Looking At Interactivity

Interactivity is all about users being able to put something towards the media they consume and having something come from it. Traditional media often had call in or letter to the editor sections for audiences to have an input but this was almost specifically restricted to these sections alone. New media is often described as bringing interactivity into the mainstream and normalising it. Unfortunately, being a fairly new concept we are sometimes faced with issues when studying new media and how we interact with it.

Prequal

A fairly unknown example of interactive new media is the interactive web comic Prequal. Prequal has classic comic and novel characteristics but is distinguished by the way it takes suggestions on where the story will go next from readers comments. By allowing readers to directly interact with it’s content, Prequal has garnered quite a large hardcore fanbase over four years. Where as classic comics and narratives may take time to write and publish and fans may be left disappointed, Prequal transcends these boundaries by being written as it is published independently online almost immediately. The readers aren’t waiting to experience something they are writing it themselves.

Saying Games Are Bad Is Bad

This goes the same for video games, the users are creating the story within  pre-built environment as they play the game. One question seems to dominate the discourse around video games, and that’s, does video game immersion and interactivity with violent mechanics instil violent behaviour in users. Sparked by cases were youth have claimed or others have suggested that crimes were commited because they saw/did it in a videogame, Politicians, parents and academics began asking “What effect is violent video games having on our youth?” but as Schreier points out, researching this has not been easy. It’s fairly easy to say that if someone does something violent in a game and is rewarded for it they can be conditioned to think violence is ‘good’ but then just as fair to say that people of sound mind are capable of dissociating virtual reality and reality and if a non violent person does something violent in a game they most likely won’t respond to it. Schreier asks, “Competition is just one factor that must be considered when studying the effects of violent video games on aggression. What about gender? Boys are more aggressive than girls. How about home life? Income level? Previous cases of bullying or being bullied?“, this is significant as it outlines the main problem with researching the ‘effects’  of interactive media; that the audience is a primary component of what makes up interactive media. Instead of thinking that interactive media is ‘injecting’ violent behaviour into the youth, perhaps it is allowing previously violent youth or those with a tendency for violent behaviour to explore these darker thoughts.

What I’d like to see is a change in how we perceive interactivity and immersion in interactive media. Stop the witch hunt for ‘corrupting media’ and instead focus on informing and educating youth on the reality of violence and violent crime.

Disclaimer: I do not own this cover image ‘Link to cover image

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The Modern Self

At a point in our development we begin to become self aware to the point that we wonder who we are as individuals and become concerned with how we are represented, now more than ever this introspective exploration is being influenced in all direction as well as aided and hindered by media and technology. The ways the groups we belong to are represented in modern media has come to represent ourselves on a more personal level than previously, who and what we belong to and with  is also being challenged with the branding of evolving technologies that are just about extra limbs to the modern consumer.

Girls On (Film) Games

Early forms of media was sparse and rudimentary; images, written books and spoken stories did little to explore it’s characters and their gender or race, etc. Contemporary media has a greater focus on the narrative and the personalisation of characters, particularly video games. The history of race and gender representation in the gaming industry has been controversial to say the least, featuring games in poor taste that have been universally panned such as Custer’s Revenge on the Atari 2600 and on going events such as gamergate. In Keza MacDonalds article on The Guardian she outlines 5 main excuses often cited as to why there aren’t enough fairly represented females in video games. A couple that stand out to me in this article are that pressure to add female characters will lead to tokenism and that the pressure for developers to write excellent female characters is so great that there is a fear of backlash but these only make sense if females aren’t being represented at all. All we are asking is that female characters are not so often made to be unnecessary sex objects. Take the E3 trailer for Hitman 5 for example.

How on earth would the female outfits in this trailer make any sense on assassins. Curvaceous, ridiculously leather clad, it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t just senseless sex appeal. Bioshock Inifinite’s character Elizabeth Comstock is a shining example of how a female character can be done well.

Elizabeth isn’t physically strong and she’s only playable in downloadable content but the role she plays in the main game is substantial to the plot, she is coded well as player support, she grows as a character throughout the game and isn’t a love interest or most importantly an object of explicit sexual desire, simply because she doesn’t need to be. Females make up 48% of gamers, it’s about time they are shown the respect they deserve by the games we all love to play.

All Hail (Insert Major Corporation Here)

As well as being divided amongst ourselves by our own identities, we are divided by the identities we adopt from our technologies. Personally, I have owned every PlayStation console and consider myself somewhat loyal to PlayStation as that is what I have grown up with, as well as that I currently have a Samsung smart TV a Samsung smart phone and a Samsung Tablet (and to be honest if they made Samsung food, I’d probably eat it). Why? Well, on one hand it’s the convenience, I’m fairly comfortable with a PlayStation controller and all my Samsung devices can connect wirelessly, but on the other hand, it’s kind of like picking a side, I can’t charge my phone with an Apple iPhone charger so I won’t get Apple’s products. I am aware that Samsung and Google (from the android OS) probably have a decent data profile on me but that generally comes with being connected to the network.

Common tropes in cyberpunk works such as William Gibson’s ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ include the glorification of one’s image and the near omnipotent power of large corporations. The reality of this is reflected in the discourse of today’s media. Struggles with identity and representation in the media and the idea of being affiliated with specific companies are ongoing issues and phenomenon that I suggest we continue to monitor closely, whether through reflection on our own action or looking at people’s predictions of the not so distant future, as how we come out of this technical evolution may determine whether we live in a cyber utopia or dystopia.

Space: The Final Frontier

This week I was asked to come up with some game concepts and break it down into a process of beginning, progressing and ending. In response to this I came up with two games.

