Gaming v.s. Playing

We’ve all played before, right? Maybe it was a card game like go fish when we were young, or a game of catch outside with an older sibling. But have we all gamed before? Do you game at Jenga with a younger sibling? What about picking up a controller when your buddies are playing FIFA? Is that gaming?

When do we game?

I’ve seen a friend sit in front of WOW for hours on end before, and he was definitely gaming. But, I’ve dabbled in WOW before, played here and there, and I believe I was just playing. This past summer, when I had some free time, I would play a game or two of Madden. It was a great way to relax, I enjoyed it, always turning of my PS3 satisfied. It was never very challenging, but that’s what I enjoyed about—the big plays and the easy win. My twin brother also played madden this past summer, and he plays on the hardest settings. He knows the NFL inside and out, making my football knowledge seem as if I was one of those girls asking “what is a down?” And when he plays Madden, he yells at the fictional players when they drop a ball and yells encouragement or just straight profanities if the game isn’t going as intended. I’ve seen him walk away from a Madden game crushed, as if he truly did just lose a NFL playoff game. But I’ve also seen him put down the controller so feeling so accomplished that nothing could ruin his day. He games; I play.

In all cases the “player” and the “gamer” both want to win or beat the game they are playing. In the example of my brother an me, we were both playing madden, and trying to win in the same way. But if we look at our relative enjoyment levels from a game in which we both won (but were both losing in the third quarter) but I was playing and he was gaming, it would look like this:

Game enjoyment levels

From my experience (beyond video games) you reap what you sow, you get what you put in. I believe this is the difference between gaming and playing. A gamer is focused in what he is doing, fully engrossed, fully affected by the outcome. A player on the other hand, is playing for leisure, to relax, without the intensity of a gamer. NFL players should be called gamers, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for that change.

-GreenEggsAndSam

You can be a Titan but not an orc: My friend’s attitudes about gaming.

After a long week of school, my friends and I would find ourselves at one of our houses and we would turn on the ps3 (or xbox or wii) and play some madden. We would take turns playing each other, one vs. one, the spectator’s yelling what they would have done differently, their approval, their disappointment.  When asked Saturday night what we did Friday after school, we would say “we just chilled—played madden.” This was regular. This was cool.

But if one Friday, like usual, my friends and I were at one of our houses and instead of turning on the ps3 (or xbox or wii) I said “lets play World of Warcraft today instead.” I would have received blank stares from half of my friends pretending not to know what WOW was, and “what are we, losers?” from the other half.

There is a unexplained social stigma in my group of friends (and many 19 year olds that I know) of MMORPG’s (massively multiplayer online role playing games.) The spectrum of video games and their “social standing” within my group of friends, with sports and console first person shooters on one end, and MMORPG games on the other, looks like this:

There is an association of MMORPG games and what is considered uncool, or nerdy. I’ve heard comments describing WOW ranging from “only losers play” to “why don’t they want to play in the real world” and “Its the game with magic, right? Are they seven?”

And I always have to wonder what is so different about sport games and FPS games? How many GTA players have ever killed someone and stolen a car? How many Madden players will play in the NFL? How many Halo players will become a cyborg and fight aliens?

There is a trend in the spectrum: as games incorporate more fantasy elements with larger multiplayer options, they slowly creep from the cool end of the spectrum to the nerdy end of the spectrum.

However, not is all lost for us fantasy enthusiasts. More fantasy based movies, novels and games are attracting larger audiences: the Lord of The Rings movie trilogy grossed $2.9 billion world wide, George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire book series was given an “A-” by Entertainment Weekly (very mainstream), has an HBO show based off of it named after the first book, A Game of Thrones, and is sold in the prestigious Rand Bookstore, and World of Warcraft has over 11 million users. Fantasy as a genre is slowly becoming more mainstream and therefore accepted. As this happens, the stigma of MMORPG games will fade and all their players can “just chill” as well.

