The Eye: In Gaming and Other Forms of Media

A. A. BENJAMIN

 

I’ve noticed a trend in the different mediums I’ve come in contact with lately.  

TheEYE
Movie: The Fellowship of the Ring
Game: A Story About My Uncle (PC)
Game: A Story About My Uncle (PC)
Game: Journey (PS3)
Game: Journey (PS3)
Article: some Uber alien game that hasn’t come out yet
Article: some Uber alien game that hasn’t come out yet

What is the cultural significance of this eye and why do we fear it? It drives us instinctively to hide even when it has not been explained—game, movie or otherwise—why we should hide in the first place. Something fictitious puts such a deep anxiety in our hearts that I have to wonder what about this fear is real.
 
 
 
My first instinct is to run to Orwell’s “Big Brother” in 1984. This could possibly be a subconscious cultural and political commentary of modern day lack of trust in structures of authority and power. This unifying symbolism shows a thread of fear that weaves these creative minds together as they form a common enemy.
 
The looming watchful eye always takes a grotesquely large and bulbous shape, anywhere between orange to reddish in tone, sometimes with that cat-like slit that seems to be that much more evil. It is always THE eye. One, not two.
 
 
 
Not only does the singularity suggest the disturbing all-powerful theme explored in 1984, but it also creates this alien-ness that makes it hard for us to fathom what the one eyed creature would do with us if it did catch us. The unknown stirs our deepest fears…
 
Though recurring images across mediums may not be intentional, I think it’d be a bit naïve to assume that they are by accident. What are we trying to tell ourselves, with the continuous return of this monster? Maybe we fear imposing onlookers stripping away our privacy and autonomy. Maybe we fear spectatorship, which is quite interesting considering the mediums in which this monster takes form. If we conflict with a culture of spectatorship, we must be using some strange counter attack that involves becoming the looming spectator ourselves. We can comfortably strip Frodo down with our own eyes, but God-forbid the camera turn on us. Our first instinct is to hide and fear, and it appears that game developers continuously use this easy fix to propel gamers through their desired narrative.
 
I still can’t pinpoint, though, WHY The Eye is such a universally easy fix. How has this organ become a fearsome symbol through time?

The Eye of Providence, or what illuminati conspiracy theorists call, the Eye of Horus  (U.S. Dollar Bill)
The Eye of Providence, or what illuminati conspiracy theorists call, the Eye of Horus (U.S. Dollar Bill)

Women And The Gaming World, also #Gamersgate

I’m not going to lie, I approached the whole gaming world with many pre-conceived notions and stereotypes of gaming culture and the very people that played these games. I pictured the overweight, late-twenties male in a stained and dirty t-shirt hidden in his parents’ basement playing games alone for hours, with the reflective glow of a screen illuminating his pasty white skin providing the only light and the quick twitch of his hands on the console being the only sign of life. My perception of the gaming world mostly came from its negative (or at least off-color and sensationalized) portrayal in the media, and specifically Brian from the film The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants (pictured below), which was one of my first introductions to gamers. One of the bloggers on here has already mentioned that the gaming world really seems like a boys-only club akin to something out of a 90s movie, and before I approached the world of gaming, I would say that I agreed 100% with that statement.

from fanpop.com
from fanpop.com

Before I started gaming, I thought my entrance into the culture would be a bombardment of ostracization in the online community. I thought the people playing games would be jerks because I wasn’t a guy; I have to say though, I have been very pleasantly surprised. Please keep in mind that my experience is limited to only a few games, but I have found that people for the most part have been very welcoming and helpful. I guess there isn’t really any way to tell outright that I am a woman, but I think that this gender neutrality is a plus of gaming. In the game, one assumes the identity of his or her avatar, and thus the gender of the gamer is kind of a moot point. Video gaming provides a unique and cool situation in which men and women can compete against each other and be on teams together in a completely equal way, which is more than one can say for most organized sports. So basically video gaming is the utopia of gender equality, right? Right?

Well… not so fast.

