Machinima-Craft

True to its promise of being an open world game, Minecraft’s in-game goals are quite open. While the game’s standard survival mode requires players collect resources to build shelter and find sources of food, the creative mode of the game eliminates these requirements and allows a player to freely use infinite resources without worry about being attacked by hostile mobs or needing to eat. While it would seem that the creative mode of Minecraft has no explicit goal, it does carry at least an implied goal of building as what the player should be trying to achieve. We completely ignored the explicit and implicit goals of Minecraft, instead using it as a tool to accomplish the goal of making a machinima narrative, and in doing so, found a completely new and compelling way to enjoy “playing”.

 

 

In making our machinima Brickland, the goal of Minecraft became to create the scenes for our narrative, rather than any of the typical goals of the game. Using the creative mode on our own server, we explored the world, finding appropriate biomes and locations that would suit our purposes, much in the same way a movie director must scout out locations to film at.  We maintained a certain level of control over the area in the sense that the server is not publicly accessible, but many elements, such as monster spawns, remained for the most part uncontrolled, which in some cases added a level of spontaneity into the shots and sometimes added to or changed the course of the narrative. This interplay between space and narrative construction was interesting, as we had originally expected the narrative to be completed and then simply replicated in-game, but the game’s uncontrolled elements made themselves felt and became incorporated into the narrative. For example, the witch’s hut scene originally was written to only have the witch nearby. When we went to shoot this segment, we discovered that the game had spawned some pigs near her hut. Although we had not originally thought to have pigs there, having them randomly placed there by the game engine turned out to give us the idea that the witch should have pigs nearby, and gave us the idea to have our starving protagonist take one of her pigs while raiding her hut for tools. We had thought our narrative completed in a vacuum, yet when it was inserted into the game world, we felt it right that the narrative adapt organically to its environment.

 

We found ourselves thinking about the project more in terms of film creation than playing a video-game. It took time to learn to adapt movements and techniques in-game to lend themselves to the production of cinema rather than a typical play session of Minecraft. As camera operators, smooth and fluid motion was paramount, requiring mouse sensitivity adjustments that would make playing the game normally very difficult. Likewise, UI elements like the inventory hotbar normally displayed on screen that are to assist regular play were removed in order to make a more natural visual display. Often scenes were shot with two cameras in order to have alternate views of a scene to jump between, which required editing in post production to ensure that the cameraperson was kept out of the shot. This highlights how we indeed were replacing “one game structure with another” and altering our goals from “playing to win to playing to make a movie” (Lowood). Indeed, instead “of simply playing the game to win” we were pushing the boundaries of what the game could do, “using the game as a playground, laboratory, or stage” (Chien 28).

 

We soon found ourselves discussing things in more cinematographic language such locations, scenes, and dialogue, rather than the game-centric concepts of biomes, spawns, and mobs, again following what Richard Schechner implies is typical of the steps taken in the creation of performance art: “‘proto­-performance’ (training, rehearsal, etc.), ‘performance’ (warm­up through public performance and related events) and ‘aftermath’ (criticism, archives, memories)” (Schechner 191-­92). Henry Lowood’s connection between filmmaking’s process of pre-production, production, and post-production and Schechner’s process of live performance well describe the steps that we went through. Our pre-production included writing the basic narrative script and location scouting, followed by the production of on-the-fly altering of our script to better adapt to the game environment and shooting the scripted scenes, and finishing off with post-production sequencing, editing, and adding additional enhancements such as effect filters, music, and on-screen graphics. Again as typical for game-based performance according to Lowood, we proudly list the software and elements used in our creation rather than try to hide these techniques.

 

We almost exclusively use free and open source software in our work. This is in part due to the fact that we are limited in funds, thus making the free (as in gratuit) aspect of this software particularly compelling, but also the freedom (as in libre) granted by it. Due to “the nature of game-based machinima as a derivative work of the game it’s based on” almost any machinima artist “will have a story or two to tell from the legal world” (Chico 27). In spite of the fact that machinima has existed at least since Diary of a Camper was released in 1996, the artform is still mired in a confusion of rights and legalities. Recently popular YouTube game-video creator Angry Joe has proclaimed that he will no longer feature Nintendo games due to the problems in negotiating a fair compromise between the rights of the game creators over their game assets and intellectual properties, and the rights of video creators over their own creations using videogame assets (Kotaku). This argument over rights cannot be properly addressed in the scope of this article, but the fact that this confusion exists led us to actively try to avoid using any intellectual properties that we did not have clear rights to use. The music and sound elements were used under a creative commons license and properly attributed, the screen-recording and editing software are under similarly free software licenses, and Mojang’s own terms of use state that players are “free to do whatever [they] want with screenshots and videos of the Game” provided they are not for commercial purposes (EULA).

