Final Essay

                     Now and Then: Death of The Console

 

                       By Sabrina Bellemare

 

The North American video game crash of 1983, the impact it had on modern gaming, and the possibility of a recurrence in the fall of the console.

Between 1978 and 1983, the videogame industry experienced a period of prosperity and mass appeal. Arcade gaming reached a high point thanks to Space Invaders, and home consoles became a big hit. the video game industry began to outstrip other entertainment industries in profits. While the foothold it had gained with the public made the lucrative industry seem infallible to some, it wasn’t to last. The video game crash of 1983 was a massive recession in the video game industry which lasted about two years, during which time several companies in the production of consoles and home computers went bankrupt.  Between 1983 and 1985, the Video Game industry plummeted from $3.3 billion to just $100 million. The crash was a significant event in video game history which left fledgling industry crippled, and resulted in the end of the second generation of console gaming in North America.. Despite doubts about the lifespan of the video games industry, it recovered a few years later with the widespread success of the NES. There were several causes behind the great crash, and when measured against the circumstances of today’s modern game industry, one must ask ourselves if the current business model is sustainable, and whether or not we are heading in the direction of another crash.

 

There were many causes for the crash, but the main cause was saturation of the market. At the time there were more than a dozen or so consoles on the market, and each one had its own individual game collection, produced by the manufacture, and some had a massive array of games produced by third-party developers. There were far too many games, and most of them were reiterations of a previous release, hardly distinguishable from each other. Companies were releasing game after game with no real new content, and consumers were losing patience with developers. Loss of publishing control resulted in a slew of bad amatur games, as anyone  who could program and had a means of distribution could  create and sell a game. As a result the market was flooded. With a complete lack of quality checks to ensure the games were any good, more often than not, gamers would find themselves unsatisfied with their expensive game purchases, and as a result, sales dropped. With a sudden influx of consoles and games, and little to no quality control, consumers were left with too many bad choices.

Then came the high-profile disaster games, such as Atari’s notorious Pac-Man and E.T. games, damaged the reputation of the entire industry and lost the faith of the consumer. Atari is often fingered as the culprit behind the crash because of their two famously costly 1982 releases, Pac-Man and E.T, both rushed to be completed. In an attempt to take advantage of the arcade game Pac-Man’s success, Atari produced a console version  the Atari 2600. The games was rushed through production and marketed heavily in order to hit christmas sales. Despite decent sales, Atari had grossly overestimate the success of the game, and sold a little over half of the cartridges they produced. Atari took massive losses over their poor projections. Following this was the rushed release of the 1982 adventure game, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, today widely considered to hold the title of ‘worst game ever’. The game was meant to capitalize off of popularity of the newly released E.T. movie, by being released in time for the holidays while hype was high. This meant that the game needed to be completed in five and a half weeks by its creator, Howard Warshaw. The results were a drop in quality that stung consumers, who were already quickly souring with Atari. The reaction to the game’s massive failure, a second ill-received Atari release, was detrimental to the industry on a whole. The combination of overproduction and the sheer volume of returns, resulted in serious financial losses. Millions of unsold Atari cartridges famously rumored to be buried in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico .This remained a popular urban legend until 2014 when when an excavation showed the rumor to be accurate. Former Atari manager James Heller then revealed  that 728,000 cartridges of various titles were buried. The widespread news of Atari’s failure was attributed as the cause of atari’s fall and one of the catalysts for the crash, but by no means was it the only culprit, or the most major. Atari made several questionable decisions the culminated to its demise.

Poor public perception and a flooded market wasnt all the video game industry had to worry about. The superior competing technology of computers was also a major issue for the industry at the time. Computers were more widely distributed, had better graphics and sound, were multi-use (word processing and accounting) and were competitively priced. This led a great deal of consumers to believe that computers were simply a better investment of their hard earned money.

The North American crash had lasting effects on the industry as a whole. the first of which being that the home console market shifted to Japan with the booming success of the NES.

Secondly, The crash resulted in the implementation of important policies and measures to control third-party development of software.

The NES had a strict licensing policy that involved adding lockout chips to the console and placed their seal of approval on licensed games released for the NES. Nintendo claimed that this was in order to protect the consumer against lesser quality games, however   as well as preventing the use of unlicensed games, it helped prevent  piracy.

Many of these methods were implemented by subsequent console manufacturers and remain in use on every major video game console today, albeit with more sophisticated technology. Consoles protect themselves today by controlling quality, plagiarism and the number of releases a studio can release per year.

In the decades since the crash, the industry has once again achieved enormous growth and success. No longer a niche consumer product, video games have expanded to include online and mobile gaming. There are more gamers than ever before, and more ways to game still coming, making the industry far less centralized around consoles, and therefore giving it more lasting power. However, with a rapid shift in gaming habits, and an ever-growing number of ways to game, dedicated consoles and AAA games are now rather precariously perched on their thrones as rulers of the industry.

We’ve recently entered a new generation of consoles, the three major competitors being the Xbox One, the Playstation 4, and the Wii U. This means that the reigning titans of the industry’s console market remain Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, with a few lesser competitors showing up now and again. Console games are costly, around $70 on release, and consoles themselves are around $400-$450. This can be prohibitively expensive for some, especially when the alternative of PC gaming exists. PCs are multi-purposed, and therefore are a more savvy investment, echoing the consoles’ issues in 1983.

