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

Second Micro-Essay: Pokémon & Transmedia

by: Alexa Zakaib

“Got to catch ‘em all” is a widespread and one of the most recognizable catchphrases in the media industry. The colorful creatures known as Pokémon have indeed invaded our childhoods and our economies in a significant manner, where all would dream to have them all. This dream, however, is linked with a very specific marketing strategy that would propel consumers to “buy” them all. From games to anime series, Pokémon has navigated across media platforms in order to become a raging success. For Thomas Apperley, though, this “global scale of transmedia storytelling takes on drastically different stakes in the context of [Venezuela’s] localized study” (Apperly, 1). In Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital Divide, Apperley deconstructs the concepts of supersytems and transmedia in order to show how these types of methods can cause an uneven playing ground for financially disadvantaged countries. In this short essay, I will argue that Pokémon is an example of this exclusionist transmedia, because of its relation to consumerism and the “supersystem”.

Before showing how this franchise excludes struggling economies, I will demonstrate how the “supersystem” is at work within it. Apperly discusses Marsha Kinder’s notion of the supersystem. For Kinder, the supersystem is defined when “one text leads to directly to another through deliberate intertextual linkages” (Apperley, 2). Is there then a real linkage between Pokémon card games, videogames, and anime series? Just as Henry Jenkins had shown how The Matrix franchise made products “containing deliberate lacune that are filled in by other The Matrix products” (Apperly, 2), Pokémon has undeniably used the same stratagem. The anime series flows new information, as for example, introducing Togepi to consumers. The video games are training grounds for players to get experience battling with CPU’s. Finally, the playing cards allow social interactivity that can truly fulfill the dream that the Ash character instills in the minds of consumers, seen both in action and in the main theme song of the anime: being “the very best, that no one ever was”. We can therefore see the supersystem at work.

Now that we understand how this system goes to work, we can see how it exploits our capitalist society by propelling consumers in a vicious cycle. With the card game, a forceful capitalist movement commences. In order to get all the cards, you would first need to buy some. You could then spend money until you have obtained all of the cards, which are usually sold in booster packs, therefore randomizing your purchase getting you to buy more until the odds are in your favor. On the other hand, you could trade them with other players. The problem arising with trading is worth of the cards. In order to get a better card, you would need to trade multiple cards of lesser value. Not only would you then have to purchase more cards in order to have a proper deck, but you would still need to get those cards of lesser value back in order to have them all. As for the videogames, some might assume that the Gameboy Red and Blue versions of Pokémon do not have as strong of a capitalist influence, for once you would buy the game, you could catch them all and have the inner fulfillment that you have finished the game without taking any other consumerist action. However, according to StrategyWiki and supported by my own experience with playing both Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, it is impossible to finish the game without TRADING POKEMON WITH YOUR FRIENDS. Omitting the Gameshark cheating device, the Blue and Red versions of the game do not contain every Pokémon. You therefore have to know one or more player that has a certain literacy and skill in playing videogames, for they would need to have reached a certain point in the game in order to capture the Pokémon that you would need. This would be in line with Kinder’s idea that “the key innovation of videogames are the choices and challenges posed to the audience through interactivity” (Apperly, 1). This would nevertheless imply that two different parties purchase different versions of the game as well as a cable that allows the two Gameboy devices to connect with each other for the trading to be possible. For the television audiences, as mentioned before, the anime series is an information source. New information is constantly thrown at viewers. The producers therefore have the potential to introduce new characters, adventures, but most importantly new sets of Pokémon that will allow the circulation of games and cards to continue for as long as their imaginations are fruitful.

We therefore see how financial resources as essential in order to get the complete experience of Pokémon. It is because of this that I argue the Pokémon franchise of being exclusionary. Apperly mentions how Jenkins analyses convergence in a sphere where “audiences outside the “developed” economies often have access only to the films and in some cases, only to pirated copies that have scenes missing” (Apperly, 3). Since Pokémon does work with a supersytem method, consumers only engaging with one media platform will miss a great deal of the experience. Globolization is pressuring countries such as Venezuella to keep up with not only one, but multiple media platforms at the same time.

In conclusion, by creating “lacunes” in products of each media platform that can only be filled by products of other platforms, and by creating products that require continuous financial funds in order to achieve the goal of the game, Pokémon is retailing to a specific affluent market audience that thus excludes “underdeveloped” economies.

Works Cited:

Apperley, Thomas. “Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital Divide.” IE ’07 Proceedings of the 4th Australasian conference on Interactive entertainment. Eds. Martin Gibbs and Yusuf Pisan. RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, 2007.