 

Although significantly different in subject matter, style, and scope, Rooster Teeth Productions’ Red vs Blue was a major inspiration for this production, and the way that the members of this team were introduced to machinima as an artform. Irene Chien points to how part of the absurdist humour that Red vs Blue employs depends on how it “undermines the enemy demonization and zero-hour urgency of the original game narrative” and instead of a heroic fight of humanity against alien invaders, has each team “spend most of their time malingering in the same bleak desert canyon, trading sophomoric insults, and complaining” (Chien 27). While Brickland is not primarily a comedy and has only one major character, it likewise reflects “the shared social experience of multiplayer gaming” (Chien 27) in the sense that much of Brick’s time is spent considering how to survive without other people.

 

Brick’s initial excitement at finding food in the mushroom biome is quickly replaced by the realization that it cannot be enough and he must seek out another place in order to survive. Although he states the reason is that he will run out of food, his unstated reason is that he requires a social structure to give his continued existence any meaning. He readily prepares to help the village he finally encounters by building fences to help protect the village from zombies,  in spite of the fact that he is unable to understand their language. His continued existence only has meaning if it is recognized by someone other than himself, and as he grows less hopeful of rescue he gravitates more toward a need to find a surrogate support network to replace the one he has lost. Brick also examines the world of Minecraft through the eyes of a non-player. As when Simmons observes the absurdity of guarding a base in the “middle of a box-canyon with no way in or out” in the first episode of Red vs Blue, Brick is constantly wondering why he can suddenly chop wood and dig dirt with his bare hands, why trees do not fall when they are chopped down, and why everything is made out of cubes. This view of the world of Minecraft from the eyes of a non-player is a vital part of Brick’s examination into the predicament he has fallen into, and provides the viewer a way to examine the absurdities of videogame worlds that players take for granted while being connected to Brick’s curiosity, fear, and loneliness.

 

After having spent many hours in Minecraft working on this project, we still cannot fully decide whether we were playing a videogame while doing so. The experience was extremely different from simply playing a game with the goal of simply playing a game. This article’s authors are regular gamers, and play together as often as we play apart, and yet this project brought about a completely different shared language than typical team play. Gone were the cries for assistance against newly spawned mobs, replaced by discussions of camera placement, light levels, and the direction of action according to a script. While we admit we have likely been playing Minecraft technically, the shifting of goals from “playing” to “machinima creation” made Minecraft feel much more like a tool to accomplish the goal of a cinematic presentation than a game, and just one tool of many at that. Strangely, this project has been no less fun than a videogame, and in some ways even more fulfilling. We discussed plans and techniques even when not actively working on the project, we looked into other machinima projects and have become much more attentive to musical cues and camera techniques used in television and movies to emulate these techniques where possible. The added goal of a cinematic product gave a very clear focus to this version of “playing” Minecraft that in some ways increased the enjoyment of the game for us, and in fact the process has proved so enjoyable that we are considering future projects outside of school for no other reason that it was such an enjoyable and compelling experience.

 

Discussion questions:

Does the nature of machinima made in a videogame change the nature of the narrative? (Can a dramatic narrative be just as dramatic when told through a cinematic made from a game?)

 

Who ultimately owns the video? While our team has created the narrative elements and spent the time shooting and editing, we also use the graphics and game engine that belong to Mojang. So, is the video ours, Mojang’s, some combination of the two, or none of the above?

 

Are we still “playing a videogame” when we are creating machinima? We did not aim for the explicit or implicit goals of Minecraft. We liberally used creative mode to provide what we needed, but did not really use the ability to build very much. We used survival mode when it suited our needs, but did not try to collect resources or progress toward “the End”. In using Minecraft as a tool, were we simultaneously “playing” it?

