Not Man Enough for LOTRO

I could barely even walk straight. I was swinging my camera wildly and even straight through my head. I stumbled around knocking into walls and trees. I had just “entered middle earth” for the first time as my newly minted elf huntress avatar in Lord of the Rings Online, the massively multiplayer online role-playing of the World of Warcraft variety. I was experiencing firsthand what I had only before glimpsed over a guy friend’s shoulder. I had never thought that I would be playing a game like this myself. I got incredibly frustrated multiple points in just the Intro alone, shoving my computer away and muttering “How can I be so bad at this!” and “Ugh, I can’t believe I have to do this.”

I continued to feel uncomfortable with the game as I was assigned multiple gameplay levels to beat or quests to finish over the next few weeks. I was self consious and realized that I was always behind on my LOTRO’ing because I avoided playing it in public spaces like the library (where I do a majority of my studying) for fear of judgement. First, I thought I was embarassed for someone to see how bad I was at playing and how I couldn’t help walking in zig zags or straight into trees. But as I got better at the game and started levelling up, I still felt a certain anxious avoidance and made sure to sit so the least number of people in the library could see my screen.

When friends commented on the fact that I was playing LOTRO while we were studying together, I felt the need to explain myself. I joked that I stayed in my room all the time now secretly playing LOTRO because I wasn’t “hot enough” to be doing it in public in an intriguing and “cool” way. The joke was laughed at but it left a sour aftertaste in my mouth. I reflected afterwards and realized that my comment had nothing to do with my “hotness” and everything to do with my “women-ness.” No matter how beautiful, as evidenced by the lovely ladies I know who are avid gamers, no one is exempt from the confused head tilt upon finding out that they play video games, especially games like LOTRO. While my joking remarks were highly problematic in themselves, they could also be revealing some pretty widespread issues in gaming.

First of all, I hadn’t thought about what was “cool” or not since I was thirteen, yet being forced into playing a game like LOTRO suddenly made me feel gainly and self conscious. Was I suddenly regressing and having flashbacks to caring so desperately what people thought of me or was moving into the boundaries of what had been conditioned into me as socially acceptable causing the inner anxiety? Were there implicit social norms about what kind of person are “allowed” to play video games in public and who are not?

In the NYT article, “Women Get In on the Action in Video Games”, it is exclaimed with triumph that almost 50% of gamers are now women. So am I imagining all this? Maybe not. The article does admit that males are more likely to play “immersive, narratively complex games” while women preferred” ‘casual’ games” like Candy Crush or Farmville. Are women simply not interested in the immersive, richly layered stories and experiences? I was frusterated by my gender for a moment and asked myself were we not “sophisticated” enough to appreciate a richer more complex and demanding medium? No. I think that while the growing playership in casual games is an exciting development. The continued gender gap in MMO’s like LOTRO reveal that there is more than just a steep learning curve barring the way for a lot of women.

Even after I started to really enjoy the game, I was sad when I realized that if I had stumbled upon the game casually, I would have never played for this long, not because I wouldn’t enjoy it but because I would have run into too many invisible social barriers and given up. I know there are hundreds of thousands of happy and carefree non-white male players in LOTRO. But for each of those, I wondered how many dozen young girls were deterred by the same creeping self consiousness I faced when playing for the first time.

-Diana Zhu

Creature Consumed by Creativity vs. Addictive Alien Annihilator – The “Artsy” and the Gamers

They will rot your brain. They will make you lazy. They will demagnetize your moral compass and turn you into a sociopathic monster. They will sabotage your ability to function in the real world. Sound familiar gamers? I think so.

Artists aspire to create, and create differently. They differ from engineers only in that their creations are not tangible and thus have no clear physical benefit on the world at large. Blessed with incredible talent, artists are able to create creatively, meaning that they have the ability to construct, draw or recreate things right from their mind. These powerful aesthetic or sensory experiences are utilized by the artists as a from of expression, but also to stimulate a different part of the appreciator’s mind, the creative aspect. We exalt the masters of creation and re-creation for their abilities to understand what we would like to see, or piece together thousands of sounds into a brilliant symphony that makes us recall a powerful memory.

Why then are video game designers not artists? They too create worlds with no tangible benefits. They too have the unique talent to take what is in their mind and recreate it in a medium for us to walk and adventure through. These worlds provide powerful and often enjoyable experiences through music, narrative, graphic design and interactivity. As those of us who have tried game design, and all of us who will later this semester, it is hard- very hard, and there is a huge difference between an excellent game, and a really bad one. Video games stimulate a fantastical part of our minds, one that allows us to escape reality and play by rules in a “safe magic circle”. We encounter creatures, quests and lands that have been brought to life from people’s minds and feel strongly emotionally invested in our character’s successes and failures.

Just as artists used to have studios, with hundreds of apprentices working on one sculptor, does the chief game designer, who delegates but sees the full completed picture of his game not deserve the adjectives, creative, brilliant, or a master of his art? Are the intellectual challenges posed by a new rule, or a newly introduced ability that change the game and make we gamers think differently not stimulating? No, I do not believe that the person who writes code to create the bird nest behind one of Bilbo’s Trolls’ ear is an artist. However, the person who chose the music, envisioned the light poking through the trees, and a challenge worthy of being proud while passing through the area is. LOTRO may not be the best example because it is based off of a book, but the same holds true for may games such as World of Warcraft and even the creator of chess. That to understand human nature, the power of variables, rules, fiction, tone, setting and story is an art, and that this new art has champions who deserve to be famed as artists.

