Nightmare Chess and the Hall of Heroes

Though I think of myself as a ‘gamer,’ I have never played very many arcade games. My experience is limited to the Space Invaders machine at the Dave & Busters back home, and one highly unsuccessful attempt to save my cities while playing Missile Command. On the other hand, I have lots of experience with board games. From Monopoly to Nightmare Chess to backgammon to the War of the Ring, board games have been a part of my life since I was very young. And equally present there is another, very different type of game: the online games, those notorious MMOs that so many love to play to the exclusion of all else.

While both are enjoyable, they present very different experiences to their players. The first, obviously, is the real life interaction present in any board game. When you play a game of chess, or Monopoly, or any other traditional board game, you sit across the table from your opponent (s) and interact with them directly–you speak to them, watch them roll dice, and unnerve them when you study the cards you’re holding.  In addition, the vast majority of board games pit players head to head–they are competing directly against one another to win the game. In gamer vocabulary, board games are purely PvP–player versus player.

In contrast, an online game presents no inherent direct interaction. You can’t physically see anyone else who’s playing, or talk to them (with the advent of applications like TeamSpeak and Ventrilo this has changed, though). Players instead interact through their avatars–the characters they create to play in the game. Though the character represents the player in the game’s world and can interact with other avatars and the game’s environment, the avatar is not real and does not compare equally to the face-to-face interaction present in board games. Lastly, online games in general do not force players to play against each other. Even in World of Warcraft, where the conflict between the Horde and Alliance is central to both the world and storyline, players can opt not to fight other players. Most MMOs present head-to-head competition as an option through PvP servers and arenas; however players can instead choose to fight the challenges presented by the game designers in the game (and indeed must if they wish to truly experience the full game, eg. leveling up and completing endgame content). Players are also encouraged to work together through the forming of groups, guilds, and friendships to beat the game. Thus, online games are not primarily PvP focused; instead they present both PvE (player versus environment) and PvP as options for their players, with most of their content being PvE.

Furthermore, board games are almost always rules-based emergence games, where no ‘heavy’ fiction is presented to the player . Board games sometimes provide a ‘light’ fiction along with their rules, like the tycoon fantasy of Monopoly or the battle for Middle Earth presented in War of the Ring, but these are thin veneers and nowhere is the player of a board game subject to the same ‘heavy’ fiction found in online games. Board games focus instead on simple rules that nevertheless provide variations in every game played. Thus, they are emergence games. There is nothing fixed about a board game except the rules–any twists and turns, and especially the outcome of the game, are determined by the players themselves.

Online games are almost the opposite. They rely heavily on fiction, though rules are important as well, and are generally progression based. The fiction of an online game is almost certainly its most important component. The player must suspend at least some disbelief, and enter the world created by the game designers. In this world, there are quests to do, villages to save, mythical swords to forge, and worlds to conquer. But, in any online game you’ll find that there’s a certain order to these many tasks. Before you can conquer the world, you have to forge the sword, but to do that you’ll have to save the village, but before you can save the village you’ll have to do some errands for the townspeople to gain their trust. Online games present a story, a predetermined path for you to walk, and are therefore strongly fiction and progression based. You can only do the quests they allow you to do, and deviating from the storyline isn’t really possible–should the hero die halfway through, he’ll be resurrected.  If he fails the final boss fight and doesn’t destroy the evil wizard, he can always try again.  There is no emergence aspect to the PvE side of the game. The final outcome doesn’t depend on your actions or the actions of your opponent, like it does in a board game. In an online game, the story always ends the same way.

But, like a board game, an online game could not function without rules. Not only are there rules governing how a player moves about, interacts with objects, and communicates, online games restrict a player’s actions in-game. For example, in Star Wars Galaxies you cannot kill Darth Vader, and in LOTRO Gandalf is equally immortal. Killing either character would drastically change the story each game tells–and so, you cannot attack them. In both types of game, rules play an important part–for indeed, what is a game without rules?

The only real emergence aspect of an online game is its PvP side. In an arena, players learn a set of rules (eg. Movement, special attacks, etc) and play against each other. There’s no story, and though the fiction is heavier than any board game’s, it’s still lighter than the PvE aspect of the game. This is where board games and online games ‘intersect’–in the PvP arena. Here, players of both games have a similar experience in many ways, as some of the trademark characteristics of board games described above display themselves in the virtual world of the online game.