A new report by Superdata, a NY-based research consultancy that specializes in interactive entertainment, warned that the market for consoles is already crowded, stating “Industry veterans will remember the crash of 1983, when the games market was saturated with hardware devices. Today, the industry runs a similar risk, as [with] a higher-than-ever console installed base, consumers may be resistant to adding more hardware to their living rooms.”

The report suggests gamers are gravitating to more multi-purpose platforms like PCs and mobile devices, much like in 1983, then the consoles were competing with the more versatile home-computer. This means that while there are more gamers today than ever before,  the increase in demand for consoles, while there, is not proportionate.

In 2008 42 percent of gamers played primarily on a console platform, 37 percent favored PCs and a mere 5 percent gamed on mobiles. These number shifted to 51 percent of gamers now playing primarily on PCs, and only 30 percent on consoles.

Now, with the arrival of new consoles, such as the Ouya and Valve’s Steam Box, as well as rumors of a possible  Apple console in the future, the market could very well become saturated as in once did before the crash. This could spell disaster for all dedicated consoles.

Games being released also echo the conditions before the crash. Third-party titles have been a stream of indistinguishable shooters with high sales. AAA development seems to be adopting a formulaic production trend, making solely profit driven decisions and ignoring the demand for unique content. This is similar to the trend in 1983, when every game was an iteration of a previous release, only slightly different. While the development costs for these games have become staggering, low budget games like Angry Birds have made millions.

According to new research conducted by Digi-Capital, “Online and mobile are spearheading the game industry’s growth to a potential total valuation of $83 billion by 2016,  the global games investment review states that online and mobile could have a revenue share of $48 billion in 2016, 55 per cent of the entire game industry.” The rising use of mobile phones for gaming might make consumers less inclined to buy dedicated handheld gaming devices, such as the Nintendo 3DS or the Playstation Vita. This could mean yet another hit for consoles.

It is also important, in this shifting landscape, to take into account the growing indie game industry, which delivers new and exciting content at a far lower price. The digital market makes the distribution of these games possible and the advent of sites like kickstarter have allowed independent studios to gain funding without investors. The spirit of creativity and innovation found in the independent game industry, as well as reasonable cost and ease of accessibility on PC, could be what finally topples the dedicated console and AAA games from their respective thrones.

Works Cited

 

Atari: Game Over . Dir. Zak Penn. Lightbox . 2014. Netflix.(Documentary)

 

Chapple, Craig. Game Industry Worth 83BN by 2016, Report Claims. Develop-Online.net. Jan, 2013. Web.

http://www.develop-online.net/news/game-industry-worth-83bn-by-2016-research-claims/0113816 (April 13th 2015)

 

Caruso, Norman. The Video Game Crash of 1983. TheGamingHistorian.com. March 24, 2011. Web. http://thegaminghistorian.com/the-gaming-historian-the-video-game-crash-of-1983/

 

Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig De Peuter. “Introduction: Games in the Age of Empire” In Games of Empire:

 

Katz, Annie. ‘1984: the year that shook electronic gaming’ Electronic Games Magazine. January, 1985. Web.

http://www.archive.org/stream/electronic-games-magazine-1985-01/Electronic_Games_Issue_35_Vol_03_11_1985_Jan#page/n29/mode/2up

(April 13th 2015)

 

Miller, Toby. “Gaming for Beginners.” Games and Culture 1.1 (2006): 5-12.

 

Sinclair, Brendan. “Gaming risks a repeat of 1983 crash – Report” GamesIndustry.com. OCT 2013. Web.

accessed: april 15, 2015

 

Trumen, Ted. ‘Excavating the Video-Game Industry’s Past’ TheNewYorker.com. April 29, 2014. Web.

http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/excavating-the-video-game-industrys-past

(April 14th 2015)

ajor Changes in Minor Keys: Music and Narrative in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The goal of my project was to help tell the story Link is thrust into while exploring Termina in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Music plays a particularly important role in the game series, relying on songs Link learns to trigger events to further the story. This project took no focus on the Ocarina songs, though, and told a story through the game’s background music. The music can be found here

One of the most challenging aspects of this project was to portray the emotion that permeates scenes from the game through the use of music. In my eyes, Majora’s Mask is a game that highlights the tragedies of loneliness and how one deals with it. For this reason, the first two tracks are written as character pieces for Link and Skull Kid: “Link’s Departure”, a track I wrote in conjunction with the beginning of the game, a scene in which Link is alone with his horse, walking through a forest, is a mellow, downtempo track written in the minor key, a mode that inspires introverted thought and sadness, but not so much to dissuade us from the possibility of a brighter tomorrow. Link is alone in that moment, but his loneliness is cast aside through being kind and helpful to the people of the primary location of the game, Clocktown, who return his kindness with their own help towards Link. The aptly titled “I Am So Sad”, on the other hand, is a much darker and more sinister piece that is also written in minor, but experiences much more dramatism and agony than the first track. This was done to highlight Skull Kid’s inability to keep his friends – he uses fear when under the control of Majora’s Mask. The song takes on a hopeless air, emphasizing chaos and disorder through a random array of claps and thunder samples, exemplifying the futility of Skull kid’s attempt at friendship through his negative emotions.

