Want someone to read your book? Try offering $500K in gold.

By Carly Vaughn

My little sister, who devours books as quickly as I did at thirteen, called me the other day to tell me about her newest book. She likes to do this, call me when she either buys or finishes a book, to either beg me to read it with her or summarize the plot in great detail. I’ve told her many times that this strategy is pretty ineffective.

“So I was at Target trying to get this book, and they didn’t have it, so I got a different one and I saw a little Caesars Palace logo on the back so I did a little digging and found out that there’s this contest and there are clues hidden throughout the book and the first one to find them wins $500K in gold, and there’s going to be three books and the money just keeps getting bigger. And Mom was saying that if we put our brains together we could probably win.”

I was reminded, powerfully, of Ready Player One. Three books, three prizes, three keys, three gates. What an amazing marketing strategy! Offering a prize that seems like it would be so attainable. Solve some clues, win some gold. And you don’t even have to memorize 1980’s trivia!

The contest seems legit, as evidenced by the media coverage, and author James Frey has my respect. The book is called Endgame: The Calling and I’m probably going to go out and buy this thing, even though I have no idea what it’s about. It doesn’t hurt that LCD Soundsystem played at the treasure hunt launch in Las Vegas. If the prize was Daft Punk playing at my house, instead of 500K in gold, I might be even more motivated to play.

Competing with Kong

Competitive gaming remains a niche market. Tournaments held for games now have prize pools of millions of dollars, but this is nothing compared to the stakes of athletic competitions where professional players make millions yearly regardless of whether their team wins. This is the result of a huge number of factors, but several very important ones are illuminated in King of Kong.

The competitors in King of Kong are not the most charismatic: compare them to an athlete and anyone could tell which is which. This is a small part of the problem: society at large pays athletes so well partially because the athletes are admired. It is much easier to admire an athletic and charismatic athlete than a socially awkward gamer whose athletic skill lay largely in his (her?) fingers.

Another noteworthy obstacle to competitive gaming that exists in King of Kong but is not focused on is variety. There are so many games (even 20+ year old arcade games!) that interest in gaming is far too divided for gamers skilled in only a couple games to make any serious money. There are many high-paying competitive sports: maybe 10 that make a lot of money. In King of Kong a tournament held at Funspot has competitors playing in over thirty games. It would take an impossible number of competitors to fund professional gamers (people who play games for a living) for all these games, and nowadays there are far more games in which to compete.

A final problem is time. This problem will obviously solve itself, but in King of Kong it is obvious that more time was needed for a true competitive environment. Needing to show up in person to compete, for example, is a problem that has now been mainly solved: final rounds are still often done in LAN settings, but at least qualifiers can be done through the internet. Cheating  through hacked gameboards is long gone: games are too complex now for that, and cheats are usually incredibly obvious.

Finally there’s the problem of making the games interesting to watch. Donkey Kong is clearly a competitive game, and the intensity with which it was played was interesting to watch in King of Kong, but only a select group of people could sustain interest in watching every second of every playthrough in the movie: it would be grueling. Games need to be appealing even to those not especially familiar to the game itself, just as anyone can watch and be amused by a game of soccer.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the day is not far away when professional gamers will garner as much attention and money as athletes. It will just take time and a shift of the industry, with lessons taken from sports and even, perhaps (but unlikely), from King of Kong.

~HungryRug

It’s Called Sportsmanship Buddy

True competition is not found on the football field or basketball court. You won’t find it in the MLB, NFL, or NBA. Instead, real competition is found in the arcades, or at least that’s what King of Kong: A FistFul of Quarters leads me to believe.  In fact, I can say that out of all sports related movies I have seen, I have never seen more competitive people portrayed than the arcade game players in that movie. 