The gaming world, especially now, has been getting a lot of flack for a lack of diversity, ESPECIALLY with how the gaming world regards women. I’m spoiled that in LOTRO, I have the option of completely customizing my character to be whichever gender or race I want it to be, but in most games, this is far from the case. In the vast majority of games, one assigned an avatar/ protagonist character from the beginning, which would be okay if men and women characters were generally equally spread as protagonists throughout games, but that isn’t what happens. The majority of games have a male protagonist, and women characters are highly sexualized. Geek Feminism made a list of games and how women are portrayed in them, and the protagonist section is woefully low. It’s missing a few, but considering how many games there are, the message is overwhelming.

You can read their info here: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Women_Characters_in_Video_Games

Sadly, this misogamy is carrying over to the real-life world. While female playership is increasing greatly, some male players seem to be pretty mad that the “boy’s club” aspect of gaming is on the decline. You may be familiar with the “#Gamergate” situation that is currently going on, and if not, the gist is that a female game maker, Zoe Quinn, and another female game critic, Anita Sarkeesian, have been harassed and threatened by members of the gaming community to the point where they have had to flee their homes. You can read more on the situation here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/09/24/349835297/-gamergate-controversy-fuels-debate-on-women-and-video-games

This behavior is unacceptable. Gaming is not a man’s world, it’s everyone’s world, equally. I think the fact that we play using avatars speaks to this. While the characters display sexism, which needs to change, the games themselves are gender blind. The age of the damsel in distress and femme fatale is over. It is time for the gaming community at large to welcome and respect the influx of women that is helping to make it so hugely successful, both online and in the real world.

-Sparling Wilson

Enjoy this satire:

from geeksaresexy.net
from geeksaresexy.net

True Life: I’m a LOTRO Addict

I am very proud of myself… I’ve made excellent strides in the gaming world. For those of you that don’t remember, I am the newbiest of newbs (the writer who basically had only played iphone games), so when I downloaded LOTRO and was told that it would be a part of my grade for the course, I was wary at first. Initially, I struggled with the controls of the game, not realizing that the arrow keys could be used in place of the “a” “s” “d” and “w” keys for movement; not being able to move with ease was frustrating and really put a damper on my enjoyment of the game. Another issue I had at first was navigation through the game with the quests. I did not realize that one merely had to follow the glowing ring on the map to find the next part of the quest, and because of this, the going was excruciatingly slow. A silver lining the this issue was that I learned how to move before I learned how to navigate, and so I spent a long time fighting wolves in Thorin’s realm and reached a higher level by the end of the intro period that most. On the issue of navigation, I wish that staying on the epic quest line would be more self-explanatory because I’ve spent a lot of time doing side quests that I would in some cases prefer to avoid.

With that being said, these were just issues I had at the beginning of my journey. Since I’ve managed to get over these problems, I have become completely enamored with the game. If I’m waiting around, I play the game. If I’m bored, I’ll play the game. Not feeling like going out on the town? I’ll visit the Prancing Pony in Bree. I am seriously getting addicted to LOTRO!

One aspect I really love is the role playing. I love the fact that I can customize my character’s wardrobe and appearance, as well as the specific skills I can gain as an Elf Champion. I think one reason why this part of the game is so appealing is due to the fact that I am an English major and avid reader. When I am reading (especially in the Lord Of The Rings series) I can imagine myself in the protagonist’s position and wish I were apart of the action. By playing LOTRO, I am able to engage with the narrative in a way that has never been open to me before, and that helps to fulfill this desire.

Additionally, the quests provide just enough challenge to be fun and engaging, but are not difficult to the point that I want to abandon them as a lost cause. Even if my character dies, I feel like I can evaluate my performance and improve enough to give the challenge another go and ultimately be successful. While this game isn’t as strongly based on learning as the game Braid was, I still think it is an important factor here. In playing this game, you learn new strategies to help you play more efficiently and creatively.

One thing that I have learned since starting this game is that apparently Lore Masters get to have animal pets. Since I have been enjoying playing so much, I think it is time for me to create a new character of the Lore Master variety so I can acquire some of the cute and friendly creatures I’ve spotted along the way!