 

What should Brick do next? Although we had to stop creating episodes due to time, we are not opposed to making more in the future. What would you like to see happen? Should Brick discover that his dreams of fire and pigmen were of a real place? Should he discover his presence in the village poses some problem to them? Should he find his way back home?

 

 

Works Cited

“Big YouTuber Says He Won’t Cover Nintendo Anymore.” Kotaku. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.

Chico, Carey. “Machinima Unplugged.” Computer Graphics World 37.4 (2014): 24-28. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

Chien, Irene. “Deviation/Red Vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles.” Film Quarterly 60.4 (2007): 24-29. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.

“EULA.” Mojang AB. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

Minecraft. Mojang AB. 2009. PC

Red vs Blue. Rooster Teeth. 2003. Web.

Schechner, Richard. Performance Studies: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

“V2N1: Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies.” International Digital Media and Arts Association. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

 

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Globalization Is Blasting Off at the Speed of Light


In this project, we discuss multiple media aspects of the well-known and much loved RPG Nintendo franchise, Pokémon. In our video, we begin with Alix Fraser discussing the gender and racial representations in Pokémon, how we went from not being able to have the girl option at all in Red/Blue to being able to choose between the two genders of male and female as well as choosing your skin colour in one of the more recent versions. Lauren Hannough-Bergmans talks about the setting and context of the Pokémon games, how the player’s surroundings were based off of real-life locations from Japan and later on became based off of the city of Manhattan and even Paris, France. In addition, Lauren also points out the the ability to trade one’s Pokémon with anyone around the world. Jason Cohen talks about the mythical and cultural influence on the franchise, how certain Pokémon represent a lore or cultural aspect from a certain country. Transmedial aspects and the iconic figure that is Pikachu are brought up by Harris Frost and Julia Miele and how Pokémon itself has grossed into a worldwide phenomenon.


Works Cited

Allison, Anne. “Portable Monsters and Commodity Cuteness: Pokémon as Japan’s New Global Power.” Index-Files. N.p., 3 Mar. 2014. Web.

Apperley, Thomas. “Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital Divide.” 2007: n. pag. Print.

Crow, Jennifer L. “TED Case Studies.” Case Study. TED, May 2000. Web. Farokhmanesh, Megan. “Pikachu Is Japan’s Official Mascot for the FIFA 2014 World Cup Brazil.” Polygon. N.p., 15 Mar. 2014. Web

Jenkins, Henry. “The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 7 Dec. 2007: 33-43. Print.

Lemke, Jay. “Critical Analysis across Media: Games, Franchises, and the New Cultural Order.” Research Gate. N.p., n.d. Web. 2004.

Lien, Tracey. “Why Pikachu May Soon Be as Iconic as Mickey Mouse.” Polygon. N.p., 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

“Myths and Legends Involving Legendary Pokémon.” – Bulbapedia, the Community-driven Pokémon Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web.

Ogletree, Shirley M., Cristal N. Martinez, Trent R. Turner, and Brad Mason. “Pokémon: Exploring the Role of Gender.” Sex Roles 50.11/12 (2004): 851-59. Web.

“Player Character.” – Bulbapedia, the Community-driven Pokémon Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web.

Pokémon Black Version. Nintendo and The Pokemon Company, 2011. Video Game.

Pokémon Crystal Version. Nintendo and The Pokemon Company, 2001. Video Game.

Pokémon Diamond Version. Nintendo and The Pokemon Company, 2007. Video Game.

Pokémon Quartz. Baro, 2006. Video Game Mod.

Pokémon Red Version. Nintendo, 1998. Video Game.

Pokémon Ruby Version. Nintendo and The Pokemon Company, 2003. Video Game.

Pokémon X. Nintendo and The Pokemon Company, 2013. Video Game.

Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition. Nintendo, 1998. Video Game.

Schwarz, Eric. “Gamasutra: Eric Schwarz’s Blog – The Importance of Setting (With Respect to Gameplay).” Gamasutra Article. N.p., 8 June 2012. Web.

“Red’s Clefairy.” – Bulbapedia, the Community-driven Pokémon Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web.

Statt, Nick. “Twitch Plays Pokemon Conquers Elite Four, Beating Game after 390 Hours – CNET.” CNET. N.p., 1 Mar. 2014. Web.

Sullivan, Lucas. “17 Pokemon Based on Real-world Mythology.” GamesRadar+. N.p., n.d. Web.