I have always been a competitive person and therefore try and stay as far away from it as possible. I don’t let myself get caught up in the winning vs. losing of it anymore. However, when I was little and would lose a soccer game I was the girl who refused to shake the other team’s hands. However, after doing so, I would be quickly reprimanded. When it comes to competitive team sports, the idea of sportsmanship is so important to the appearance of the team that seeming overly competitive is inappropriate.   This is why while watching King of Kong, I was so baffled by Billy Mitchell’s blatant rudeness. For example, the way he chooses not to acknowledge Steve Wiebe but instead simply makes offensive comments he knows Steve will over hear. I couldn’t see a how a public figure like himself could allow himself to be seen in such a way. There is a difference between what one may think in their head and the way they act in public. There is a difference between what their innate competitive nature urges them to do and what their reasonable side knows is appropriate.  When you have a video camera on you, it’s probably in your best interest to seem polite and respectful of others rather than egotistical and unscrupulous. Maybe that’s something learned through team sports. Maybe that’s something that can only be understood once you have had the idea of sportsmanship repeatedly drilled into you.  When you know you and your team are going to be judged based on your words and actions to other teams, you think twice about them. Billy Mitchell apparently was never taught that lesson while Steve Wiebe who played organized sports for years had. I guess every movie needs a protagonist and an antagonist and Billy Mitchell did a fabulous job of making himself the one to hate.

After watching King of Kong , I will never question video games as a completive sport again. Like they said at the beginning of the movie, people often think of gamers just sitting alone playing the game. To me, playing an arcade game was about competing against yourself and seeing how far you could get. Maybe that’s because I never stood a chance of actually succeeding and reaching a high score. Now, I understand video games players to be some of the most competitive people I have ever witnessed, and I will never question the competition again.

-CRHayes

Final Frontier of Skill: Video Games

I initially wrote about how my friends, parents, and peers reacted to my playing video games, but I did not have much to say (or in other words, it was incredibly boring to write, and certainly to read). Instead, I’ll be talking about an aspect of gaming/life that Gamer Theory 2.0 touched on a little bit, and that’s competition (better to write, though probably as boring to read). Naturally, Gamer Theory covered what it did practically as well as possible, in terms of why life is just a game and why the game is, in many ways, superior to life itself, so instead I’ll talk about why the video game, in particular, is superior to other types of game in terms of competition.

Competition is amongst the most natural of human behaviors- it is the basis of human life, and structures the most important thing to all of us: how we think. Competition is the foundation of our society and is what has led humanity to the rich world we live in today. Games are the future of competition-but why?

Since humanity progressed to society, outlets for competition have always been sought that eliminated outside factors and ugly solutions, whether by adding rules to form a game or taking competitions indoors. It could easily be said that as games get more complex and more and more outside factors are eliminated, we are approaching a more perfect competition. But let’s take it back a bit.

Regulated competition has been around for ages, and it has always been flawed in about the same way: it’s not fair. Competition is meant to measure skill- but skill is hard to define, and even harder to measure. In athletic competition variances in physical ability often determine the outcome, and even if all athletes were identical, much of the result is determined by luck (in that the factors were out of all players’ control). Skillful performance and mental abilities, while important, don’t matter as much as brute strength in, say, a gladiator fight, or a bad breeze in a match of table tennis.

Then board games were invented, games of logic. One could argue that this was a perfect competition; in chess, for example, the board is the same at the start of every game, physical abilities don’t matter, there are no factors outside of both players’ control… thus, it should be the perfect game!

Sadly, no. The mental aspect of chess is not perfect. Ever since chess became a competitive “sport”, people have found a way to “game” the game: memorization. By simply memorizing good openings, an advantage can be acquired against a “smarter” opponent who understands the game better, simply because, even if there isn’t a “perfect” response, there is a better one to be memorized than any human could come up with on the fly. This doesn’t mean that memorization is the be-all and end-all of chess. There are too many possible outcomes to memorize them all: at some point a player will have to think for him- or herself, so a better player could simply memorize the same openings and then win in the endgame. But is this not a flawed competition, where such ugly methods must be employed to win? Once again, we have brute strength (of memorization) as an important factor in a contest in which we want to test only “skill”. This is plainly evidenced by the rise of the computer (which is now far better than any human chess player), which plays chess not by thinking, but by pure memorization (essentially running through all possible moves to achieve the best possible position, where the quality of position is determined in advance by the programmers). We may see the day, where like checkers (which was actually quite recently, on a human timeline, considered a truly complex game), chess is defeated- an unbeatable series of plays and responses formulated. Again, is this not a flawed game?