-Sparling Wilson

A Portal into….. nah I’m not going to be that cheesy

While I had played the first installment of Portal before, I chose this game (and its sequel, Portal 2) as the what I wanted to study for a few reasons – firstly, I’m a huge fan of puzzle-based games, and Portal is definitely one of those. Each level presents a (usually) clear beginning and ultimate goal, so it’s up to the player to navigate the level and determine how to solve it in order to move on to the next challenge. While the levels are fairly simply presented, with each one clearly delineated as being its own level, they still can be quite challenging. Secondly, I wanted to look at Portal because of its very unique and intriguing game mechanics. Again, it’s a very simple game, but out of its simple mechanics emerges a variety of challenges along with a fairly interesting narrative (more so in Portal 2 than 1, however).

Although I had played Portal before, I found it very interesting to go through the first levels of the game again having already known the basic mechanics. Rather than actually trying to figure out what was going on, I could focus more on how the game introduces and teaches these mechanics and skills to the player. There are no formal “training levels”, but rather levels that allow you to figure out the mechanics on your own and to learn your skills through very simple challenges. Eventually, you progress to levels that are much less guided. Here, the game forces you to begin having to really think in order to solve the puzzles and advance. I always find these levels, however, to be the most rewarding.

While I haven’t played Portal 2 myself, I have seen a friend play some parts of it, and I definitely remember it being much more narrative-heavy than the first one. In Portal 1, the player is guided by a narrator with a robot-voice through this testing facility of some sort. I don’t remember the ending, but overall it’s a rather simple storyline. In the original, it seems that they were much more focused on introducing their very unique mechanics and gameplay as opposed to focusing on the story. In the sequel, however, since most players were already familiar with the gameplay, they could expand, adding in new challenges and a more complex story arc. I’m definitely excited to see firsthand what all Portal 2 offers and how it builds upon the very successful original, especially in regards to how it handles narrative.

– Logan W

Braid: A New Take on a Familiar Design

First of all, you must be aware that I would not consider myself a ‘gamer’ by any means; however, I did spend a considerable amount of time in my childhood playing around on various flash video game websites. Most of these games were simple and easy to get the hang of, requiring minimal commitment on the player’s side. In opening the game Braid for the first time, I was immediately reminded of those ephemeral and ultimately forgettable games from my middle school years. But Braid stood out significantly from any of these other simple platform games in that it took this familiar concept of moving through a two-dimensional world with relatively few controls or abilities to maybe like four or five new levels. It both poked fun at this game genre while simultaneously achieving within the genre new feats that I myself had never seen before.

Braid’s most obvious spin on this old genre is the loosening of the representation of time within the game. The player has the ability to manipulate time itself and uses this to help the protagonist progress. While this player ability might seem rather trite, Braid incorporates it very elegantly in a way that kept me constantly intrigued with the advancement of each level. It reminded me a lot of the game Portal in that a ton of challenging puzzles come out of a rather limited set of rules and game mechanics.

Additionally, Braid’s use of narrative to enhance and complement the gameplay itself further indicated a mastery of the genre. While I do think that the narrative was a bit cheesy, I think we have to give the writers a bit of a break considering how small of a scale with which they were working. Braid put forward quite blatantly the themes of passage of time, forgiveness, ‘magic’ in a relationship, and wanting to undo past mistakes. However hackneyed or possibly even vapid these themes can be, I was still astounded by how the narrative and gameplay complemented each other so well, as I had never really seen that done in a game before. These themes are evident in the game from the very beginning when you first realize you are able to undo mistakes with the simple press of a key.

With its countless nods to the game’s ancestor Super Mario, Braid seems to be incredibly aware of its place within the narrative of video game history while at the same time pushing its genre to the next level in very interesting and intriguing ways. While acknowledging how little I know about the whole of video game history, I still was pretty blown away by what Braid accomplishes when compared to other games of its type.

