be ignored, as Wade so easily does by continuing to refer to Aech as a “he.” Does he ask her which pronoun to use? He couldn’t care less. How Wade wants to refer to Aech is all that matters, her identity is nothing more than Wade’s interpretation of it (much like how Cartman is treating Token in the picture above). But so, while for a brief moment there could be an interesting character in this book, is then taken away because the author really doesn’t want to explore the issue beyond how it can make the protagonist look tolerant. In short, the book is so extra in making Wade look genuine that it makes one of its characters fit every marginalized identity and explores it with as much brevity as possible to keep the focus on how Wade is so great for accepting Aech. This alone is pathetic enough to make me hate the book.

One more thing. The book is filled beyond the brim to ’80s references. The narrative is constantly interrupted with explanations about references, and many more are name dropped in there. This would be fine if there was more, but that’s it. There is no theme to connect everything. It’s just there, and it could easily be replaced with anything else and not change anything. The ’80s references are just there as wallpaper, having no significance beyond letting the reader feel good about remembering some references. What is significant about the ’80s that Halliday became obsessed with it? Why does it pervade everywhere? No reason, just that he was a kid there.

It’s more of a trivia challenge than something interesting. The author could have expanded upon how the escapism of that culture matches that of the OASIS, or it’s origin in the powerful economy of the ’80s and how that relates to their society, or something. Instead all we get is a list of things that people remember from the ’80s. And I didn’t care. Nothing about it was interesting.

In conclusion, this book isn’t so much suffering from a few flaws as much as it is filled to the brim with problems. That is why I can’t just find it fun. However, I don’t mean to offend anyone who did enjoy the book, since reading is a subjective and personal experience. I’m just suggesting that if you want to swim in this book’s water, don’t dive headfirst; brain injury may occur in shallow waters.

 

Hint about my username: Art isn’t easy. ___ is a major decision.

-EveryMinorDetail

What Makes a Good Boss Battle?

While preparing for the upcoming presentation, I’ve been asking myself what makes a game good or, at the very least, what makes people enjoy them.  Since I mostly play RPGS, I mostly pulled from my knowledge of those games and thought about what I did and did not enjoy about some of my favorite games.  This brings me to Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game which, while mostly enjoyable, had one of the worst boss battles I have ever played.

The final boss of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Corypheus. Source

In order to figure out what makes a boss battle work well, I want to use what Inquisition did poorly.  By figuring out what Corypheus did poorly, we might be able to figure out what to do well.  NOTE: there will be spoilers ahead for the end of Inquisition.

Continue reading “What Makes a Good Boss Battle?”

Escaping to the OASIS

When you think of an oasis the first thing that comes to mind is probably something similar to the definition of the word given by merriam-webster.

It conjures an image of a place that is safe from what is surrounding it where unpleasant things like the heat of the desert can’t reach you. In the book Ready Player One however it is an Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation which is a virtual reality device used to connect the player to the other players and many worlds that they can explore. The characters use this as a real oasis where they can pretend that the atrocities of the outside world can’t reach them and they can escape into a fantasy setting or a version of the world before they ran out of fuel. This escapism is a major point throughout the book because the world they live in is full of poverty and they have become reliant on a second virtual world for their economy, education, and entertainment. Besides sleep, food, and bodily functions everything can be done inside the oasis and they never have to interact with many of the unpleasantries of their real world. With technology like the hamster ball rooms and haptic feedback suits and chairs the characters can become fully immersed and even be able to touch and feel objects in whatever world they want to make their own personal escape to. However, they can’t escape from the real world forever since their makeshift fuel solutions will only hold up for so long without anyone trying to fix them. Though the oasis can help them escape from the world, it can’t help them fix it and eventually they will have to step out from their safe haven to mend the world they actually live in.

Troll Culture

Like most of you, I cannot get this election off of my mind. I have not been able to focus and write these blogs like I usually do without glancing at my social media every five minutes to see if some new, terrible act has been committed in his name. There is also a part of me that still wants to believe that this cannot be happening, and, despite this dread, I cannot help but know that it is insignificant compared to the legitimate fear that is felt by my black, Muslim, LGBTQIA+, immigrant, Latinx, etc. friends. This lack of focus lead me to conclude that I have to write on something related to the election, but also related to video games.

Enter the troll. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, think of I-r0k from Ready, Player One. They are someone who enters the online community and intentionally stirs up trouble or negativity in a variety of ways, only to sit back and enjoy people’s reactions. They can be innocent and fun, like the infamous Ken M. of Facebook. His comments are often briliiant in their stupidity, and, admittedly, it is a little fun to see people fall for the bait and “feed” him, only leading to more laughs.

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However, there are certainly parts of the internet that are less friendly, and, here, there are much worse people with little regard for social customs or common decency. I would rather not include a picture of some of those comments, as they are incredibly hate-filled, ignorant, and generally unfunny. These sorts of trolls either believe in the validity of their racist, homophobic, misogyny, etc., or do not care enough about these issues to see the impact of their words.

Given this election, I expect that the online community is in for an increase in the number of these sorts of trolls. How do we respond? Do we “feed” the troll and oppose their hateful words? As someone of privilege, I see that words have power, and this is the response that I want to take, but online arguments are extremely unproductive. I’m still very much confused, and there are much larger issues ahead as well. Would love to hear y’alls thoughts.