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Monday, Mar 31, 2008
In this week's edition of Banana Pepper Martinis, L.B. Jeffries takes a look at the use of academia in the discussion of video games.


A growing trend in game criticism is to shoehorn academic disciplines like Marxism or Freudianism into video game analysis. A good example would be the blatant mother figure tones from Cortana in Halo and the fact that Master Chief seems dead set on winning her affections. Another would be going on about the mis-en-scene of Bioshock, which is just a fancy way of saying the game makes you feel claustrophobic. Typical reactions to these kinds of exchanges vary from “It’s a fucking game” to “Dude…seriously, it’s a game.” Which is fair enough, but how exactly are we supposed to talk about video games with people beyond “I luv teh gamez”? There is only one logical conversation after that: the experience itself. This is actually what academia really is when it applies to a game, varying ways to explain and analyze with great depth and magnitude the precise nature of that game’s experience.


This wouldn’t be a proper defense of academia without some game analysis though, so I’m going to take this through a very gentle, easy going run down of Starcraft (after the jump).


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Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008
L.B. Jeffries takes a look at the arguments behind the debate on violence in modern-day video games.


The issue of violence in video games has been around since the medium’s inception and the discussion of it merrily continues today. One of the first video games ever made was created by an MIT student named Steve Russell, called Spacewar!, and was just as violent—at least, in concept—as many of today’s titles. Originally a multiplayer game, two people would control rocket ships while firing torpedoes at one another. To make the game more realistic, modifications would subsequently include planets, gravity, and backgrounds. Even in the early days, by their competitive nature, video games have always contained a kernel of violence in them. At the same time, they’ve also aspired to be better simulations of the world. Whether out of the desire to make the virtual competition more appealing or simply “feel” right, video games have always sought to accurately reflect the competitions they represent.

So what are the consequences of that objective? I can now, with the press of a button, have the avatar representing me vividly and realistically kill the avatar representing you. What, psychologically, is going on in my head? A variety of studies have been conducted by a variety of sources and compiled in an essay by Craig A. Anderson entitled “Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions”. According to the research, playing even a non-violent video game for twenty minutes can induce in the player “increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased pro-social (helping) behavior”. Which is fair enough. It doesn’t take a Ph.D to conclude that playing Halo 3 for a couple of hours is going to make you more aggressive. You’re competing with other players, with the AI, or with yourself when you’re playing that game. In all probability, Anderson’s research is wholly correct that after playing a video game the player is more aggressive and anti-social.


The rather curious question this raises is…so what?


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Tuesday, Mar 18, 2008
Banana Pepper Martinis is L.B. Jeffries' weekly in-depth look at video gaming. This week, a study of the role of magic in games.


For all the fantasy trappings that dominate video games, it’s kind of surprising that there aren’t many games that push the boundaries of what magic could do in a video game. I’m going to operate on the loose definition of magic as “a supernatural ability to interact with your environment” both for the sake of argument and to illustrate a greater problem with video games & magic. Simply put, a supernatural force that is supposed to give me the ability to do anything does not, in video games, seem to do much except be an elaborate light switch.


Every RPG that comes out, every action game that uses magic, is confined by one simple paradox: it’s only for combat. In Hexen magic was little more than a different kind of gun that the player used. In games like Final Fantasy or Baldur’s Gate, magic mostly served as a different method of attack. In both Diablos, it can’t even be used inside of town, much less for anything besides killing. All that magic really boils down to in games is variations on attacking, healing, shields, flying, fear spells, etc. Okay, flying is cool, but BESIDES that, you start to get the idea that most wizards in video games tend to be very bloody minded people. Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic comes to mind as an exemption, but it was little more than a dialogue option that tended to kill the conversation in that instance. I’m not shitting on magical combat in video games, mind you. I’m just noting the fact that all elements in combat, whether it be an RPG or a shooter, involve kill or be killed. You’re either hurting someone or enhancing your ability to hurt someone. Again, that’s not a problem, but for something with the interactive potential of magic to be reduced to a boomstick…it kind of leaves you wondering. After all, a gun does not have a lot of variety even in real life. You’re either shooting it or you’re not, leaving it to be little more than the interactive equivalent of a light switch. Why should magic be trapped along the same principles? Would it be possible for someone to feature magic in a game that wasn’t expressly pre-determined to just go boom (or help me go boom) all the time?


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