Tobin, Joseph. Pikachu’s Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokémon. N.p.: Duke UP, 2007. Print.

Van Der Graaf, Shenja. “Imaginaries of Ownership: The Logic of Participation in the Moral Economy of 3D Software Design.” Elsevier (2014): 400-08. Web.

Vasquez, Vivian. “What Pokemon Can Teach Us About Learning and Literature.” Language Arts 81.2 (2003): 118-25. Web.


Further Readings

Edensor, Tim. National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life. Oxford: Berg, 2002. Print.

Suszek, Mike. “Twitch Plays Pokemon: Creating an Oral History in Real-time.” Engadget. 26 Feb. 2014. Web. <http://www.engadget.com/2014/02/26/twitch-plays-pokemon-creating-an-oral-history-in-real-time/ >.


Questions

  1. What medium of Pokemon, if any, did you experience first?
  2. Did the lack of agency over the race/look/gender of the main character in the original games impact your experience? Would you play again, knowing you can choose the gender and race of your character?
  3. Have you participated in any of the social aspects of the game? Would you now, and would you on a local or a global level?
  4. Did you participate in Twitch Plays Pokemon? If yes, what was your experience? If no, did you hear about it at all?
  5. How does/did Pokemon’s prominent place in pop culture affect your experience of playing the games?

Dishonored as Interactive Fiction

With the significant advances in the realm of digital computation in the last half-century, games have often been at the forefront of what is possible with contemporary hardware and software. It might be argued that the video-gaming industry has driven this technology forward faster than any other use. As with the development of any new technological medium allowing new forms of expression, art in this domain has evolved considerably in parallel to its scientific advances. The earliest digital games bear little resemblance to modern examples, in much the same way as an early daguerreotype would compare to a high dynamic range, panoramic landscape. With the evolution of the medium, it becomes more difficult at times to shoehorn a particular work into a defined genre. Here we will analyze Dishonored as a work of interactive fiction, through its basic story-telling similarities with the text-based games traditionally associated with the genre.
According to Montfort, there exist four defining characteristics of Interactive Fiction (IF):

  1. “A text-accepting, text-generating computer program”;
  2. “A potential narrative, that is, a system that produces narrative during interaction”;
  3. “A simulation of an environment or world”; and
  4. “A structure of rules within which an outcome is sought, also known as a game” (23)

These point create obvious agreements and disagreements to anyone familiar with Dishonored, and here we will endeavor to demonstrate that the game can indeed fall under the label of IF, or at least be considered an evolution of the genre.

Input/Output

As a part of its player interface, Dishonored presents choices in dialogue in a manner familiar to many gamers: the finite (indeed short in most cases) list of possible responses to NPC dialogue. Similar systems have been employed in many of the most successful game franchises in recent years, including Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and The Walking Dead. At first this approach may seem at odds to the stereotypical IF game, which Porpentine grudgingly admits to be parser-based (Nightmare Mode). When one considers however, the function of a parser, specifically in the earliest works that begun the IF genre, it becomes evident that the player using parser commands is merely guessing at a limited list of terms or commands that the software will understand. The biggest limitation to parser-based games is this easily-shattered impression of creative freedom, though the list of acceptable responses is invisible to the player, it is certainly finite, and its limits are easily discovered, sometimes at the cost of a player’s immersion in the story. While Dishonored‘s player dialogue is much more limited than the sum of available options in a parser-game, it maintains immersion by presenting a player with speech options which are accurate to the context of the situation in which their character finds themselves. This choice-limitation is useful in keeping the player’s experience relevant to the story that is being told, while still allowing varied actions with realistic and varied consequences. In a text adventure, a player might be confronted with the text:

Lower Dungeon

You drop down from the trap-door, hoping that the ground is closer than it seems in the dark. Landing heavily, you sprawl onto your back, the breath knocked out of you. As you slowly stand, disoriented, you try to get your bearings and look around. The darkness in the dungeon is profound, but as your eyes adjust you perceive dust-motes floating in a shaft of light from the open trap-door above. As you track the beam of light across the darkness, you perceive a low rumble, felt in your chest rather than heard. Your eyes reach the end of the light-beam and realize it has ended on a massive reptilian claw.

>_

While a player in the mindset of a mystical dungeon-raider might try some conventional approach, to flee or fight the beast, a more creative gamer might be stymied by the refusal of the game to accept their solutions:

    • dance seductively.

