Form and Function

Admittedly, I am a total newbie when it comes to gaming. Seriously.. I’m the kind of person whose experience with games stops with Mario cart and scoops for my iPhone. So when I jettisoned myself out of reality and into the world of gaming by downloading the game Braid, I was skeptical as to if I would have even the minimal amount of fine motor control to successfully play the game, let alone be able to enjoy it.

 

Luckily for me, Braid is the kind of game that is totally transformative. I found myself lost in the aesthetic beauty that appeared on the screen as it whisked the hero, Tim, and me to a fictional and imaginative land. It is the very visual appeal of this game that makes all the difference, as well as works in conjunction with the fiction of the game to elevate and transform the narrative.

 

The backdrop of the game is striking. It’s like being inside one of Monet’s masterpieces. The highly impressionistic setting is important because it lends itself to the creating the element imagination that so many gamers enjoy. I am personally in the camp with the game theorists that believe that the fiction and landscape of the game space are more than just decoration to the game’s rules, but rather are a part of entire gaming experience where form and function come together and help inform one another. I’d like to think that the creator, Jonathan Blow, is too. The game creates a cohesive theme of two-dimensionality within the landscape and the rules of the game that I assume help to enhance the narrative, but I’m not really sure yet. Don’t worry, guys, no spoilers here: it took me many hours and lots of help just to figure out the basics of how to play the game, and I still can’t figure out how to properly utilize the monsters to get more height… However, I assume that when I finally get to the end and have the whole story figured out (I can’t bring myself to read ahead on Wikipedia), this theme of two-dimensionality is going to tie-in some how.

 

Now, while the visual background to the game is exceedingly exquisite, I can’t get over Tim’s chic and streamlined menswear look. I love how his conservative and prep school-ish ensemble stands in direct opposition of his environment. Where a normal game maker might design a charter’s wardrobe to fit the theme of his surroundings, Tim’s outfit stands in stark contrast of it. However, his navy blazer and khakis don’t pull me out of the game, but rather help me to relate to Tim because he looks just as lost in this game as I feel. But actually, Tim’s outfit gives an ironic sense of realism to a game that plays with the concept of time and looks more like a painting than reality. And with class just starting back, the timing of discovering Tim’s outfit couldn’t be more perfect! With his navy blazer and khakis, he looks so ready to hit the books.

 

Here, I’ve made this ensemble more ladylike by incorporating my favorite brown leather Christian Louboutin wedges to keep the outfit from looking too masculine. This Brooks Brothers navy wool blazer and white (wrinkle-resistant!) button down and J Crew tailored khakis keep the look true to Tim. Of course, I had to include a braid as a tribute to the game itself. Now that I look the part, maybe I can figure out how to actually win!

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-Sparling Wilson

A N00b Experience: From a LOTRO First Timer

My first experience with LOTRO kept me in a trance for about 3 hours. I signed on to the game after class thinking that getting pass the intro was going to be quick. Click -> to look left and click <- to look right, and use the up arrow to “Jump”. I was completely wrong. The Intro immerses you into the game right off the back allowing you to learn how to do all the movements while also teaching you how to accept quests, speak to people within the game, and fight off enemies.

I have a slight obsessive personality and can be quickly sucked into anything video games, television shows,movies therefore; I try to keep away from anything that will completely take me over because I am in school and homework has to be done. But now homework requires me to become “half-real” while playing LOTRO. I have played well into the night passed the intro, leveled up to 8, and dying continuously trying to fight off mobs. Even though, I think that I am a failure at this game because I can’t seem to beat any quests I find myself getting on randomly and even bringing the game up in conversation with my roommate.

I was not completely at ease in the virtual world even though it was kind of familiar because when I played when I was younger and my brother is very much involved in virtual gaming world. I was not versed in the virtual world protocol of the emotions that one could portray, how to speak to someone through chat, or how to join the correct Kinship :). Being in the middle of this world with so many people who are probably more skilled than me and them wanting to speak with me is overwhelming sometimes especially, when I am trying to solve quests and find my way around the on the maps. I am usually good at individual games where I have to count on myself in order to level up (i.e. Candy Crush). But this community game play is a whole new territory and kind of intimidating at times. However, it is very helpful to have the class be able to tutor each other on how to get around the world because it definitely helps and in turn makes it more enjoyable.