But now, now we have computers. Computers are unique- the environment within a computer is devoid of the factors of the Earth (wind, surface texture (dirt vs grass), and even air pressure differences). Physical abilities matter almost not at all when the only inputs into a computer are mouse and keyboard/controller (and eventually, probably just the brain). Video games can combine the best aspects of both the mental and physical sports. They can eliminate luck and “brute strength”/preprogrammed solutions by creating environments too complex to win in this way. Already FPS’s have eliminated any hope of winning by “memorizing” advantageous moves (as there are none, just like most athletic sports), and other game genres are played in ways that require such inventive and creative though that computers simply cannot win, despite being many times faster and more precise (Starcraft, for instance). It’s not yet perfect- the winners of most games are determined by the precision of fingers or by time played- but the day is coming when we might see a perfectly competitive game, where only quick thinking and ingenuity matters.

It’s already seen in South Korea that Starcraft is a serious sport, where professionals live on what they earn by competing. Surely there is a future where video games are THE sport, where just as football and tennis draw different people but are both hugely competitive sports, some FPS and some RTS will attract totally different crowds of people, have vastly different metagames, be linked only in that both are hugely competitive video games. This is what we’re heading towards, because in a world where sports are just a test of skill, how can they compete with an environment where skill is the only factor?

~HungryRug (note that the arguments expressed here are made for the sake of argument only)

Arcade to Console: A Shift in the Nature of Games

by Theo Dentchev

“There’ll always be the argument that video games are meant to be played for fun. Believe me, some of it’s a lot of fun. Video games are meant to be played at home, relaxing, on a couch, amongst friends…and they are, and that’s fun. But competitive gaming, when you want to attach your name to a world record, when you want your name written into history, you have to pay the price.”

– Billy Mitchell, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

In the above quote arcade game legend Billy Mitchell speaks to the difference between competitive gaming and what might be called “casual” gaming. But at the same time, in a way he’s comparing modern gaming to classic arcade gaming. “[Modern] [v]ideo games are meant to be played at home…on a couch,” and one might add with a gaming console, on a TV, whereas classic arcade games are played standing up in front of the arcade machine, usually in an arcade. Those superficial differences in location and method of playing are representative of a broader shift in gaming from the arcade era in the 80s to the console era of today, from more competitive to more casual, from a narrow to a broad appeal, and from more rule oriented games to games which utilize fiction much more heavily.

The underlying goal of classic arcade games is to get as far as you could, to achieve as high a score as possible without dying (and if you are good enough, to hopefully get your name on the high scores list), and thus they are inherently competitive. Arcade games also require great hand-eye and hand-thought coordination, as Twin Galaxies founder and referee Walter Day tells us in King of Kong. Someone playing an arcade game has to be literally thinking on their feet. The person has to be on edge, attentive, and motivated to keep standing there and competing at that game. This is in stark contrast to video games today, which are meant to be enjoyed while sitting back, sinking into your couch cushions, without needing to exert a great deal of mental or physical effort. Today’s games try to be friendly and open to new or “casual” gamers. They are much, much more forgiving than the arcade games of the past and no longer restrict players to going as far as their skills allow them; now even the least able gamer  can fully experience (and beat) most games. That isn’t to say that there aren’t still games being made which are or can be competitive out there, it just means the landscape has shifted.