I’m sorry, I don’t know “dance seductively”

    • liht torch

I’m sorry, I don’t know “liht torch”

    • aASDKASDLKJASDKLAHNDS

I’m sorry, I don’t know “aASDKASDLKJASDKLAHNDS”

    • light torch

Your torch illuminates the statues of two sleeping dragons, flanking a double door of burnished copper. On either side of you, marble basins sit on pedestals, some dark liquid inside them glints in the torchlight.

Though parsers solve the problem of complex interaction with a complex world in a simple and elegant way, there is almost no way for a developer to take into account all possible solutions to a problem. As above, inputs containing spelling mistakes are also an easy way to be removed from the game-reality, and be clearly reminded that you’re dealing with a piece of software. A limited dialogue option tree provides one with choice, but not ambiguity. It is, to oversimplify, the same as a short text entry, with all acceptable options shown to the player, while it may lack some of the problem-solving of a parser, it solves the input/output problem well.

Simulated World

Dishonored provides a beautiful, steampunk inspired world simulation that players can explore. Here, the evolution of the medium from text to a 3D world can best be appreciated. Most of the classic IF games allowed the player to roam with relative freedom from one location to the next, being able to interact in each “zone” with some objects, characters, or creatures found in that area. With the more complex games, hundreds of zones made it near impossible for players to keep track of the game’s geographical layout. Without visual cues, it would become very easy to become lost in the labyrinth that was the game world. For this reason, many IF players would track their progress on homemade maps or flowcharts, some of which containing amazing precision and detail. (click image).

Kotaku map Link

It seems fairly evident that the need of players to map their progress and to visualize their surroundings in these text adventures shows a clear desire for imagery in some sense or another. Though some may prefer their own imagination, certainly many players would have liked to see with their own eyes the worlds envisioned by their authors (developers).

The visual world of Dishonored might disqualify it from IF in the eyes of some, and it certainly does not support the description of “text-adventure.” The game’s graphics and stealth-based combat serve as a platform for an intriguing story. Without disclosing “spoilers” suffice it to say that Dishonored’s story contains intrigue, betrayal, moral ambiguity, and fascinating characters. It could be argued that the plot to Dishonored has much more in common to conventional fiction than does a game like Zork. The distinction of course lies primarily in the reasonably open-world audiovisual setting; completely explorable to the player. Through visual imagery the developers can set a tone for a particular story without resorting to tired “dark and stormy night” clichés. Being able to explore an environment using sight and sound allows the player to pick up on clues and setting intuitively. The command “>listen” is not required to know that a dog is barking to the west, and in-game writing like signs or newspapers do not need to be directly interacted with to be read. One must have little doubt that given the technology and skill many of the early IF developers would have dropped everything to create a game-world like that of Dishonored. The best contemporary medium available to tell the story that they wanted to tell was the parser and text program. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Rules, limitations, and freedom

Another key distinction between an open world game and a text-based game is the system of rules that governs that world. As mentioned previously, parser-games are limited severely by the imaginations of their programmers. A game running a physics engine that allows a player direct agency and mobility provides that player with near-infinite choices of how to approach problems. Problems and their solutions are certainly a defining characteristic of a game, call them puzzles, riddles, obstacles or enemies, a game contains “a structure of rules within which an outcome is sought” (Montfort, 23). Giner-Sorolla points out the error in the common trope of puzzles requiring one or more specific key in IF, saying:

“To my mind, the crucial difference between a “puzzle” and a real-world problem is that the real problem has more than one possible solution” (11).

and;

“…the reason is simple: the Model Adventure-game Programmer is only human. Game designers would rather spend time coding a variety of locations than implementing every second-string solution to a problem…”, “Players would rather play a game with a variety of challenges, and to this end, are willing to accept some restriction in possibilities, especially where the alternative solutions are less obvious than the intended one” (11).

