WEEK 9: Megaman X

 

Mega Man is a video game franchise by Capcom, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1987. The series has since grown to include over 50 games on a multitude systems, including gameboy and PC titles, as well as console releases. The series tells the story of the robot named Mega Man. For the purpose of our assignment, we chose to focus on Mega Man X, which was first published in Japan in 1993, and was released in both North America and Europe a year later. Mega Man X had a great deal of commercial success since it’s release on the SNES, and has since been released on PCs, Gamecube, PS2, PSP, mobile devices, and recently on Wii and WiiU. However, not all of this platforms lend themselves to facilitating success with the often challenging feats found in Mega Man X. Our attempts to play the game on a PC with a keyboard were met with a great deal of frustration, as dashing and shooting, and more notably scaling walls, felt nearly impossible to achieve. For the sake of this video we had to use a super Nintendo game, played on the Wii and displayed on a TV, and then to a computer for recording. We also had to find a remote to play it, because playing on a keyboard was not only impossible but unpleasant. This raises questions of accessibility for gamers, because although we may play the games, due to software and equipment it is seldom harder to play, rendering the games too hard and ultimately boring. Finding the right tools to be able to make a let’s play of this game was at tedious at best, but given the experience we can now appreciate games such as Mega Man X, even more.

Mega Man X is set in a futuristic world populated by both humans and robots, in which our protagonist, Mega Man X, fights evil robots to protect the human race from extinction. The game is populated by two robotic heroes who are modeled after humans, and a myriad of enemy robots which are animal-like in appearance.While the humanoid characters are identified as male, their masculinity is not overt, specifically in the case of Zero. Zero is Mega Man’s comrade, who is rather feminine in design. Zero is unfortunately not a playable character, but nonetheless a likable one. He appears to help Mega in his times of need, giving helpful tips and teaching the player how mega man’s powers can be used. While zero is largely understood to be male, there is nothing in his design to suggest so, with his long flowing blonde hair and bright armor.

“When I was younger I wanted to stay away from the stereotypical girly image as much as possible. I chose the archetypal male hero characters because I wanted to identify as a strong heroic person, even as a little girl. My preferred characters were strong, possessed unique powers and weapons, and most importantly, were not female, as their skills were often lackluster. As an adult, I’ve learned to appreciate those characters, and their less obvious strengths, having learned that when playing I must use their unique skills, abilities and knowledge strategically. Mega Man X offers a blurred representation of gender, and forgoes sex altogether in it’s protagonists, which circumvents  my childhood perceptions of strength being a very masculine trait in video games. ”  (Susana Vence)

This lack clear gender is very progressive for it’s time, and can be seen as empowering. It leads us to consider the lack of gender in this game as a facet that enables gamers to identify with characters on a more meaningful level, and allowing us to focus more on overcoming the obstacles of the game.

In order to overcome the obstacles presented in the game, one could argue that the aspect most integral to the megaman X is his ability obtain armor attachments in order to gain special abilities. It is this which grants  a very individual gaming experience to each of it’s players. In Mega Man X the interaction between identity and environment defines the players experience of the game. The order in which you play the game affects its environment and its difficulty. For instance if one were to beat the frost level first, then the fire level would not have lava and would be made easier for  the player. This is one of the many instances in which a decision the player makes can impact the experience of the game altogether. Furthermore the affordances of the game will change depending on the order in which you play it. If you do things in a certain order you may acquire abilities faster; or even find things you have been incapable of because of the environment being changed or unchanged. These influence not only the gameplay, but also the environment. Games that were made in the period of the early 1990s were not generally designed to change or adapt to the player’s experience. This makes Mega Man X very interesting, because visually it will show you new things depending on how its played; water instead of fire, light instead of darkness etc. This is all part of the culture of gaming at the time; which was to enable the player to do as many things as possible within a limited environment.

Through the variations in gameplay, Mega Man X  addresses questions of identity. The player is left to interpret his/her own gaming experience to gain perspective on their own identity. The choices the player makes, the order in which they tackle the bosses, the parts which they equip, can drastically alter their gaming experience. The strategy that the individual player adopts can make the game more challenging, or easier to beat. The game doesn’t only allow you to collect new weapons, but also allows you to make Mega Man into what you want him to be. The parts acquired are meant to strengthen the main characters abilities, suggesting that one is the sum of all his/her parts. In certain situations the progress in the game can be affected by the character having certain abilities, which is reflected in out of game experiences as well. For instance one may successfully complete 400 level courses without having done intro classes first, but a lot more work and thought will have to be invested in order to compensate for the intro classes. Overall the game encourages the player to improve himself as a person and a player. If collecting the part makes you a better being what is the goal of collecting weapons? The weapons are simply tools with which one may equip himself with in order to achieve a goal. It could be compared to playing any sport and having the advantage of using better equipment. Being successfully equipped to deal with certain situations may give one the edge required to successfully complete his/her goal.

Obtaining the knowledge of which bosses to beat first, in order to gain the right skills to facilitate beating the games is easy enough in today’s technological age, but it was not so back in the early 1990s. The tradition of knowledge that we have now is very different than the notions that we had back then. When Mega Man X came out in 1994, knowledge about games was largely communicated through oral culture. While you could get an issue of Nintendo Power to acquire additional information, they were costly and not easily accessible for everyone. This left gamers to network with each other in order to know where certain parts were and/or any other hidden secrets these games might have held. It can be difficult to fathom, with all this information being so accessible as it is today, that oral exchange was the only way one could discover secrets. Today, knowledge and accessibility relate directly to their monetary worth; but that knowledge was first associated with one’s perseverance in playing the game, and commitment to getting the most out of it.

Those of us who had not played this game before were surprised by the content and amount of re-playability in a game that we thought was very linear. We were was astounded by the impact our decisions in the game had on its environment. Mega Man X stands the test of time, as its bright colours and beautifully diverse landscapes and characters maintain their aesthetic appeal even now. Whatever the game lacks in visual appeal when compared to more recent games, it makes up for in challenge and replayability. Mega Man X, for all it’s simplicity, contains surprising depth and insight into one’s own identity and style as a gamer.

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