Majora’s Mask tells a simple story with complex themes, and I wanted the music to represent this dichotomy as well. Creatively, I took a choice to be as minimalistic as possible in my arrangements, often opting for a simple piano and rhythm section to drive forward the main melody, but layering different soundscapes, counter-melodies, and effect-samples to create an organized chaos in the track, mimicking the added layers of complexity the main story of the game engages with. In some cases, though, emphasis was placed on the rushed and hectic nature of the game, notably during the tracks “Idalwa Boss Music” and “THE MOON IS FALLING”, which forsake the layers complexity of the other tracks in favour of promoting the energy and rushed feeling of fighting a boss, or mustering up the courage to stop the moon from falling and destroying Clock Town and all of Termina.

The Story behind Early Mornings and Poopy Socks

One of the key defining features of a massively online multiplayer game, as with any other video game, the extent to which the player is given the freedom to engage upon the development of the same player’s experience over the course of their engagement with the game as a piece of entertainment in and of itself as well as a vehicle for interactions with other players involved in the shared experience. This completeness of agency provided to players is best exemplified in the 2003 MMORPG Eve Online, released by the Icelandic game development company CCP Games. One of the key differentiators that removes this game from the vast majority of other similar online games is the structure of the game as an interactive environment. The vast majority of games fall within the “Theme Park” classification, with the player being placed upon the proverbial tracks and with very little possibility of deviation from the intended path. Eve Online is firmly placed on the opposite end of this structural spectrum as a “Sand Box”, the vast majority of the game structure provided is vaguely provided with the intent that the final content be provided primarily by interacting with the other players present within the game. This represents the ultimate form of player agency, when the player’s choices interact not with an agencyless actor in the form of preprogrammed, but with a multitude of actors with agency of their own. It is this interaction of agency that forms the basis for the majority of content that grasps the player-base and ensures a consistent growth due to the constant and meaningful interaction within the game that aids in the minimal or inexistent rate of attrition.

This is due to the actual gameplay is not restricted to the scope of the ingame environment to the same extent that is commonly found in the more traditional Theme-Park style games. This leads to the development of a “meta-game” as described by Carter, Gibbs and Harrop (Carter, Gibbs, Harrop). On the basis of Eve’s emphasis on “player-versus-player” interaction (PVP), a large component is the existence of “Corporations” and “Alliances”, analogous to the guilds commonly found in other games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) and federations of guilds in the case of Alliances. These larger groups of players can reach if not exceed 5000 unique player characters operating under a common banner towards a common goal. This constant interaction with other players within the confines of the game environment and the amount of players interacting at any given time exceeds the typical constraints provided by the game requires the use of third-party tools to facilitate any communication and interaction between the players. This includes, but is not limited to: Voice-Over-IP tools (ex: TeamSpeak, Ventrilo), private message-boards and public message-boards. This leads to a large amount of emphasis being placed upon these third party tools turns the external or “para-game” aspect of these tools to reach a core facet of the player’s experience of the game, with some players even going so far as to state they rarely even play the actual game itself, instead focusing on the external experiences involved with the greater experience instead (Carter, Gibbs, Harrop). This led to such an emphasis on these para-game environments that a large part of the political aspects of the game taking place entirely within the realm of public and semi-private message-boards and forums, which in the case of Eve: Online is entirely ironic considering the fact that the forum most commonly used for these purposes was itself created in response to the developers themselves interacted in the game environment for the benefit of a group of players engaged in an in game conflict with another group of players. This led to the player involved in exposing the incident being banned from all products developed by CCP games creating the main aforementioned forum, kugutsumen.com, which until recently was one of, if not the main place that the major players within the in game political landscape would engage in backdoor dealings, propaganda as well as general discussion regarding the current state of in game and out of game events related to the overall experience. Some of the more notable events to occur on this message-board were the “leak” posts, which would typically involve a high-ranking player from within a prominent organization, would post private information from within the group in an attempt to air-out dirty laundry as well as stir up drama within the overall community (The Mittani). These posts and related media would expand into outright propaganda videos released by opposing sides in conflicts in an attempt to shake the opposing side’s confidence and engage in well-mannered jeering in a manner similar to rugby hakas(Ignore). In recent times, one of the more famous of such threads was entitled “fuck secrecy i’m just going to leak some it ceo threads nbd” with an image of Stalin presiding over a military parade in the Red Square. The first page alone of the message thread contained almost 9000 words of leaked material and private discussions, with the remainder of the discussion of the political ramifications over the course of 350 comments (The Mittani). In recent years these events would eventually lead to the creation of various “news” sites, created primarily for the purpose of reporting on in game and out of game events in a manner similar to real world events in an attempt to provide up to the date information for the various players who are not directly involved in the in game events as well as allow for those involved to see the extent to which their operations have had an impact on the greater political scene. This particular example fit the mold for most of the higher-end para-game activities, with the emphasis on divulging private information and conversations in an attempt to attract neutral third parties and even second parties to change allegiance by detracting the opponent. This is in sharp contrast to the typical propaganda video, such as those created by the YouTube user DredditMot typically in the manner of a “postcard from” to present themselves in a more positive manner in an attempt to win the potential public relations war (Ignore).