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The First Game

The first game (not shown in the above image) involves players picking one other player secretly, then, at once all players reveal who they picked. If two players have picked each other then they do not receive a point this round. Everyone else receives a point. . After 15 rounds the player with the most points wins.This game has no physical space, the interactivity exists within each players mind as they try and anticipate other players strategy.

The Second Game

The second game, again, does not have a physical play space but instead exists as dialogue and mental strategy. The game starts with a number of players agreeing on a topic, such as movies or tv shows or even songs or books. At the beginning of each round, the leader (which rotates every round) picks something from the agreed topic. For example the topic could be movies so the leader could pick The Usual Suspects. If the player has seen the movie then there goal is to let the leader know by describing it in one word. If the player has not seen the movie, their goal is to mislead everyone into thinking they have seen it by choosing a word that might describe the movie.

Achievement Unlocked: A Reflection

When I think of game ideas I often begin with two main design points, the game purpose and  the beginning, progress and endgame (these I have bundled as one main point as they build off of each other). The past few weeks I’ve focused on developing and exploring these points.

Multi-platform, Procedurally and Randomly Generated, Rogue Likish, Twin Stick Shooter to Board Game

The Binding of Isaac board game I  was  designing forced me to explore randomness and board design. while dice rolls can make a game more dynamic, spending all the players time rolling die can easily become tedious and as Grant details in his blog ‘The role of luck: Why RNG isn’t the answer’, elements of randomness can degrade the importance of player skill , potentially leaving players alienated from the point of reaching endgame.

Board Free or Just Bored?

Personally I find conceptual game spaces to be incredible tool for involving players and building familiar premises for players to interact with. The first pen and paper game I created in week 3 did away with the idea of boards and pieces and focused entirely on the interactions between players. The second pen and paper game I created further explored this idea of a completely player focused mind game. By minimising physical elements of a game it can make a game quick to play while still being dynamic enough to play over. However the downside to this is a reduced sense of achievement. Because there is no physical representation of progression it can be  difficult for players to feel like they are succeeding in a goal other than one-upping the other players.

Blue Pill, Red Pill

Playing Betrayal at House on the Hill illustrated to me what Murphy is talking about when she states, “Playing a video game is a risk free and socially acceptable way of engaging in a bit of virtual body play” (Murphy, S). I feel this quote applies to more than just video games in that table top games also allow players to essentially ‘escape’ reality. Betrayal … uses common horror tropes and character archetypes, allowing players to put themselves in the role of another person in a fantasy setting which they most likely won’t encounter ‘in real life’. Expanding on this, I want to take something that is often encountered ‘in real life’ and represent it in a surrealistic way in a game format. Essentially the game ceases to be a platform for escaping reality but instead players are asked to engage with reality in response to the game, opening the game space to the virtual world, the real world and the players own mind.

Current leaps and bounds in virtual reality technology aims to bring the virtual world into the physical realm but I think an important side note to this is how the players experience is built upon  beyond opening their play space.

The 2nd Week: A Procedurally Generated Board Game

This week in DIGC310, as well as trying an oculus rift for the first time (which was an experience in itself), I began work on a Binding of Isaac Inspired board game. The Binding of Isaac, by Team Meat, is a randomly generated rogue-like game. This means many of the games elements such as level layout and item availability are  based on randomly generated numbers at the beginning of each game.

The board game I was developing takes a virtual space into the players physical space not only by becoming a physical object to interact with but by being procedurally built within the physical world. Taylor states “video game spaces are more than simply the sum of their code – they are experiential spaces generated through code and the player’s interaction with the execution of that code through the medium of the screen” (Taylor, L), suggesting that the element of a ‘screen’ is vital to the experience of a game. User interfaces and what a screen is focusing on, are mechanics unique to screens and as such alternatives need to be developed  in order to handle this.

As well as the transition from screen to board, developing a Binding of Isaac inspired game came with the major issue of translating the digital random number generation to a more analogue alternative.  As seen in the photo of my rough sketches, I experimented with dice but there are so many numbers it very quickly becomes too heavily laden with math to be enjoyable.

I have previously worked on developing and balancing game mechanics for video games, board games and card games. I play music as a hobby and have dabbled in video game music, both ambient and chiptune, I would gladly provide any input into these areas of a game.
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Pandemic: Putting The Fate of Humanity in Your Hands

Pandemic is a four player cooperative tabletop game where you are tasked with curing humanity of four diseases. Each player plays a character with specific skills to be utilised in your endeavour to rid the world of these diseases city by city. If Pandemic were to be described in one word, it would be, ‘intense’.

The Stresses of Saving The World

Pandemic does an excellent job at simulating the feeling of running out of time even though there is no real time limit by not only having the threat of the disease actively increasing each round but keeping it dynamic in a way that makes the game different each time it’s played. While this keeps the game fresh and exciting it also creates the slight problem of the game sometimes being unforgivingly hard and other times it’s a soft pushover and this is entirely up to lady luck, but hey, when a game is this good playing it over and over again hardly gets stale.

You Can Always Just Try Again

The numerous player characters and the uniqueness in their skills offers varied experiences when playing pandemic, one playthrough you may be a curing powerhouse as a medic, another you may be an engineer, vital in the development of research centres. This, coupled with the variety in options for your four actions per turn, gives the game easy re-playability and opens up the possibility for custom “house” rules.

Besides, It Doesn’t Even Take That Long

Depending on how quickly you can set up the game and how fast you can make decisions, Pandemic will run around an hour long. I can see one easily losing a whole night trying to beat Pandemic but I can’t see myself hosting a game night with just this game purely due to it’s short play time and brilliant simplicity.

What else can I say, it’s a decent little game…