Thursday, 8 March 2007



Atkins, B. (2003b) ‘The Aesthetics of Iteration: The Plurality of Spectacle in Narrative Video Games’ Presented at DiGRA Conference, Retrieved 14th October 2005 from the World Wide Web:

Corbett, E. (1965), ‘Classical Rhetoric For The Modern Student’, New York: Oxford University Press

Freeman, D. (2004). ‘Creating Emotion In Games’, Unites States of America: New Riders Publishing

Huizinga, J. (1970), ‘Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture’, London: Temple Smith

pleasure, pain and play

All games, including digital ones have aspects which make them ‘fun’ to play. What ‘fun’ is, is different for each person. Freeman (2003) says that there are many genres in games that can be classed as fun including ‘solving puzzles, exploration and collecting items’.

There are three type of characteristics in games which makes them pleasurable and these are reward, flow and iteration. Reward is something you get for completing a target or an objective within a game. This can be things such as an item or money but it could also be improved skills or access to hidden cheats. The idea of rewards is that it encourages the player to play on by rewarding efforts at regular intervals which will also benefit the player later in the game.

Iteration means to do something again. Yet it is different from repetition because repetition is purely about doing the exact same thing whereas iteration is changing something very slightly and repeating. The point of iteration in games is to maintain ‘enthusiasm and attention to the point of an ending’ Atkins (2003b)

Flow is what the player feels when they get extremely involved in a game. They feel almost as one with the avatar they are supposed to be controlling on screen. They take the perfect shot or run the perfect race. It is often easy to feel the flow with pacman. Pacman is a game where you are a little yellow circle who eats dots. You are placed in maze like complex and to progress to the next level you have eat all the dots on the level. You are constantly being chased by ghosts who will gladly take one of your lives. Fortunately you can turn the tables and eat a special dot which allows you to become immortal for a few seconds and eat the ghosts once chasing you. The ability to feel flow is quite easy in this game and this is what makes it very fun to play, for me at least. Sometimes when trying to avoid ghosts and turn corners to eat dots, you feel like you are not really controlling pacman but he’s going everywhere you want him to. It almost feels like pacman is flowing round the course eating dots on the way. Confusing the ghosts by running round in circles makes you feel like you have a definitive advantage over them. In the later levels where the ghosts become cleverer, your ability to dodge them is probably more luck than skill but it feels like you are wholly responsible. It is this aspect of the game that has made pacman an extremely popular digital game.

homo ludens

Play and games are vital to human development and are present in every culture as well as in the animal kingdom. There are many reasons why games are played and enjoyed by so many people. It allows people to escape from ‘real life’ into a fantasy world where normal rules don’t apply. This special place has its own time, space and rules and is what Johan Huizinga called ‘the magic circle’. When people decide to play a game, which can only be their choice, they enter the magic circle. In Mario Kart for the Nintendo 64 each race has fixed duration, which is from when you start to when you finish. Although this can often be varied by the skills of the racer, a race will only potentially last a maximum of three very slow laps. Mario Kart also have a fixed space in which it can be played, which is usually a screen or monitor. Also, it has a specific set of rules which differ greatly from real life and if these rules are ignored then play can either cease to be fun or even happen at all. One of these rules is that racers are not allowed to deviate much from the racecourse or else a race steward named Lakitu will pick you up and drop you back in the racing line costing precious time. This rule stops players from cutting corners and therefore bending the rules.

Some other people play games to release excess energy. Tekken II is a good example of a game that can be played to release energy. Tekken is a beat-em up game where two players compete to try and knock the other player out first using a combination of fighting styles. It is very fast paced and a lot of ‘button bashing’ is adopted by inexperienced players. But due to the fast paced intense nature of the game, you really do feel like you have utilised excess energy and some people do feel genuinely exhausted. Experienced players will get quite involved in this game and although they understand that it not real, the game will absorb ‘the player intensely and utterly’ Huizinger (1938). When players are in the magic circle their perspective is changed by the new set of rules. This new perspective is called the Lusory Attitude. Huizinga said that games were inefficient and a waste of energy because at the end of it all you gained no material benefit. He also said that in order to play games you have to willingly accept a new set of often unusual rules that provided you with unnecessary obstacles. In Tekkens case players had to adopt a set of moves given to them and could not vary from these. The player can not make the avatar move faster in anyway as the avatar has certain defined characteristics.

ban these evil games

Rhetoric, as Corbett says, is ‘the discipline that deals with the use of discourse, either spoken or written, to inform or persuade or motivate’ (1965) and it is used to influence the thoughts and beliefs of an audience. Rhetoric can be used subtly as well as obviously depending on who the encoder and decoder are.

The way Grand Theft Auto 3 (GTA3) was marketed was the ability to do anything, good or evil, in a vast place called Liberty city. You are an up and coming criminal who has to work his way up the criminal hierarchy and gain power and trust from fellow crime bosses. The game takes you through three ‘levels’ where you are introduced to new gangs which include the Mafia, Triads and Yakuza. As you complete missions you are slowly dragged deeper into this underworld and end up doing all kind of jobs such as stealing cars, disposing of evidence and blowing up a rival gangs ship. But there are also side missions which are a lot less violent which don’t play any part in the story line. These missions include finding and executing hidden car jumps, being a taxi man and collecting special packages.

Because of GTA 3s freedom and the ability to do anything you want, the way it was represented by the media was that it was evil. They used rhetoric language to persuade readers that this game was evil by focusing on the ‘darker’ side of the game. Sleeping with prostitutes and beating up old grannies for cash to buy an Uzi are some aspects of the games freedom that can be abused but the media decided to solely focus on this. It is hard to argue that GTA 3 doesn’t have any fundamentally wrong themes in it but to the games makers defence, there are positive themes such as trust and teamwork contained within the game.

The game has its own values which are contained within GTA 3. Liberty city is essentially a very violent place. It has a collection of very small Police stations and is basically run by criminals from the sleazy to the sophisticated. But this does not mean that everybody playing this game will turn into a small time criminal because it is extremely easy to make the distinction between Liberty City and real life. The game merely allows players to explore all aspects of city life, whether they be good or bad.

why games?

It is very hard to define what a game is. It is possible to list qualities that exist within games such as competitiveness, teamwork and puzzle solving but to provide a definition that encompasses all characteristics of all games is hard. This is because games have no fixed boundaries. For example some games are competitive and some are not. Where football is two teams facing each other, the Sims has no real objective other than to better your characters and your characters house. Wittgenstein said that not all games share the same features but games do have similarities that can be grouped together. He called this family resemblances. This means that certain characteristics of games can be seen elsewhere in other games. For example, the Sims requires no real skill, just a lot of patience which can also be seen Animal Crossing. Also the puzzles in Legend of Zelda resemble those found in Bomberman. It is using this way that we can make connections between games which is useful. Wittgenstein understood that the definition of game has blurred boundaries and not one characteristic is present throughout all games but using family resemblances, it is possible to look at possible traits that qualify as a game.