The nature of the beast, with the emphasis on player interaction as well as the extent to which the players themselves engage in these para-game activities, removes the reliance upon the game developers themselves to introduce any incremental additions to the game content, allowing them to only focus upon the larger title updates without any detriment towards the overall game experience. This is in sharp contrast to the more popular Theme Park games which rely almost exclusively upon these more incremental as well as the large updates to ensure a more consistent experience for the player-base. This leads these Theme-Park games to go through “boom and bust” cycles in the player-base, as best exemplified in the case of World of Warcraft, with peaks in subscribers occurring immediately preceding the release of a new expansion or title update and the troughs occurring in the tail months of the preceding expansions life-cycle yet far enough away from the release of the newest update to prevent it from enticing existing players to remain active or for players to return or even for new players to even begin subscribing (Activision; CCP Consolidated). This correlation between the amount of freedom given to players to create their own narrative within the scope of the game and the overall trend lines, with EVE trending towards a solely increasing subscription amount, while World of Warcraft shows the subscription behavior described above. This is further supported by a 2006 study that demonstrated the limited effect that large content updates had on the overall subscription levels for Eve: Online and places it in diametric difference to the trends seen for the larger Theme-Park games (Feng, Brandt, and Saha).

This shows a very strong relationship between the amount of narrative leeway provided to the players, in this case in the form of an extensive para-game with little restrictions and the overall player-base of said game. One of the key aspects of video games as a genre is the amount of agency it provides to its users. The more invested a player becomes with a game, the more likely he is to maintain is activity within the same game. As shown above this is best exemplified in the game Eve: Online, with a practically unrestricted free-market, limited moderation and oversight by in game supervisors and consistent growth in the player base. When a game allows the players the agency required to allow for the introduction of terms such as “alarm-clocking” and “poop-socking”, to refer to the act of voluntarily disrupting their own sleep cycles as well as neglecting their own hygiene (though this last was only ever used to the author’s knowledge in a tongue-in-cheek manner), demonstrates the extent to which player narrative can progress when given the opportunity to do so.

References

Activision Blizzard. “Number of World of Warcraft subscribers from 1st quarter 2005 to 4th quarter 2014

(in millions).” Statista – The Statistics Portal. . Web. 15 April 2015. http://0-www.statista.com.mercury.concordia.ca/statistics/276601/number-of-world-of-warcraft-subscribers-by-quarter/

Carter, M., Gibbs, M. and Harrop, M. (2012). Metagames, Paragames and Orthogames: A New

Vocabulary. Foundations of Digital Games Conference, May 29-June 1, Raleigh, NC, USA, ACM.

CCP Consolidated Financial Statements 2012. N.p., 2013. Print.

Feng, Wu-chang, David Brandt, and Debanjan Saha. ‘A Long-Term Study of a Popular

MMORPG.’ NetGames (2007): 19–24. Print.

Ignore, Test Alliance Please. ‘Merry Christmas, Fountain.’ Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

<https://vimeo.com/18058269&gt;.

The Mittani. ‘Fuck Secrecy I’m Just Going to Leak Some It Ceo Threads Nbd.’ Kugutsumen. N.p., 9 Jan.

  1. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.kugutsumen.com/showthread.php?7438-fuck-secrecy-i-

m-just-going-to-leak-some-it-ceo-threads-nbd>.

micro-essay on player-created content

Player created content has long been a part of western computer gaming, with modding tools having been made available to the public since the mid-1980’s. Though not all games shipped with tools provided by the developer to aid in the creation of content, there was little incentive for developers to hardcode or blackbox their games. By shipping games with modding tools or at least a well-organized softcoding the amount of time a player might spend before moving on to another game increases significantly. Some modding projects can extend well past the point of a game’s initial release date. The Fallout 2 Restoration Project for instance, which began development sometime in 2006 with an initial build being released in 2008, saw its eleventh public release on the 5th of July of 2014. The function of the mod is to restore to Fallout 2 all of the unfinished or unutilized content not present upon its release in 1998. Currently the only version of Fallout 2 available commercially is already modified by unofficial patches and graphical fixes containing numerous conflicts, and is purchasable solely through Steam following Bethesda’s acquisition of the rights to it and all other fallout games in 2014. In this way, the Restoration Project mod serves as both a means of restoring the game as it was intended and a fix for a now broken product that receives nothing in the way of technical support from the current rights holder.