While puzzles can be fun, in a limited medium such as the text-adventure they can become repetitive. A common situation is to find a lock that requires a key to open a door, so the player must continue exploring the world on that side of the door in order to locate this key. Where the key is hidden is also occasionally so bizarre that it damages the realism of the world. The limited options are sometimes explained by magic, or other commands are simply not recognised.
When considering the rule structure of classic IF, it becomes very important to consider the origins of the genre. To anyone who has played the classic tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons, the parser based system is eerily similar to playing a game of D&D with an infuriatingly smug “dungeon-master.” In fact, according to Wardrip-Fruin, “the most story ambitious genre of computer games is probably the computer RPG—a form that traces its roots back to a noncomputer form of gaming: the tabletop RPG” (44). This is interesting to note, as the assumption one might immediately make when considering the ancestors of IF, is that the genre descends from fantasy literature and specifically “Choose-your-own-adventure” novels. In practice, Dishonored comes much closer to this latter in terms of its limited choices affecting story outcomes than say Adventure or Zork, which emulate the tabletop game much more closely. Hypertext-Fiction is much closer than Text-adventures to the “adventure-book” model, but provides the player with far fewer challenges. Viewing the role of the software and computer in this equation we can equate it to either the “dungeon-master” or the “adventure-book” to gain some perspective on the underlying game mechanics. The parser serves to provide the player with output concerning the result of their actions, it calculates stats, and generates random numbers (dice roll) to determine the outcome of combat. A parser is thus the only window through which a game world can be experienced, and the quality of the programming dictates the clarity and size of that window. The use of dialogue trees in Dishonored constrains the player to a few possible story outcomes, many fewer than those possible with parser-games, but all fully developed as story, not just programmed response to interaction. Because the developers had less variables to work with, they were able to fully develop those that they were given.

The more significant distinction in rules and play when comparing Dishonored to say, Zork, is that the player is offered some choices which are essentially meaningless to the outcome of the game (as indeed the end result is the same), but that have a profound effect on the tone or mood of that outcome. The developers chose to include a “chaos-factor” in the game, meaning the more chaos the player causes (namely by killing NPCs), the more chaos is reflected in the game world. This use of “Chaos” is to avoid the classic good/bad that is explored in other RPGs, the “light and dark” sides of the force being used in Knights of the Old Republic as an example. The intention was to allow the player to make moral judgements on their own terms by avoiding strict “evil-scoring-systems” like “every character killed equals one evil point.” By allowing a player freedom to dictate the terms of their interactions with NPCs, many self-imposed goals can be applied by the player. Though it is very difficult, it is possible to play through the entire game without killing any single character.

Potential Narrative

Because Dishonored follows a relatively linear narrative, it distinguishes itself somewhat from many other more “open-world” RPG titles like Skyrim or Fallout 3 where a player has much more freedom to ignore the underlying story of the game or “main quest line.” In this sense the comparison to a “chose-your-own-adventure” novel stands out as the player must participate in the game’s narrative. This lack of freedom may sound negative, but for the purpose of digital storytelling it allows for a more controlled focus on the plot of the story the developers wish to tell. In many ways this reflects the real world much more accurately, in the sense that real-world problems tend to occur without the willing participation of those involved. Take Skyrim for instance: by avoiding one particular conversation, the player is able to prevent the arrival of dragons into their world indefinitely. While convenient for a player wishing to create their own narrative, it seems unlikely that a major, world-changing event would be staved off by two people refusing to talk about it. Dishonored places much more importance on its main storyline, and in fact has only two possible endings, with minor variations in one of them. The player can choose to fail in their task, and leave the city where the story takes place by allowing their young charge to die, or they can succeed in protecting her. Considering that most players intend to succeed (trying to “win” as it were), the subtle elements of the successful accomplishment of one’s task become important. On successful completion of the story, an epilogue is provided to the player based on the actions taken throughout their gameplay. A player who caused little chaos will be presented with a hopeful epilogue, whereas the chaotic player will have something considerably darker.

Dishonored makes excellent use of the dialogue tree to provide the player with the potential for replayability, and makes use of its semi-linearity to ensure that dialogue is natural, happens at the right time, and accounts for the players current accomplishments (quest-flags). The player character is intentionally left silent to allow players to better identify with him in the classic silent-protagonist model, though dialogue options gradually provide insight into his personality. While the game-endings are fairly limited, the approaches one takes to arrive at them can often have poignant in-game consequences, many of which are the lesser-of-two-evil types of scenario. The strength of the game’s narrative truly lies with its depth, drawing from world-class artistic talent. Before the game was even released the developers put out several beautifully-animated “backgrounder” short films to introduce potential players to their world and provide context.

