Animation as a Medium

I’ve been a huge fan of anime and animation in general for my whole life so I thought I’d use this space to share a few of my thoughts about a medium that I love.  (By the way, all the clips I added here are pretty short.)

At this point, becoming enchanted by Disney’s animated films as a young child is practically a universal experience and an integral part of growing up.  However, Disney style animation that caters towards kids is not the only kind of animation out there.  Over the last two decades Japanese animation, or anime, has seen a steady rise in popularity here in the west. And in particular, its popularity has exploded over the course of the last six years.  Back in 2012, the anime streaming service Crunchyroll had a mere 100,000 paying subscribers, making it a niche streaming service that catered to a relatively small community of fans.  However, last month the service announced that it had reached the 2 million subscriber threshold, a massive 20-fold increase in 6 years. The service now boasts over 45 million registered users and is one of the 10 largest online video streaming services out there (though it obviously lags behind leaders like Netflix).

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This charts the number of paid subscribers to Crunchyroll from September 2012 to February 2017.

Animation as a medium excels at telling stories that are fantastical in nature.  What really makes it shine is that it immediately creates a level of separation between the fiction on the screen and reality.  The fact that the show is either hand drawn or rendered immediately sets up an expectation that the world inside the story is different from reality, which makes it easier for the audience to suspend their disbelief.  To add to this, the nature of the medium also allows for the seamless integration of magical effects into the fabric of the show. When a live action show wants to add effects, the effect must usually be computer generated and then added in after filming. But, the juxtaposition between a computer rendered effect and a live actors and settings can often feel jarring and take away from the immersion.  And, an effect created at the time of filming using real-world techniques lacks the mysticism and feeling of wonder that is so important in fantasy and fairy tales for the simple reason that it can be explained with real world physics. It is far easier make an effect feel like it belongs to the world of the story in animated shows as the artist simply has to draw them both in the same art style.  Also, if we take a look back to old classics like Cinderella, many of the effects in these films probably would have been impossible to do in live action with the technology of the time. For example, I can’t imagine the fallowing scene where Cinderella’s dress transforms would have been feasible in live action with the technology available in the 1950’s.

Another benefit of the medium is that it allows for the creators to have a great deal more artistic freedom.  Creators can get away with more exaggerated expressions and actions in animation than they can in live action, again because of the separation from reality. We expect real people to act in a certain way, but the same expectations are far weaker for those that are animated.  What can reasonably feel like a hyped up battle scene in Dragonball Z would probably end up as just a bunch of dudes screaming way too loudly at each other in live action.

This is a clip from an anime called Nichijou that uses extreme and absurd reactions to great comedic effect.  Such a reaction could never even be considered in live action. It’s just not feasible and would make no sense if the show wasn’t animated.

Finally, animation in the west has this stigma as being a children’s medium.  And to be honest, with how successful Disney has become, it makes sense. But animation isn’t a medium that’s made just for kids.  Over the years it has also been used to depict topics far beyond what would be appropriate for children.  I think the best example of this would be the 1988 film Grave of the Fireflies created by Studio Ghibli and director Isao Takahata.  Yes, this is the same studio that brought us wholesome classics such as Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. But whereas those two are great children’s movies, Grave of the Fireflies is a devastating and heart wrenching drama about the true costs of war.  In this movie, animation transcends the medium and strikes at the heart of what it means to survive as a human.

Grave of the Fireflies is a fantastic film. I definitely recommend watching it, but be warned, it will make you Sad.

Youjia Wang

Edit: I noticed that in a place or two I accidentally forgot a

The Place of Video Games During Finals Season

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. What should be a wonderful and beautiful time of Christmas music and holiday cheer is spoiled by the crushing realization that we all have a lot of work to do before we can enjoy the seasonal cheer. I find the behavior of many people very interesting during this time of year. Some folks seem to maintain a quasi-cheery attitude, knowing that they’ve done this before and they’ll do it again. To them, worrying only doubles the pain, so what’s the point of getting too wrapped up in your studies? On the other hand, some people are quite open about how much they’re struggling. It’s some kind of odd coping mechanism, I think. This (false) dichotomy, though, has shown me one rather interesting thing about the use of video games during this time of the year.

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A very retro Christmas to all

For the “chiller” group, as I will call them, they keep most of their habits the same, in terms of leisure. Sure, they’ll devote more time than usual to their studies, but they still find time to game, watch some Netflix, or go to the gym. I think this group tends to do better in the long run. Go ahead, search if it’s better to take breaks while studying, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find some good data that suggests we do better sectioning off our work in to chunks, rather than punishing our brain for 8 hours straight. Even my pre-med roommate finds time to play some mobile games in between his intense biology slides. I’m certainly not saying that you should devote this weekend to beating every side quest of Skyrim (ha), but it might not be the worst thing to knock out one.