 

GreenEggsAndSam

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

On Running Backs and Thimbles

Jake Karlsruher

When my friends and I first got to high school we were plagued with the Freshman Curse; the girls we hung out with in junior high ditched us for the cooler, more mature seniors. Dejected, we turned to the only comfort we had left: Madden ’06. We logged countless hours in my buddy’s basement, sitting on his torn corduroy couch, mashing the Xbox controller until our fingers hurt. We talked very little; instead, we let the 40-yard dash, fantasy draft, and franchise mode engulf us. Being good at Madden became a necessity in our social circle. If you couldn’t play well, your Friday night consisted of watching someone else play and waiting anxiously for your turn. Because of our competitive nature, the game couldn’t be confined to the basement. It seeped into our school lives and our cafeteria conversations. “You’re done tonight, I have a new team” was usually met with “Yeaaah rigght, I twenty-one O’d (21-0) you last week”. I distinctly remember a heated argument that arose when someone proposed ranking each other for an upcoming tournament (you are not better than me). It was about that time that we laid down the controllers and started to enjoy high school.

While we played a lot of Madden, we experimented with other mediums too, namely Monopoly. Every once in a while, a friend of mine would bust out Deluxe Edition and we’d kill time by playing for a while. We chatted about how the Phillies were playing, what homework we had to do, or what girls we liked. It was a social experience; we joked, laughed and ate microwave pizza. Usually we would get bored before we finished and rarely completed the game. I enjoyed the time I spent playing Monopoly, but it was clearly a different experience than playing Madden. Both Madden and Monopoly are strongly based on rules. They both can be classified as emergence games — games in which altering a strategy or game play style produces a wide range of outcomes — so why did I feel little emotional attachment to our Monopoly games but see Madden as a way of life?

In my last blog post, I commented on the importance of a viewer being able to relate to a character in a film. The phenomenon is transmedial. In games, as well as films, the person who seeks entertainment wants to connect to their subject, to feel what their subjects feel. Madden offers a first person option in which the player can see the field through a running back’s eyes. The rumble feature literally lets the player feel a chop block or a devastating hit-stick. It is much harder to relate to the Thimble as it builds its commercial empire, investing in properties up and down the Jersey Shore. Perhaps my friends and I took little interest in Monopoly because we couldn’t connect with it.

In class we discussed categories of games and assigned each genre a ratio of emergence to progression. One game might be 25% emergence and 75% progression while another might be a 50-50 split. I consider Monopoly to be more emergence based than Madden. With a console sports game, one can choose to play through thirty seasons of a franchise or turn a rookie into a superstar.  Monopoly had more emergence qualities, but we were less immersed in the game. My group’s preference was a game with more choice and progression. That being said, we never truly did reach the endgame of Monopoly. The game takes too long. Perhaps the desire for completion, the aspect of winning and losing that drives our competitive egos, is what kept us away from board games. Or maybe it’s just us. Could it be that our collective generation has lost the patience for board games? I like my Blackberry and my Internet and I’m used to instant gratification. At some point, reaching down and physically pushing Thimble to Reading Railroad became obsolete. I don’t have time for that.

My friends and I spent more time playing console games than board games. Monopoly Deluxe was enjoyable, but Madden ’06 engulfed us entirely. However, all good things have to end and eventually we had to move on… to Madden ’07.

-Kar-El

Face to Face

Matt Thumser

The difference is personal. Board games and console games are really not all that different, if you look at it. Sure, console games like Halo and Madden may be more immersive; but with a little imagination, board games like Risk and Monopoly can place us in their own world for hours on end. Both types of games follow Jesper Juul’s definition of a game. They both pit us against each other, making a winner and a loser. They both serve to entertain us.

I have no preference when it comes to playing each type of game. I’ve had great experiences with each type, and I’ve had really bad experiences with each type. Who hasn’t felt the adrenaline rush fueled by the cash you earn at the end of a grueling game of Life; and who hasn’t grown frustrated with the tediousness of a game of Monopoly that drags on for hours? It’s the same with console games; the joy of scoring a touchdown to win as time expires in Madden, and the anger of an unbeatable level of Super Mario Bros.

Indeed, console and board games are very similar. The difference between them, however, is personal. The interactions between players are vastly different in the two media of games. Board games are personal; you know all of the players in the game. This isn’t present in console games, where you can just shut off the console if losing. In most cases, your friends won’t let you do that in the middle of a board game.