Accompanying this shift is gaming becoming more mainstream. Whether the increased public interest in gaming is due to the increasingly casual nature of games, or whether companies are making more casual games to please the public, I don’t know. I figure it’s a combination of both. Most people don’t find the intensely challenging, and often frustrating nature of arcade games to be “fun.” They are more attracted to games whose rules present some sort of challenge, yet not one which is too difficult to overcome. But people also like flashy graphics, rich soundtracks, and complex stories. Arcade gaming did not have that. They didn’t have the greatest graphics (it was the 80s,still early in the development of video games), and while they had some catchy themes the music was pretty simple. As for story, sure, Mario (Jumpman) was trying to save Pauline (Lady) from Donkey Kong in Donkey Kong, but that’s about as deep as that story gets, and there’s really no resolution of the conflict (ending). And what about Pac-Man? What was he eating all those dots for anyway? Arcade games focused mostly on a set of rules, without much fiction. Modern games still have rules which the player must follow, but have added great amounts of fiction, mainly in the form of narratives and accompanying music, to the point that some games are considered more film than game (e.g. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots). That in turn has attracted a great deal of people to the gaming world, swelling its ranks with new, casual gamers.

Video games in the 80s were generally viewed in a negative light, with mostly “losers” or “nerds,” supposed rejects of society, congregating in dimly lit arcades, almost cult-like. Perhaps this was because games were still a new and relatively foreign medium. Or maybe the “price” needed to be paid that Billy Mitchell alludes to, not in quarters, but in time, dedication, and repeated frustration resulting from the difficulty of arcade games was too high for the average person to pay. Or was it because arcade games were too simple, only about rules and competition? Whatever the case may be, since video games have started heavily incorporating fiction and lowering the challenge the rules present, changing the nature of the games from competitive to casual, they have been propelled in a relatively short amount of time into mainstream recognition and acceptance. People find today’s games to be more “fun.” It’s not only nerds who play video games now, and although competitive gaming may still be discredited, even that is changing as people begin to play games like Halo for a living.

Or maybe it’s all because of Madden.

– TD

Welcome to the Colosseum. Again.

Ah, the arcade, and the games in the arcade. I walked for twenty minutes, but it is now worth it. The lights, the sounds, the intensity of individuals hunched to their ta-

SHOOT THE ZOMBIE!

-sks. All of the gamers present test their individual strength and ability against the machines, waging their bat-

OH, GOD, HOLY CRAP, MY LAST HEALTH POINT!

-tles against innumerable virtual foes, pushing for that last thou-

POWER-UP!

-sand points to take the high score, cementing their place in the rec-

HE GOT ME?! THE BUGGER GOT ME?!

-ords…until a superior gamer comes along.

For me, more than any other type of game, an arcade game emphasizes the competition between gamers within the games. Each battle against the machine earns a score; each score is compared to other scores. We are locked into the competition as soon as we play, and we compete because we choose to complete. We long to prove ourselves to the world, or at least to our region, or even simply to a few friends. People long for recognition and the arcade games provide that.

I play Halo 3 with friends from time to time. We run the campaign together on occasion, and sometimes we run the multiplayer modes. We can obliterate each other for hours, but there isn’t much of a lasting record besides easily-forgotten taunts, and they are ALWAYS forgotten by the time everyone gets home.

I play Ranger Mission in an arcade twenty minutes from my house from time to time. I teamed up in the co-op mode with a friend, Chris Myers, and with our combined virtual marksmanship talents, we earned the third-highest posted score. Two other groups have reclaimed slots above us, so we’re holding the fifth slot now. I think the only way to adequately state the way arcade games affect me in comparison to console games is to say that, while I will play Halo 3 for enjoyment with friends, I plan to hop back to that arcade with Chris and see about taking that score back. There is enjoyment, there is competition, and they aren’t necessarily exclusive concepts, but we’re going to take that score back, even if we have to walk through a river of spilled quarters and slain gamers to do it.

 

– Breon Guarino