Friday, 9 March 2007

Frikkin' Rewards!

As humans we have a natural desire for reward – a desire that digital gaming taps into and in many cases accommodates. With this in mind I’ve decided to look at Ridge Racer for the PSP. The game is a fairly basic arcade racer, however it applies to the ‘reward’ category of aesthetics, for it is more than a simple car endlessly circuiting a track. By winning races, new, faster cars and tracks are unlocked. There are, according to Hallford & Hallford (2002), four types of reward; glory- the simple satisfaction of a high score for example; sustenance- health, food etc.; rewards of access- new levels, tracks, zones etc. and finally, rewards of facility- as in new weapons, technology, skill etc. In RR, there are many examples of rewards. Unlocking new cars and improving speed can be seen as rewards of facility. In order to tease players and appeal to their sense of curiosity, the unlockable cars are shown as silhouettes so that the shape can be seen but nothing else. Rewards of access can be found throughout, for upon the completion of each race, new levels and tracks are unlocked, and once the basic races have been completed, more difficult, elaborate ones become available. The score of each lap is also noted on the screen, so the player can strive for the reward of glory of completing their lap in record time (which can be very satisfying). I myself have completed Ridge Racer, and still derive pleasure from the reward of beating my own high scores.


John Huizinga was an anthropologist who authored the seminal book “Homo Ludens” (1938). He states that play is an integral part of our society, and has played an important role in our evolution. It can serve a useful purpose, from venting energy to enhancing cognitive faculties. Games possess four key elements; they are voluntary, they are outside real life, they have set boundaries and promote social groups. With regard to this, the term ‘magic circle’ was coined. Upon embarking on a gaming experience, players enter this magic circle- a special context specifically for that game in which play takes place. In the case of a digital game there would be a physical and psychological aspect to the magic circle; the gamer is psychologically engaged, however through a physical medium- a console and a screen, for example. Closely linked to the magic circle is the concept of the ‘lusory attitude’ – the state of mind gamers are in when inside the magic circle. This may for example be a competitive one if –as I did- they are playing a sporting game such as Pro Evo. 6, or a strategic one if playing an RPG strategy such as Command and Conquer. I often find myself playing Pro Evolution Soccer when a few friends and I are bored, and feel that it is fitting for application to Huizina’s theories. Pro Evolution Soccer is obviously embarked upon voluntarily (I would have played it anyway, regardless of whether it was to assist with my module), the players (in my case a bunch of students) find themselves the omniscient puppeteers of an entire professional football team, thus placing the game very much outside of real life, there are only so many moves at a players disposal, and each is subject to the 90minute time constraint, off-side rules etc. and each player complies with the aim of the game which is to score goals, making us subject to boundaries and constraints. I have personally found this game to be an extremely sociable one. I’ve been a guest at many ‘Pro Evo’ nights, in which a group will get together for a playoff tournament. The game also has something of a cult following, with competitions run worldwide by Konami – the distributors. I am not a football fan, and don’t care much for watching the game, however when Playing Pro. Evo, I feel that I certainly adopt a ‘lusory attitude’ in that I become competitive, thinking of ways to score goals thus defeating my opponent to the point where I find myself devising gameplans in my head – a state of mind I rarely find myself in otherwise.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Controversy and Rhetoric

In a case that mirrored the James Bulger killing of the early ‘90s, the game ‘Manhunt’ became a 21st century “Childs Play”. Released by the ever controversial Rockstar Games, the game was vilified by the media in 2004, when Warren LeBlanc killed his friend Stefan Pakeerah in a fashion supposedly inspired by the game. The premise of the game is that after being abducted, protagonist (antihero?) James Earl Cash finds himself the unwitting star of a ‘snuff movie’, pitted against an army of foes, each determined to kill him. Using a variety of weapons ranging from a screwdriver to a huge electromagnetic JCB to defend himself, he escapes and destroys the mysterious ‘snuff’ show of which he is the star. Is the vilification of this game justified? In retrospect, it seems that Manhunt fell victim to the subjective ignorance of a powerful few, who, given their position of power, sparked what Stan Cohen terms a ‘moral panic’- a phenomenon that dates back centuries- in that the values and rhetoric within the game conflicted with the values of the society in which it was released.

Salen et al. (2004, p.9) describe rhetoric as ‘a persuasive discourse or implicit narrative, wittingly or unwittingly adopted by members of a particular affiliation to persuade others of their beliefs’. Manhunt is not the only game to cause controversy, games such as Duke Nukem, Grand Theft Auto and even Doom have been subject to criticism due to the rhetoric contained within. The values of Grand Theft Auto:Vice City, also by Rockstar, are not dissimilar to that of Manhunt in that violence is used to overcome obstacles, for example wiping out rival gangs to obtain ‘turf’, however the overall rhetoric differs, and is somewhat more negative that that of Manhunt, a key aspect of which is the context in which the violence is set. In Manhunt, the violent nature of the game is based on self-defence when faced with mortal danger. In GTA:Vice City, the violence is far more gratuitous, albeit less graphic, for example a player can shoot the head off of an elderly pedestrian with no provocation whatsoever, and the overall rhetoric seems to be that crime does pay, for upon completion of the game, the main character suffers no retribution for the hundreds of different crimes he has committed. Critics such as Dr. Spock may argue that this rhetoric has a detrimental impact upon gamers, particularly the young, however I feel inclined to agree with the theory that games such as this can serve a cathartic purpose, and are not only entertaining but help channel aggression in a safe, passive manner.


Salen, K. & Zimmerman, E. (2004) The Game Design Reader, A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge: MIT Press

Video Games: Cause for Concern? Retrieved on 17th Feb 2007


In order to understand and define the term ‘games’, we were introduced to the theories of Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein was a famous Austrian philosopher, prominent in the 20th century. His theories primarily concerned language and concepts, but are relevant to the definition of the term “game” in that Wittgenstein, in an effort to address the endless uses of words, described the “family resemblance” of certain words, in that for some there is no clear-cut definition, only similar and differing characteristics. This is in direct contrast to theorists such as Salen & Zimmerman or Avedon & Sutton, all of whom outlined direct definitions or the term ‘game’. In the context of digital games, Wittgenstein’s theories can be demonstrated by comparing games such as “Quake” and the game of poker on One is a first-person shoot ‘em-up, the other a 3-D poker simulation. Both are competitive, in that the objective is to beat the opponent, however one (Quake) requires the gamer to achieve certain goals. To do this, the player is forced to strategize and carry out elaborate combative manoeuvres that will help them overcome the opposition. The game requires skill, forward thinking and an appreciation of the rules of play. Poker played on on the other hand is entirely dependant on the luck of the draw – the hand which a player is dealt. Due to the lack of face-to-face contact, no “poker face” is required, only a decent set of cards. From this, Wittgenstein’s theory that there is a “family resemblance” within games is demonstrated. Both games are competitive, however one (Quake) is based on skill and strategy, whilst the other (online poker) relies on the luck of the draw. From this Wittgenstein’s “familial resemblance” is clearly demonstrated. The fundamental element of competitive play is present, but the ways in which goals are achieved are completely different. In this respect, as in a family, in which members will share build, features or personality traits, so do games. Each is from a vastly differing genre, however they are both competitive. Wittgenstein made a “rope” analogy, in that there are many twisted fibres rather than one single thread, and in this respect, it seems that the “fibres of these games are woven together in order to conform to the “rope” that is game.


Half-Real: A Dictionary of Video Game Theory, Retrieved, 7th Feb 2007

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Retrieved 8th Feb 2007