Today it has become standard practice to support a product for up to a year or more with developer-created content. Initially developer-created downloadable content (DLC) served primarily as a means of extending the life of console games. While debug consoles, emulations, and other workarounds were possible during earlier console generations Internet connectivity allowed for developers to create patches and supplemental content after software was shipped. There is nothing inherently wrong with this notion, as it allows for console games to enjoy a lifespan and post-release support comparable to that of PC games. However, the emergence of paid DLC for PC through digital distribution platforms has been troubling. With games’ file structures either being made intentionally unintuitive to discourage modding and by extension encourage the purchase of developer-created content, or less organized as the result of rushes in development knowing the product can be further refined at a later date. DLC ensures that a game’s lifespan can be better approximated allowing for development timetables and greater control over the player’s expectations. The extent to which a product will be actively supported can determine and be determined by the frequency of further iterative releases. By limiting a player’s ability to – by creating or participating in the exchange of player created content – determine for themselves the amount of time they will spend with a videogame the publishers and developers may exercise greater control over that player’s experience and how long it continues to be rewarding for them.

While several PC game developers continue supply gamers with modding tools or the means to more easily modify their experience or create content, this too has created a troubling trend. The ‘Steam Workshop’, an aspect of the Steam platform that acts as both a ‘marketplace’ where mods are screened for content and changes to software code are facilitated through a managing process that allows for the player to never so much as look at the game files, impresses upon the player that player-created content is both a privilege and a ‘feature’. Steam’s Workshop allows users to rate content and keeps download counts, providing developers with an environment in which they are able to test the demand of new features they themselves are not required to conceive of or develop. This information can translate to future software patches and DLC that would be otherwise redundant if it weren’t for the stigma that surrounds player-created content and the lack of access to player-created content on consoles. Therefore the relationship between developers and player-created content is a contentious one, it is permitted where it serves and stifled when it impinges on profit. Digital Rights Management, DLC, compulsory Internet connectivity, and yearly iterations in gaming franchises, has contributed to a general sense of ‘lack of ownership’ on the part of the gamer and suppressed player expression. While there is no reason to value player-created content and commercial products differently the systems of distribution currently in place do exactly that.

Final Project -Anaphora (Short Film)

by Alexa Zakaib

Anaphora was chosen for the title because of its relation to a repetition of words. In my movie, words, concepts, and spaces are parodied from horror video games, therefore creating a media-based anaphora. The concept of this movie is based on the idea of: “if video games where real”.By exploring horror games tropes, it is evident how some affordances and agency mechanics would seem funny or ridiculous in real life. This has the effect of bringing awareness to the viewers of actions, reactions, or logic that they would usually think of as “normal” while playing a game.

Why a parody? As stated by Chalermkwan Jiramonai in his Online Parody Videos and the Enactment of Cultural Citizenship article, “parody videos can serve a pedagogical function, helping viewers to become more attentive and critical readers of culture text” (ibids, 210). Likewise, Dietel-McLaughlin (2010) argues that parody “engages the multiple intelligences and literacies of both creator and audience member, creating an enthymematic backdrop for a larger cultural critique at the same time that it serves a polemical function by attacking not only the text that came before it, but also larger cultural characters and contexts familiar to a present-day audience” (Jiramonai, 109) This is the main goal of my movie. To give the audience the space to reflect on horror games that they have played. While playing horror games, players are usually focused on the emotional thrill they receive. In Video-Games as Postmodern Sites/Sights of Ideological Simon Gottschalk argues that “the slow paced indie games allow players time for reflection and decision making rather than distracting them with fast paced hyper stimulation and intense graphic imagery which leads to the numbing of critical thinking” (Gottschalk 4-6). In a horror game context, hyper stimulation is often used to induce fear, suspense, or even urgency, which can overshadow the game’s inner workings. This parody went back and sought out what players might have missed while trying to survive a nightmare scenario, thus displaying how new practices and standards become naturalized and incorporated into social norms.

The first scene showcases the ‘controls’ trope. At the beginning of the game, the player needs to know how the mechanics work: i.e. how to move, pick up objects, access maps and other weapons, etc. Recent horror games have found a way to integrate these instructions into the game world, instead of simply listing them in a separate menu. In For One Night Only, the controls are written on a wall where the main character wakes up. This helps create an eerie atmosphere all while being simplifying the player’s adaptation to the game’s specifics. In Hektor, a poster on a billboard directs the player to take medication in order to stabilize his sanity. Similarly, in my movie, the main character finds a whiteboard with instructions on how to walk, use his hands, and turn a flashlight on or off. He is quite perplexed by this, because in our world, a man his age already knows how to move. I am here parodying the idea of disconnect between the player and the character being played.

It is not uncommon in horror games for your character to require some sort of light source, whether it is by means of a flashlight, a lighter, or even an oil lamp. In order to add a level of difficulty or to create an effect of constant anxiousness, the fuel or energy source will eventually run out, and it is the player’s prerogative to find more in different locations of the game. For my movie, I chose to ridicule the flashlight trope, because it should be the longest lasting hand-held light source, yet, in many games the batteries die out after a few minutes. This case is apparent in Alan Wake, where the main character has to find batteries scattered in a forests. The ‘flashlight’ scene is purposefully put near the beginning of the movie in order to present the same unrealistic dilemma, where only a few minutes into his adventure, the character needs to change his flashlight’s batteries.