To all you “thrillers” who lock yourselves in Stevenson for 12 hours on the weekend, only emerging for food and water, take some time during this final season and try out some sort of quick breaks. Even if it’s to check social media or listen to a few songs, try giving your brain a break to synthesize everything that it’s taken in. I was once like you, I had a lot of internal guilt to overcome when I would enjoy some leisure time. I told myself that I was wasting time that I would need to work. Give it a shot, though. I think you’ll be surprised at how much stronger your work will be when your brain isn’t a heaping pile of mush.

beth_christmas_2007_topper

How to Play

by Theo Dentchev

A lot of people out there believe there is only one way to play a video game: as the developers intended. These people think that anything not explicitly defined in the game is off limits, and everything has to be done within preset parameters.

Then there are those who believe that there isn’t any one way to play; do whatever works. There are no preset parameters: anything is permissible so long as it doesn’t break the game. Basically, provided that a certain tactic is available equally to all players, if it doesn’t stop the game you can (and should) do it.

The former group would say the latter group is “ruining the game.” I hear it all the time in forums. And it seems like the majority of people belong to the first group. The second group usually consists of a minority, but one which is more dedicated to and knowledgeable about games or a particular game.

So who’s right?

I think the first question that need to be addressed is where does the control of the developers end? Some people tend to treat the game designers as akin to Gods; their word is law and should not be broken. I think that the second group would argue that the developers role ends (in large part) the moment they release the game. From then on the game is in the hands of the players. Essentially, the developers have given us the tools and it’s up to us to decide how we’re going to use them. The developers are not omniscient; they can’t predict every single combination someone out there might try. So naturally there will exist tactics and strategies that they were unable to foresee. And there will also exist exploits of the programming which escaped their notice. Should exploits be used? As I noted earlier, the stance for the use of exploits would be that as long as everyone has equal access to them and they aren’t game-breaking they are fair game. People against them would say it’s somehow immoral or unethical; it’s cheating. But is it? What’s the difference between abusing a programming oversight and using a strategy which the programmers didn’t foresee? The answer is there is none. And in the case of the latter that first group of people will use a different word to describe it: cheap. It goes hand in hand with cheating, since both aren’t “honorable” ways to play.

I think perhaps that is somewhat motivated by the fact that in competition, PvP, players don’t like to lose, and channel that resentment towards the tactics of the player. Rather than admit they were responsible for their own defeat, some people would rather be in denial and lash out, try to discredit their opponent’s victory to make themselves feel better. But then you might point out to such a person that they could do the same thing. A common response is that exploits or “cheap” strategies “take the fun out of the game,” and that they would rather win “legitimately” (according to their arbitrary code of honor) rather than win using cheap tactics or “cheating.” They claim they would derive no satisfaction from such a win.

The problem with that position is that they conveniently forget that fun is subjective. For some people the challenge of strong tactics and exploits makes the game more interesting, as they have to think of new ways to address these tactics, and either new tactics are found or everyone uses that one strategy. And if does turn out that everyone uses one strategy, inevitably people will start to find ways around it. Some people will still be better than others. The metagame will evolve. Provided the game is deep enough of course. And if it isn’t, if there is only one strategy (like tic-tac-toe), then that’s just a deficiency of the game. There’s nothing wrong with exploring the limits of a game and seeing how adaptable it is. That’s where the real allure of playing beyond the basic guidelines provided by the designers lies.

And really if you don’t like losing you have three choices: play in an isolated environment where the gameplay and players are artificially limited in their development, or change, adapt to the new strategies which are emerging and overcome them or perfect them. The third option is, of course, to stop playing. It’s better than complaining anyway, for all sides.

So I tried to start this off from an objective perspective, but I think it’s been clear for a while now that I’m quite biased towards one side. I will say though that at one time I used to think like the first group, believing in the concepts of “cheap” and “unfair.” Heck, I still lapse into that sometimes when I lose and frustration clouds my mind. But even then the cold voice of logic underlies it reminding me that those are just artificial constructs of my invention, and that the reaction is born of resentment. If you want to actually improve as a gamer, you’re going to need to learn to shed those notions and adjust your attitude to a willingness to learn from those that crush you, and one day you might actually return the favor. If you don’t you won’t ever beat them.

– TD