But who are those people who fame artists. The twenty year olds with the tight, off colored jeans, strange facial hair, tight shirts, cigarettes and some sort of hat, that we call “artsy”? Or the straight laced doctor, who hasn’t rhymed or drawn since mandatory 5th grade art class who through his pervasive knowledge of art history, is considered an expert appreciator? Or is it the kids like me, who have a full outline for a fantasy series but without the god-gifted talents of composition who reveres those legends like J.R.R Tolkein? All of our opinions should be considered, but only those culturally accepted are heard.

Some people do not like video games- they are a waste of time, physically. Some people do not like art- it is just as much a waste of time, physically. We as humans need to waste time in creative ways. We appreciate what humans can do besides build sky scrapers and powerful calculators and realize that there is more to life than procreation and financial success. What is scary is when people like Steve Wiebe or ambitious artists aspire to be the best at wasting time or allowing us to waste time. When gamers sabotage one another’s scores or rich kids from NYC spend hundreds of dollars to look like poor rebellious artists, we have a problem. Gamers and artists who try and escape the competitive world, actually play the game of relative power (see Kintex’s Theory of Relativity Part One) and do not embody the essence of creative entertainment.

People need to look at video games and art in a similar way. You may wear some article of clothing from the 1860’s that looks absurd to most, to make a statement about who you are- an appreciator of the creative arts, but me wearing a shirt with the sigil of the horde (my faction in World of Warcraft) is just as much a statement of what I appreciate and should be treated as such. Yes, video games are addictive and serve no tangible benefit, but a binge museum goer is also no way to live life. Society still looks at them differently though.

Most of us are not artists, most of us are not video game designers. We are the appreciators and gamers who facilitate the furthering of these arts. What games we play are just as reflective of our creative processes as what art we like, and if done in moderation, games can be a stimulant for, critical and creative thinking (rules and fiction). To create these games is an art form and we gamers are not less sophisticated for appreciating them. Why I love this class is because I can have a lengthy talk about Master Van Goh followed by a lengthier one on Lord Voldemort.

I am an artist. I am a gamer. I am an appreciator of the arts.

“Humans are body and soul. Brains are pragmatic and creative. We are judged and classified by our bodies and pragmatism to fit an ideal. We must stop judging and classifying soul and creativity. There are no ideals just perceptions. In art, majority should not rule.” – Kinetix

– Kinetix

Sex, Drugs, and/or Videogames?

Growing up, the title of “Gamer” always brought to mind a lonely person sitting in a dark room, their eyes unable to be peeled from either a computer or television screen. They had removed themselves from the typical world in order to completely immerse themselves in another. This probably stemmed from my parents opinions as they quickly took my Gameboy away from me after having it only two days. They were frightened that I would “become too obsessed and therefore antisocial.” To them, a young child playing a video game was a young child without friends to play with. As I got older, that didn’t change. Whether it was my parents or my friends, the people around me tended to have very similar opinions of gamers. If you were playing a video game, you were missing out on life. You couldn’t be part of a fictional world and the real one. It was a choice. There was no “and”, only an “or”. However, it wasn’t long before I made friends who were just as obsessed with video games as they were socializing outside of their technology filled basements. That didn’t change my other friends’ opinions. If we didn’t hear from our “gamer” friends for a couple days, or they missed a great party, the excuse people always gave for them was “they are probably sitting in their basements playing video games.” It was a running joke that that was all they did on Saturday nights. And I can’t lie, sometimes that was true. But what was also true was that a lot of the time my “gamer “ friends were right there with us. Whether it was at a movie, party, or just dinner, they could always pull themselves away from the game. But it was the select times when they chose not to that people remembered, that people judged. They were the exceptions on which my friends built the rule.

My friends liked joke that you have probably all heard before. It’s the image of a girl sitting in her boyfriend’s basement as he plays video games for hours on end and completely ignores her. The girl, tired of being ignored, is then faced with a choice. She can either join him or leave him. From there, of course, the boyfriend is either saddened for a moment before forgetting about the girl once again consumed by the game, or the girl becomes just as obsessed. Suddenly, their relationship is simply a consistent series of nights sitting in the basement next to each other gaming. No talking, no romance, just gaming. To my friends, these were the only two options. There was no middle ground, no compromising.  Once again, I won’t lie to you. It might be a sad truth but they weren’t 100% wrong. Not even 80% wrong. I’ve been that girlfriend, sitting in her boyfriend’s basement as he played video games for hours. He would sit at one television, his brother at another. They would play separate games and only talk to let out either a groan when defeated or a cheer when leveling up. My boyfriend’s brother would always ask me if I wanted to borrow his computer so that I could online shop while they played. As a girl I was stereotypically supposed to love shopping just like as gamers they were supposed be hermits. My friends didn’t understand why I put up with it: the nights filled with only videogames. To them, that was all our relationship consisted of. How could it be more when all he did was play games? How could he do more than play videogames if he was a gamer? But I knew the truth; I knew these types of nights weren’t every night. In fact, they were a fairly rare occurrence.  But, there was no convincing my friends and because of their stubborn beliefs I began to question my own. They could only remember the bad, but could I only remember the good? Were we both just as confused and narrow-minded?  To this day, I can’t answer that question.  I don’t know if gamers are missing out on the real world or just lucky enough to be able to mange being part of two at once.  I like to think that if people work hard enough they can have it all. Life doesn’t have to be a series of choices. Sometimes there can be an “and” in the midst of all those “or”s.

-CRHayes