What makes a horror game “scary” is not only reliant on the given environment or creatures. Chad Habel & Ben Kooyman write about the agency mechanics of loss of autonomy in horror games such as Amnesia and Alien Isolation. In their article Agency mechanics: gameplay design in survival horror video games, they describe a player’s reaction to loss of control in the given stressful situation. Anaphora presents this kind of environment with the switch from third person to first person view. This is especially apparent during when our main character sees the girl crying in the living room. After being tossed down to the floor, the camera simulates the character’s eyes. This shot is reminiscent of the witch in Left For Dead. For that moment, the player cannot get up on his own, of fight off the zombie. They are dependent on CPU’s to come and rescue them. During this time, the player experiences an absolute loss of control. In Anaphora, the CPU, clearly standing in the corner of the room, waits until the very last moment to save our main character. This is a satiric way to showcase this loss of control.

Some fantasy-based worlds are centered on magic and the occult. When someone gets injured, magic potions are used as instantaneous remedies. In horror games, however, developers seem to find an organic path to healing. In such games as Resident Evil and Fatal Frame, medicinal herbs are found lying around. The irony is that although these games are not necessarily realistic, they do not provide any sense of magic or supernaturalism apart from the enemies. The characters you play are even usually chocked by these unnatural encounters. We therefore have two distinct worlds and world-logics that collide. However, the medicinal herbs your characters find are used to completely heal deep and serious injuries that would otherwise require medical assistance. In Resident Evil 0, for example, green and red plants are found still in their pots. By some unknown method, these plants can heal a zombie bite to the neck. In my movie, I played with this concept by having the CPU force feed red and green lettuce to the human character that had his finger cut off.

Did you spot the direct game reference in the “Hallway” scene? The trench coat character is calling out for his dog Mario. This is a wink at Louigi’s Mansion, where Luigi is trying to find his brother in a ghost-infested mansion by calling out his name. The “subtlety-challenged” are a famous trope in horror games. It seems that when submerged in a horrifyingly dangerous situation, video game characters allow themselves to yell or open and close doors with a din. In this movie, the character representing a CPU is following video game logic where making noise will not trigger any consequences. The human character, on the other hand, is bewildered by this behavior, factually claiming that there are “monsters everywhere”. As the camera pans, we see a zombie crouched underneath some tables, waiting for her next victim.

While running away from homicidal aliens or from a horde of zombies, it can be an arduous task for the player to follow a coherent storyline. Game developers have often outsourced storytelling to a secondary character that would have some base knowledge of the situation at hand. However, introducing a second character prove to be tedious and can come in conflict with the “abandoned” and “alone” atmosphere. How then is this conflict of interests resolved? : with notes and diaries. A tremendous number of games use this trope in order to provide the player with back-story. What is notable is that some of these notes are supposedly written in a time of imminent danger. Some even have part of a sentence missing with a blood stain next to it, indicating that the writer has been killed while writing the note. The tunnel scene in my movie is a play on that aspect of notes and diaries. We always wonder who writes them, and why they are dedicated on scattering the pages. My trench coat character wants to leave pages in case someone else passes by the same tunnel. The irony is that he “feels the zombie’s breath on his neck” and continues to write the note instead of running away.

There are a lot more subtleties to discover in Anaphora, but we can see that agency mechanics and affordances can sometimes be overlooked and deserve a space to be understood. The “parody video” has become somewhat of a new genre. With groups such as College Humor or Smosh, we can see a tendency to take the passion for video games, among others things, as something that is worthy of analysis.

Works Cited:

Gottschalk, Simon. “Video-Games as Postmodern Sites/Sights of Ideological.”
Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 1995): 1-18. Jstor. Web. 21 January 2015.

Habel, Chad & Ben Kooyman. “Agency mechanics: gameplay design in survival horror video games”, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1-14, 2013, [on line], http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14626268.2013.776971#abstract

Jiramonai, Chalermkwan. “Online Parody Videos and the Enactment of Cultural Citizenship”, Uppsala University, 2012, [on line], http://www.divaportal.org/smash/get/diva2:531165/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Term Paper: Animal Crossing: New Leaf: The Appeal of an Unbeatable Game

by Jessica Turcotte

AnimalCrossingNewLeafWayofLife

It is not uncommon for gamers to put over sixty hours into a single game, and never revisiting it again. Most mainstream games guide players from point A to point B, and congratulate them with a virtual pat on the back in the end; the player is satisfied, and so are the publishers. Life/community simulation games are inherently different. There is often no finish line, no ultimate goal to achieve, as the player strolls along the game, often living vicariously through their characters. I question how this game genre maintain long-term player interest, while offering the player a sense of agency? There has been an array of simulation games ranging from SimCity to Spore, but let us focus on one franchise that has been capturing casual gamers attention since 2001 : Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing is a franchise developed and published by Nintendo, stretching over 4 games, ranging from the GameCube to the more recent Nintendo 3DS system. In the earlier versions, the player controls a citizen entering a new town, spending the majority of the game paying off their debt imposed by a landlord named Tom Nook. In the more recent installment: Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the player arrives in the town , being mistaken as the mayor by all the citizens. As a silent and unassuming protagonist, they are forced into becoming the mayor, taking up various tasks pertaining to the betterment of the town (imposing town ordinances or financing public works projects). As the official website says: “It’s not just a game … it’s a way of life”. This tagline instigates the underlying reliance on long-term dependence to the game in order to maintain relevance in the gaming market. Animal Crossing: New Leaf demonstrates how the inclusion of “personalized” game mechanics and the sense of responsibility within real-time gameplay can reach players on a personal level, therefore securing long-term consumption of Nintendo’s product.