While both the board game and the online game are very different in many ways, they are both fun and enjoyable for the many players who take up their challenges. Their differences merely help to make the world of gaming the dynamic and multifaceted place it is.

So, anyone up for a game of Nightmare Chess? If not, we can always head out to the Hall of Heroes.

Dacia

PS: I totally forgot to post this on time with the math test and everything today….forgive me!! >.< I had it ready yesterday and everything. Oh well, that’s life…

Harry Potter 6 or The Lord of the Rings 1

by Theo Dentchev

Which movie is better?

Some might say that the answer is entirely subjective, and so you cannot conclusively say one is better or worse. That’s true enough, but I’m not asking, “which one do you like more.” Rather which one is objectively better? I suppose to make that kind of judgment we will need to define a set of criteria for determining which is indeed “better.” I propose we look at and compare the following four characteristics commonly used when evaluating film: coherence, intensity of effect, complexity, and originality.

Let us omit discussing complexity and simply assume that both films are sufficiently complex. That is, they both engage us on several different levels and have relatively intricate systems of relationships. Let us also omit intensity of effect, as that covers a range of subjects which are more subjective than I would like, such as how vivid or emotionally powerful the film is.

Then let us begin with coherence, or unity, which refers to how well or clearly everything is presented in a film, and if all the loose elements are tied up by the end. Now, being installations in a series, both of our films don’t conclude their stories and naturally leave certain things unaddressed (left, we assume, for the sequel to pick up on). Though we have to keep that in mind, we can still compare the way the rest of both films are structured. In The Fellowship of the Ring all of the characters and events clearly and logically relate to each other and serve a purpose. Those that don’t are either being left for the next film, or are negligible and require careful viewing to catch. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince it is more fragmented, as though not fully completed, and in a way unrelated to the fact that it is to have a sequel. There are scenes and places which, in the context of the movie, make little sense and are unclear. A striking example can be found at the end of the film, when Dumbledore is confronted by Draco Malfoy atop the astronomy tower and eventually killed by Snape. Harry is hiding in the vicinity the entire time yet does nothing until after Dumbledore is already dead. His inaction does not make any sense and is completely dissonant with his character as well as with the nature of his relationship with Dumbledore. In the book his action is explained by Dumbledore immobilizing with a spell which does not wear off until either he dies, but in the movie it is simply illogical.

That last example is a good place to bring originality into the discussion. Yes, both films are adaptations of books and as such one might be inclined to say that the films cannot be original, but even in films which have a frequently used subject, originality can be found in the way that subject is presented. Likewise both these films display originality in the way they relate the story which they are adapting. Both do depart from the text, sometimes changing minor details, sometimes going so far as to omit entire portions of the book. However, the changes and omissions that are made in The Fellowship of the Ring are done so that the viewer is able to more easily and quickly understand the plot, as superfluous characters and events which serve to unnecessarily complicate the plots are shorn off (such as Tom Bombadil, who never appears in the movie, and the corresponding scene in Rivendell where it is suggested that the ring be given to him). The end result is a more streamlined work that, while differing in some places from it’s source, still tells a complete story and gives the viewer all the information they need to understand and appreciate it within the length limitations of the film meidum. In contrast, Harry Potter omits vital scenes (such as several memories of a young Tom Riddle which offer insight into his character’s motivations and also give more information about the horcruxes), while adding completely irrelevant scenes which do do nothing for the story other than complicate it (such as the burning of the Burrow, which never happens in the book and which goes on to appear again in the seventh book). The end result is that those who are not familiar with the source text will find it difficult to understand everything. While undoubtedly both have elements of originality, just being original without a purpose has no worth. The Lord of the Rings is original in a way which has a clear purpose and achieves the desired effect, while the originality of Harry Potter is haphazard and only undermines the film.

From those two respects The Fellowship of the Ring emerges as the “better” of the two films. Having not covered half of the criteria I suggested in the first paragraph, I could certainly see someone making an argument that Harry Potter is more complex or has greater intensity of effect to the extent that it makes up for its deficiencies in the other areas. Such an argument would have to be very convincing, and I myself am rather skeptical as to the possibility of such an argument existing. But maybe that is just my personal bias, and regardless of what objective judgments we might render, in the end they likely won’t be the determining factor in which film you enjoy more.

-TD