Though a sequel is rumored, Dishonored seems to have been created as a stand-alone, and indeed has all the earmarks of a successful work of fiction; compelling plot, characters and environment, and a fleshed out fictional universe in which the story takes place. It also has the benefit of added replayability supported by the chaos-driven morality system.

To conclude, we can see that the category of Interactive Fiction is rather loosely defined at best, and that despite the initial appearances of the fairly basic criteria that Montfort lays out for us, Dishonored may actually fit with the IF genre better than expected, and indeed better than some of the titles that are classically associated with it. We have seen that text accepting/text generating programs are at best an illusion of dialogue relying on a human-composed list of finite possibilities, at least until the Turing test is convincingly passed. From this understanding it seems clear that the dialogue tree utilized by Dishonored meets the criteria in terms of input/output. It is clear as well that Dishonored has a fair amount of high-quality potential narrative, likely better comparable to literature than the parser-based game. Quite obviously, the game provides players with a simulation of a world more detailed by default than any classic IF game, and even one which holds up extremely well to its contemporary RPG cousins. Finally, when we consider the problem of maintaining realism while incorporating the elements of a game, we can observe that Dishonored avoids the many pitfalls of the repetitive puzzle or lock-and-key scenarios so common in IF through the use of its first-person 3D world. Given the ease with which this game fits into the genre of Interactive Fiction, perhaps a re-evaluation of our own expectations about the genre is merited, what other works have been overlooked?

Work by:

– Sebastien Kishi
– Devin Mens
– Richard Parker
– Alberto D’Onofrio
– Sean Gallagher


Work Cited

  • Dishonored. Bethesda Softworks Inc. 2012. Video game.
  • Dishonored – The Tales from Dunwall, Part 1. Bethesda Softworks, 2012. YouTube.
  • Montfort, Nick. “The Pleasure of the Text Adventure” in Twisty Little Passages. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. Pp. 1-36.
  • Plunkett, Luke. “The Delightful Home-Made Maps of the Zork Series.” Kotaku. 26 September 2011.Link
  • Porpentine. “Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution.” Nightmare Mode. 25 November 2012. Link
  • Sorolla, Roger S.G. “Crimes Against Mimesis” in IF Theory Reader. Boston, MA: Transcript On Press, 2011. Pp. 1-24.
  • Wardrip-Fruin, Noah. “Computer Game Fictions” in Expressive Procession: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. Pp. 41-80.

Let’s Play: Stanley Parable

Vanessa Cannizzaro, Zackary Combden, Preston Haffey, Bianca Mormina, Nick Patel


Works Cited:
Galactic Café. The Stanley Parable. 2013. Steam.

Scully-Blaker, Rainforest. “A Practiced Practice: Speedrunning Through Space With de Certeau and Virilio.” Game Studies 14.1 (August 2014). http://gamestudies.org/1401/articles/scullyblaker

Juul, Jesper. “Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives.” Game Studies 1.1
(July 2001). http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/juul-gts/

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Emergent Game Mechanics: On Exploits and Player-Created Narratives

Geoffroy Gravel, Mathieu Klein, Ian Swift, Dawson Melo-Geldart, Michael Palumbo

Professor Carolyn Jong

ENGL 398D: Games and/as Literature

2015.02.06

Although narratives in video games are reliant on a degree of authorial control, the narrative experience itself is unique to the player by virtue of their being an involved participant of a game. When a player exploits glitches, they are afforded additional means of expression, and granted additional control over the player-created narrative. Exploits offer players opportunities to explore emergent narrative elements that subvert developers’ intentions. In this essay, we will develop this concept of exploitation related to player narrative by first defining specific terms necessary for the remainder of the paper. We will then shift to our main focus of exploits and cite examples such as speedrunning, and juxtapose this with how glitches and exploits affect other players. We will end with a detailed examination toward how exploits affect the narrative.

This paper includes terms which are subjects of much debate and/or are used in varying contexts, and will thusly begin by defining the following terms: game mechanics, rules, glitches, exploits, contextual mechanics, and ludonarrative dissonance.