– Logan W (logangaming)

Braid (the game, not the hair)

First off, you should know I am only kind of a gamer. “Kind of” meaning playing Lego LOTR with one of my little brothers and CoD with the other one. Zero experience with computer games.
So playing Braid was . . . different (and difficult).
I found the music and the artistic look of the entire game to be the biggest attraction, especially looking at the backgrounds of the different areas. And the music, well, I have a weakness for any decent soundtrack, so I really really enjoyed the music.
The game in itself was frustrating. While the format was similar to Mario Bros (the only game I’ve played that’s close), using the keyboard arrows and space bar to maneuver had me dying over and over and . . .
You get the picture.
The whole time-managing, time-bending, time-reversing thing was fascinating. Definitely made Braid unique and a lot more intriguing. I had difficulty on the first few puzzles using it though, so I can’t imagine how much more difficult they became further along in the game.
The storyline itself was a bit of a turn-off. I didn’t get that far, therefore I can’t really judge, but I found the writing itself to be cumbersome and overly dramatic. Not to mention the “life lessons” that the writer tried to push forward. Like a really long fortune cookie. Apparently there’s a crazy twist at the end, but for me, that’s no excuse for a heavy, uninteresting storyline.
End judgement: I personally may never play the game again, but for the avid computer gamer, it could be very enjoyable.

-JKH

Comparing Apples to Oranges: Board Games vs. Computer Games

Anna Dickens

Board games, for me, are steeped in nostalgia.

They evoke memories of Christmases past, when all my relatives and I would huddle around the fireplace to compete in a nonchalant game of Yahtzee or Balderdash, the sound of our deep-bellied laughs and friendly chatter drowning out the hushed Christmas carols that softly emanated from the stereo.

The games were, to a certain degree, competitive, each team pursuing victory with a sort of light-hearted vengeance. Winners would receive “bragging rights” for the remainder of the night, and the younger children in the bunch always found it terribly amusing to not-so-politely remind Uncle Bob or Uncle John for the seventeenth time that “they lost!” But it was, overall, a friendly competition. We would laugh at one another’s mistakes and clap at one another’s triumphs. Rules were altered, personalized, or simply ignored to suit our fancies. Frustration was fleeting, quickly remedied by a bite of a frosted red-and-green cookie.

In theory, yes, we were there to play a game. But the true joy of the experience derived not from the game itself, rather from what the game entailed—from the company of family members, from the enchantment of the sputtering fire, from the ethereal glow of the Christmas tree. The games allowed us to retreat into a “fictional world,” a fictional world that together—through our mutual efforts and our shared presence—we had created. Remove the throngs of relatives, the cheerful noise, and the cozy atmosphere, and what would we have been left with? Nothing but a cold, lifeless board game.

On the flip side, in my experience, playing computer games has been a wholly solitary endeavor. Like every other preteen inhabiting the early millennium, I was a serious fanatic of The Sims during my middle school days. In the depths of a darkened basement, slouched over a computer for hours on end, I would become so engrossed in the game that I grew oblivious to the living world pulsating all around me. A competitive edge would irrevocably overtake me. The computer game was fun, undoubtedly, but the joy of the experience was shrouded in a sensation not unlike addiction. I invested all my emotions into the silly game: my character’s triumphs elicited in me an exhilarating surge of joy, while my character’s failures left me feeling profoundly disappointed. I played and played and played repeatedly, not fully satisfied until I achieved the success I so craved.

What’s more, the fictional world provided by The Sims was of a completely different breed than that of, say, Balderdash. Thanks to a group of suited men huddled around an executive table in some nameless firm somewhere, the fiction had been already crafted for me: all I had to do was dive into the computer screen and explore it. The graphics, the animation, the set of rules to which I was inextricably bound—the juxtaposition of these elements created a fanciful, fantastical virtual experience, an alternate universe as real as our own.

So, the question remains: which are better—computer games or board games? The answer is purely a matter of personal preference. The two game forms are so different as to defy comparison; it’s analogous to trying to compare apples to oranges. As we have just explored, board games and computer games provide completely different forms of pleasure for the participant. While board games can offer the nostalgic joy of good company and lifelong memories, computer games provide an addicting, ready-made escape into a computerized world.