The new mechanic of playing as the mayor of the town was added due to the developers fear of players thinking “Oh no! Not again!”. They were mostly worried that players would think that it was just another game about paying off a loan, much like the previous installments. However, it is also a mechanic which incites responsibility from the player to continuously “consume” the game. By imposing the sense of authority upon the player, they are now more inclined to keep playing the game, having the need to fulfill responsibilities and taking care of the town. If the player does not fulfill these tasks, the town may become infested with cockroaches, weeds may invade the grass and citizens may become disgruntled and leave, Despite these responsibilities, Animal Crossing: New Leaf contains a relaxing, “go at your own pace” design. If the game would impose a stressful way of dealing with mayoral duties (construction funding deadlines, crime), the casual gamer would be turned off, having lost the escapist quality of the game. Unlike most other simulation games, the player must “grind” in order to pay off their debt, while being focused on gaining a 100% approval rating by the citizens through public works projects. In order to do so, players must collect bugs, dig up fossils and collect items in order to sell to the Recycling Shop. In order to diminish the tediousness of grinding, there is an option to place the bugs and fossils into the town’s museum, adding an educational benefit to the game, as you expand your towns cultural knowledge. Every creature or fossil collected comes with a description of it, as well as the opportunity to revisit your caught items in your in-game encyclopedia , or in the museum. The developers managed to create a game based on the player having to grind and being at a position of authority, while maintaining casual and stress-free game play. In Christian Nutt’s article The Quiet Genius of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, he commends the “flexibility of [New Leaf’s game system], but also the fact that your relationship with it can change over time. You can start doing something for one reason and change your mind. You can get interested in something, abandon it, and pick it up later when you realize there’s another reason to do it.1 He also remarks that “the currency is employed like experience points in an RPG: you have to play to earn then […] you put the points into the upgrade you want. It’s a progress-limiter. And the objects you buy are really tools for self-expression2”. This clever system of “upgrades” creates a sense of progress within the game, so players feel accomplished with every “upgrade”. Without the sense of moving forward, players would more likely feel stuck, and would lose interest. Moreover, the game functions in real-time, utilizing the 3DS systems clock: seasons pass, holidays come and go, creating anticipation within the player. Players must organize a schedule around the game, having to remember citizens birthdays, special events (fishing tourneys, bug catching competitions) as well as the opening and closing of certain stores and the arrival of town kiosks. This creates a long-term playability, as the player can pick it up and play without having to remember at what point they are in the game or feel lost, as it coincides with where they are in real life. Players are expected to organize their life around the games events, as it appeals to peoples inner need to please others; to not let their citizens down if they happen to miss a meeting. If the player happens to not return to their town for awhile, they are met with a scolding as well as saddened citizens claiming that you have forgotten about them and/or are avoiding them. Another event that may occur is when the player refuses a public works completion ceremony, in which Isao Moro, one of the games developers, states that your secretary “[becomes] so dejected in the way she speaks and acts that you’ll feel really sorry for turning it down3”. Animal Crossing: New Leaf reaches the player on emotional levels, not only creating a sense of community that will always be waiting for them when you return, but also toys with the players fear of disappointment. This reinforces the dependence on the game, especially for those searching for a sense of belonging and acceptance.

YearLongVacation

Similar to Gamefreak’s Pokemon series, Animal Crossing: New Leaf appeals to the players desire to collect. With the seemingly endless amount of furniture combinations, players will spend months creating different combinations of items, in order to earn points from the “Happy Home Academy”. Players may even encounter a type of furniture only after months playing it, as seasonal items come and go and new events are held. The randomization of items received by villagers or available in stores force the players to constantly check, day after day, to see if the Nookling store finally has a specific item for their set in stock. Building sets can take weeks or even months, as the player is faced with not knowing how the amount of items in a set, and do not receive any notification whether it is in stock or not (with the exception of the few rare items which the shop owners advertise on the town board). Customization has always been present within the Animal Crossing series, but mostly for the players home. An addition to New Leaf that was unheard of in previous Animal Crossing games is the customization of “ordinances”. With a game so heavily based on real-time, it was crucial for developers to consider the real life of the player. Moro comments that “this time, you can adjust things to fit your own lifestyle4”, meaning that the player may choose to have shops open earlier or later, if the town is more focused on having rich flora as well as being a “rich” town. Furthermore, with the addition of online-play, players can now visit other towns from players across the world. Moro states that “[the developers] wanted to make it much more fun to explore other players’ towns by allowing each player to bring out their own personality in their town5”.