The quests are fun to do though they were kind of tedious and fighting off mobs can be completely draining and frustrating when you keep dying. The quests after the Intro are harder for me to follow because I feel like I am taking on a lot of random quests (i.e Find So-and-So’s chickens and return them) instead of a quest that seems to have a purpose. Also it seems like I am doing a lot of walking around and not a lot of defeating enemies and beating quests. It takes forever to get anywhere because I don’t have a horse. Everyone has a horse!! I want a horse! How do I get a horse?!?!?! Sorry the walking/slow running is making me hysterical!

Overall, the game is very immersive and fun to play. I definitely don’t think that I have everything down pack but I like that we all seem to be learning together!

-Amanda 

LOTRO: A Test of Patience

While I revel in the ability to run around for hours in a virtual environment while still convincing myself that I’m being productive, I must say that it has gotten to be a bit tiresome at times. My one biggest complaint about LOTRO is that there is just
so
much
running.

I picked up the controls to the game very quickly and I have enjoyed juggling the various quests I taken on; however, again and again I find myself just running back and forth between the various areas in this vast world of the game.

Now, I do appreciate how that adds to the experience of the game as well as contributes to the narrative. It enhances that sense of journey–of being just a tiny figure in this massive world. It goes along with the long and tiresome journeys we read about in the novel. With this being said, my patience runs rather thin when it comes to video games and I would rather not spend a significant portion of the time just running from location to location.
I did recently learn about the auto-run key, so that along with riding horses has eased my frustration on the matter, though the quests are still often more a test of my patience than anything.

I’ve only come across one quest so far that was even remotely challenging. I had to sneak around these goblin-like creatures and pick off one or two at a time in order to finally reach and kill the Goblin Chief. I later realized that this quest was definitely meant to be conquered with a partner or team, but I still enjoyed the challenge of taking it on by myself. Other than that, my quests have mostly been a matter of taking the time to run and find or deliver various objects or creatures. But maybe I just need to get to a higher level first.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed exploring this enormous world; however, I’m just hoping that as I progress, the challenges and quests will become much less wearisome than they have been thus far. I also really look forward to being able to work with the other players on quests and toward a shared goal, as I have yet to experience that.

– Logan W

LOTRO: The Quests Go Ever On and On

Playing Lord of the Rings Online has been interesting. For me, I have zero experience playing that type of computer game, so a lot of it is just me fumbling around, not sure where to go or what to do. 
 
I have a lot of problems with that, actually. I can start quests, and that’s fine, but ask me to find out where to go? Man, I have problems enough getting around the city where I’ve lived for all of eight years, and you’re asking me to figure out a landscape with very few signs? Needless to say, it takes me twice as long to find a quest’s location/person than it does to finish it, despite the map and indicator icon thingies (yes, that’s a term).
 
I’d also prefer it if it was more interactive. I know that doesn’t really make sense, but I’d like to be able to do more, aside from click on different attacks (sorry, I’m one of the ones who prefers the shoot-em-up games). 
 
Aside from that, however, there is a lot I find fascinating and interesting about the game. As a long time Tolkien fan, getting to see the locations that I know from the books (and from the movies) laid out on a landscape I can explore for myself is, well, awesome. 
 
Unfortunately, there is a downside to being a Tolkien geek. Even as I explore the different areas and options, I can’t help but feel like it isn’t really the Lord of the Rings. The two don’t connect in my head.  Sure, the names are the same, and the land is made out to be Middle Earth, but it’s just not right. Can’t even put my finger on the why, but it doesn’t feel like Tolkien. And I kinda think that if Tolkien were able to see LOTRO, he’d be a bit aghast.
 
So, I guess the end result is that I can play the game, and I find it entertaining, but it will never be my favorite game. 

 -JKH

A Difference of Opinions on Gaming

From the day I began playing video games, my parents and I have been at odds with one another about the merits of gaming. In gaming, I saw a world of opportunities. Not only could they help me to relieve stress from my everyday life, but they also provided me with new and interesting ways to interact with others and challenge myself in a myriad of new ways that would have been impossible to experience in the non-gaming world. However, my parents did not share this love for gaming as I did. On the contrary, they consistently reminded me that I was wasting my time and should be focusing on other aspects of my life, such as my studies or swimming.  They believed that the games consumed too much of my time and effort, unbalancing my life and distancing me from reality. To a certain extent, they were right. I did spend too many long hours on online games, often sacrificing my weekends to the games which so enthralled me.  I also occasionally prioritized the games over other areas of my life which deserved more of my time.