Pokemon Red or Blue (Nintendo 1998)

Pokemon anime series (1997-present)

Pokémon Red and Blue/Catch ‘Em All, [on line], http://strategywiki.org/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon_Red_and_Blue/Catch_%27Em_All (Page consulted on March 11, 2015)

Micro-Essay: Gone Home

By Alexa Zakaib

Gone Home has recently gotten a lot of attention from gamers all over the world. It has also raised a tremendous amount of controversy concerning its “game” status. Reading over reviews, many gamers were let down by its “interactive storybook” style, for it did not meet their expectations of what the game was going to be[1]. The question then is: What did they think the game was going to be? This question can be answered by looking at Gone Home’s narrative architecture and spatial divides. The game starts with your character, seen in a first player view, standing on the porch of a mansion. The threatening thunder growls through the dark night sky, as the rain beats down the ground. These tropes have all previously served the mansion genre in order to create an uneasy, alarming, and eventually blood-curdling space where our fear and phobia reside. The Resident Evil and the Alone in the Dark franchises have both been game-changers for the genre. Mansions are presented as old and mysterious labyrinths, where isolation is amplified by the grandeur of the space. It is then no wonder that players were willing, and expecting, to submit themselves to virtual danger. However, Gone Home did not continue in that same route. In his article Gone Home, Thief and the Mansion Genre, Robert Yang proposes that what Gone Home and other mansion genre horror games have in common is the sense of “alien”. “The video game mansion starts as an alien place that, through repeated visits and backtracking, becomes YOUR MANSION because you know all the rooms and secret passages and stories inside it.[2]Gone Home’s eerie atmosphere can then be comprehended as a style that evokes the alienation of Sam from society. Furthermore, we can see how the entire family is divide, demonstrated by their absence that thus creates the unsettling feeling of the lack of human presence.

Gone Home’s entire special architecture in turn tells a story. According to Lana Polansky, “by creating a sense of place and of history [we] can use an environment full of various meaningful objects that reflect a pervasive theming”[3]. As we enter the house, we are subject to panoply of objects that the gamer can interact with. Each one brings to light a different aspect of the lives of the given family. Who lives here? What are they like? Who am I in all of this? As Sam’s voice narrates while you explore your surroundings, you visit every room of the house, reading notes, listening to music, or even looking at portraits. Each one of these items helps to demystify where the narration is leading you. Even before entering the house, you see your two packsacks lying by the door. They have tags on them, indicating that you have just returned from a trip. This is know even before you listen to your recording on the telephone, telling your parents you expect to be at the airport at midnight. Another critical object is found in the office. The book A Stanger Under My Roof features two angry-looking parents looking at their child with discontent on the cover. This is another obvious indication that the family has trouble accepting or understanding Sam because of her homosexuality. The narrative architecture of the game therefore opens the player up to “interiority”.

In the A game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space article, authors Tracy Fullerton, Jacquelyn Morie, and Celia Pearce discuss how some spaces breathe gendered symbolism. We can relate their analysis to some critical spaces in Gone Home. We can first analyze the house as a whole, being a domestic space. The authors suggest that “lived domestic space itself is also another important site of play and exploration often portrayed in children’s literature […] depicting and embodying a transitional space between girlhood and womanhood”[4]. Sam is in fact a teenager in a critical transitional state, where she is asserting her sexuality, her life goals, her values, and ambitions. If we look at Van Gennep’s theory on the rite of passage, we count three stages that a child has to go through in order to become their adult self. The first being self-segregation, which Sam does by running away with Lonnie. The second will be her true transformation as she explores the world. The third and final step that Van Gennep suggests is the aggregation of the now adult. This final step is foreshadowed when Sam tells her sister that she will see her again someday. Another female-gendered space discussed in the article is the attic. The authors describe the attics as a “girl-only clubhouse”, where they are free to let their imaginations and dreams take over: “a secret place always has aspects of a ‘removed’ existence, being a place that, physically or mentally, it is created for retreat, intimacy, enclosure, screening, and protection. These often are places of power and control that cannot be known or invaded by ‘outside’ forces (Downing, 2000)[5]”. In Gone Home, the attic is a crucial space that the player finds hidden between the staircase and the bookshelf. We learn that Lonnie and Sam used to go there to escape her parents. The space is small and narrow, where a candle adorned table lies in the middle. The chalk-drawn pentagram symbolizes Sam and Lonnie’s desire to explore unknown worlds.

In conclusion, Gone Home has created a coordinated narrative architecture with many distinct spatial divides. Whether one likes or dislikes the game in itself, we cannot deny the tremendous perfectionist work that went into creating specific environments that complement the story beautifully.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS5eQmRgBlY, [on line], Comment Section

[2] Yang, Robert. “Gone Home, Thief and the Mansion Genre” PCGamer, September 13 2013

[3] Polansky, Lana. “The Poetry of Created Space.” Bit Creature. 5 October 2012. http://www.bitcreature.com/criticism/the-poetry-of-created-space/

[4] Fullerton, Tracy, Morie, Jacquelyn and Pearce, Celia. “A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space.” Proceedings of perthDAC 2007: The 7th International Digital Arts and Culture Conference: The Future of Digital Media Culture. 2007. http://eleven.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-074-a-game-of-one%E2%80%99s-own-towards-a-new-gendered-poetics-of-digital-space/

[5] Ibidem