By being able to customize and show off your town, it actively encourages the player to spend more time grinding for bells (in-game currency), in order to create the best town possible. Players are now able to customize and create patterns for their outfits and share them online via QR codes; they are able to look like virtual any video game/film/literary character that they please. Aya Kyogoku, a member of the development team, states that “this Animal Crossing game isn’t simply about enjoying everyday life. The game becomes a stage for creating a town and a world where everything is just as you want it6”. By appealing to the audiences desire to customize and create their unique town, and by including an online-mode to induce amicable envy of each others towns, players will be more inclined to spend more hours on the game, as opposed to it feeling like a chore. The player may do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without being harshly penalized for the things that they did not do. This is not only enticing for new players, but appeals to the established fan base by improving on the core gameplay of customization; not only being able to customize your home, but your whole town.

Players have managed to counter the long waiting periods between events or holidays by “time traveling”. Essentially, the player can set their clock to a different time in order to bypass the real-time mechanics of the game. The player no longer has to go through the process of waiting day after day for an unwanted resident to leave, a building remodeling, etc. This mean that players no longer have to schedule themselves around the game, but rather schedule the game to fit their needs. However, if they make a simple mistake by setting the clock to a full year later, the town can be completely ruined. Once-loved villagers might have moved out, flowers may die amongst many other consequences. Moro says that it “ is a shame as a really nice aspect of Animal Crossing is the sense of unity that comes from time passing in sync with the real world. It means that everyone gets to share that sense of the seasons and the time passing, so we were keen to retain that element of the game.7” Despite players cheating, it does not affect other players, as it would in most online games. The cheating is merely for the players own benefit, without hindering others. It does not discourage others from playing the game, which might be the case for other games that heavily rely on competitive gameplay, such as Counter Strike or StarCraft. This form of “cheating” does not hinder the long-term consumption of the product, as it does not affect the core gameplay of collecting and interaction.

In conclusion, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a prime example of a life simulation games that manages to engage a new audience while tending to their established fanbase through improved customization, engaging real-time activities and by imposing a sense of responsibility and authority upon the player. Despite the fact that the player is the mayor of a town, New Leaf provides plenty of leniency in order to negate the feeling of playing the game as a chore. With New Leaf being one of the most successful games amongst the franchise, it is no doubt that the appeal lies within the clever game mechanics and stress-free gameplay.

Work Cited

Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Animal Crossing. Nintendo. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <http://www.animal-crossing.com/newleaf/>.

Nintendo. Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Nintendo, 2013. Nintendo 3DS.

Nutt, Christian. “The Quiet Genius of Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games. UBM, 28 June 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. <http://gamasutra.com/view/news/195157/The_quiet_genius_of_Animal_Crossing_New_Leaf.php&gt;.

Takahashi, Koji, Isao Moro, and Aya Kyogoku. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Interview by Satoru Iwata. Iwata Asks. Nintendo, 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <http://iwataasks.nintendo.com/interviews/#/3ds/animalcrossing-newleaf/0/0&gt;.

1Nutt, Christian. “The Quiet Genius of Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games. UBM, 28 June 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

2Nutt, Christian. “The Quiet Genius of Animal Crossing: New Leaf.”

3 Isao Moro. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Interview by Satoru Iwata. Iwata Asks. Nintendo, 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

4 Isao Moro. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.”

5 Isao Moro. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.”

6 Aya Kyogoku. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Interview by Satoru Iwata. Iwata Asks. Nintendo, 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

7 Isao Moro,. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.”

Final Project: Twine Game

Zack Lorber

http://file:///Users/ZackLorber/Downloads/Winners%20Better%20Quit.html (will also include USB)

Professor Carolyn Jong

ENGL 398D

April 15th, 2015

Video Game Project Review and Explanation

In the game I created on Twine, “Winners Better Quit“, my goal was to give the player many options and meaningful decisions. I am not sure that the end result should be described as a complete success. My goal was to create something like “The Stanley Parable” in that I wanted choices to create divergent endings. The other initial starting goal was to anticipate as many choices the player could make or want to make as I could. The two goals proved to be incompatible. If I had created the game in the way intended before the project had begun there would have been over eighty choices and twenty distinct story lines by the time the player made his 5th click or choice. This would be a logistics nightmare and was proving to still be one even after the choice selection was severely trimmed.

The Game isn’t as ‘long’ as I would have liked but there are many story lines and I achieved almost all of the goals I set out to incite in this game. The self imposed guidelines for the game’s creation were numerous but mainly: It is a game, don’t take itself too seriously. This led to the continuous poking fun at the player through narration. Mainly the emphasized lack of backstory toyed with the fourth wall. This also comes out in the brief interrogation.

The reasoning for the themes and actions of the game were mainly a commentary about the player and the community of players. This comes through strongly in the interview that numerous players are needed to complete the variety of the game. Another similar trope that was used is the fact that the game is what you make of it, if the player is not suspicious or wants to subvert the main story path they can be rewarded. Many games provide exposition about the motives of the playable character once the player has already controlled them for some time. This game plays on the fact that the character has the option to create his own name and story.

It was difficult and tedious to create independent stories but it proved to be enjoyable to provide a commentary on the choices and results if individuals creating their own stories and ideals. Human nature was commented on in various ways through ideas about being arrogant and lucky when a player feels ahead. With the threats of having ridiculously dehumanizing amounts of money and the ease of gambling when placed in the right environment. The numerous Puns kept the game light and hopefully enjoyable, it covered many topics with each storyline so hopefully it works as a whole entity.