However, my parents neglected some of the intrinsic benefits of playing video games. As I briefly touched on before, games can serve to relieve anxiety and provide an excellent outlet for negative emotions. Furthermore, games can provide online forums for interactions between diverse people, such as in the case of World of Warcraft. Although the game centers on the storyline and fighting, players are constantly in contact with one another, possibly exchanging different opinions on guild chat, learning how to utilize the online economy to their advantage, or gaining other general insights that can be applied to real-world situations. Nonetheless, my parents retained their negative views on gaming, thereby ignoring the intrinsic worth of it.

When it came to my friends’ opinions on gaming, there stood a sharp divide among them. This divide arose from the separation between gamers who only enjoyed console games, and those who enjoyed other types of games like MMOs. To most of my friends, playing massively popular console games such as Call of Duty was perfectly alright. However, when one ventured into the realm of online MMOs such as World of Warcraft, he or she might as well have committed social suicide. A small group of closer friends disagreed with this notion. These select few believed that, in moderation, any type of gaming was acceptable because one should do whatever makes one happy.

Thus, many of my friends and my parents have disapproved of my gaming habits throughout my life. Even those who supported me in my choice to game often believed I played games too much. However, I contend that games do retain merit and can teach important life lessons, even if my friends and family cannot share my passion and respect for gaming.

-juancarlos284

Striking a Balance

Seeing as how the online game has the ability to consume a player’s life just as the bottle can take over a drunk, the uneducated observer might conclude that our class is more or less engaging in the facilitated use of digital drugs.  While this assertion might not be too far from the truth, it is important to note that, just like any other addictive activity, moderation is key. By controlling the degree to which one participates in an addictive hobby, the user is able to reap most of the benefits while bearing a minimum of the costs. As I have been an avid gamer for almost my entire life, this economic process of moderation is something that has been more or less self-taught throughout my grade-school years. By pressing the power button, a player accepts nature’s unwritten agreement that, in a person’s full schedule, engaging in one activity will necessarily deallocate the time alloted for another. The solution (as it is more or less a personal formula) to a successfully-balanced life is to arrange said schedule such that work, play, and other miscellaneous activities are all optimized. Thus, playing LOTRO has had a minimal impact upon the rest of my life since I merely stuck it into the time slot that I had reserved for gaming, anyway.

As LOTRO has slowly shifted to Neverwinter Nights 2, so has my allocation of time in that slot. I still do all the work I need to do, and I still spend a healthy amount of time (and have a lot of fun) with my friends. But, my bipolar life is such that I have more fun overall when I spend an equal amount of my “play” time with friends and video games. After I’m done being a socialite, I go and isolate myself from the outside world with an absorbing video game. I have learned through experience that, for me, this method maximizes the amount of fun I have on both fronts. I head directly from the frat party to BioShock; from Assassin’s Creed I leave for the concert. I succeed (or at least I’d like to think so) in this balance because I am naturally motivated to do my work with the end goal of existing on one of these ends of the social spectrum, knowing that I’ll also get to travel to the other. By economically maximizing the amount of fun I have, I also optimize the amount of work I am able to accomplish via a strengthened motivation.

Yet, I am a rare breed. Many are unable to recognize that each necessary (and healthy) activity should have a minimum amount of time allocated to it. For example, just because I love a new game does not mean it would be wise to forsake my friends to play it; it merely increases the amount of fun obtained from gaming and, thus, my overall fun. The new game will only take full effect if strategically integrated into my life in the first place, so attempting to reduce its effect by allowing it to consume more time in my schedule would be a fallacy indeed. Unfortunately, many fall prey to the addictions caused by such absorbing games as LOTRO and World of Warcraft. They fail to allocate their time correctly, and the time originally reserved for the game expands, taking over other necessary activities in its conquest.

So how, then, does one know when enough is enough? When does one log out of the virtual world and once again exist in the real one? The answer to this question is personal in nature. I know people who play 6-8 hours of Halo 3 every weekend, yet still function perfectly in every regard. On the other hand, if I ask another kid to play 2 hours of Soulcalibur IV with me, I could easily disrupt his perfectly-balanced life, sending it into a chaotic downward spiral. Everyone simply has to figure out for themselves a manageable, sustainable amount of time for which to engage in their favorite activities. An enjoyable activity must not consume a person’s life, but it also must be present in order for any enjoyment to come of it. Although my analysis of a balanced life may sound economic and mathematical in nature, I assure you I don’t have a formula chart to determine how much Mass Effect I can play tonight. It’s just like learning to ride a bike; you may fail the first few times you try, but eventually you get the hang of it and develop a very useful skill.

-Billy Bunce

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…