Game mechanics are a formal subsystem of a game, comprising actions (Järvinen. 263) available to — and commanded by — human and/or artificial agents. (Sicart. 4) Rules afford and constrain the behaviour of mechanics in gameplay. (Sicart. 5)
A glitch “… is an error, flaw, failure, or fault, in a computer program … that causes it to produce an incorrect or unexpected result, or to behave in unintended ways.” (“Software_bug”)
An exploit is an emergent game mechanic which a player employs to modify the game’s state in a way not intended by the game’s developer. (Consalvo. 114) Although there is much debate as to whether using an exploit is a form of cheating, it is distinguished from a ‘mod’ and a ‘cheat code’, as the former requires a player to formally modify the software, and the latter exists because the developer implemented it within the game’s programming, awaiting activation from the player through varying means.
Sicart coined the term ‘Contextual Mechanics’, (Sicart. 6) and states that they “…. are mechanics that are triggered depending on the context of the player presence in the game world…” (ibid) Might exploits be considered an emergent contextual mechanic? Contextual mechanics, although only ever described as intentional on the part of the developer, nevertheless describe the formal permutation(s) of agency, contingent on context, and therefore include exploits.
For the purpose of this paper, we have conceived the two oppositional terms ‘pro-exploit players’ and ‘anti-exploit players’, where the former describes gamers who adopt exploits into their strategies, and the latter describes players who eschew exploits in favor of one that negotiates game mechanics as intended only by the developer.
Finally, ludonarrative dissonance (Hocking) refers to conflicts between a video game’s narrative and its gameplay. (“Ludonarrative”)

The possibility to perform exploits empowers the gamer with the ability to tamper with the intended narrative experience that was designed by the developers. As exploits are an interaction with a game’s mechanics unintended by the designers, it is in this unpredictable nature of exploits that allows gamers to alter the spatial and narrative continuity of games to various degrees.

Exploits range from simple and common actions to rather complex utilization of game mechanics. Some of the most common examples of exploits are the use of safe zones or the spamming of a specific action. Safe zones are an area within the game space in which the player’s character can become impervious to enemy attacks or environmental damage. In certain cases, a player may even be able to harm enemies while remaining entirely protected from their attacks. Spamming is a very common exploit used by players who realize that the continual repetition of the same action in a given situation can give them an edge over the system. An otherwise challenging enemy may be vulnerable to one specific attack that the gamer can take advantage of. (“MKT: Sub-Zero vs Shao Kahn – Spamming Method“) Both the use of safe zones and spamming slightly alter the experience and narrative that the designers devised for the players. Gamers who perform exploits use the system to their advantage rather than to subject themselves to the suggested rules of games.

Creative players who really dedicate the time to familiarize themselves with the mechanics of specific games can find clever and intricate ways to make use of their system. Specific exploits can be so attractive for gamers that the knowledge of them becomes widespread, such as the famous infinite 1-up trick in Super Mario Bros. (“Super Mario Bros: Infinite 1-up Trick“) and the recently discovered wrong warp glitch in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (“Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Warp To Ganon’s Castle From Deku Tree – Wrong Warp Glitch“). Complex exploits can sometimes drastically alter the gameplay, narrative and spatial organisation of games. The physical architecture of games may contain imperfections that can allow players to reach areas that were intended to be inaccessible or to reveal unexpected shortcuts. This breaks the continuity of the narrative that was constructed by developers as it places the player in an unexpected position within the space and the story. For example, it is impossible for gamers to unlock a character named ‘Mew’ through the normal course of the game Pokemon Red on the Gameboy. However, players became aware that the pokemon was actually included in the game’s code and could be unlocked by performing a complex exploit which made use of various game mechanics. The procedure to accomplish this exploit was described in an episode of the web series Pop Fiction. (“Pop Fiction: Season 1: Episode 7: I See Mew”)  Overall, exploits allow players to break the mould of game mechanics set by the game designers and to transcend the intended structure of games. Performing exploits can give way to an entirely different mode of interacting with games and provide an empowering experience for players who manage, through their use, to bypass otherwise incontestable rules.

One of the most prevalent and emerging areas for pro-glitch players are speedruns. Not only are they gaining popularity, but the potential for narrative and spatial transformations are massive. Before explaining this potential, we must first define what a speedrun is. Rainforest Scully-Blaker’s paper on speedruns presents a concise and solid definition that will be used for the rest of the paper. He states that a speedrun is “the practice of players or ‘runners’ attempting to ‘travel’ from a game’s opening state at its first necessary button input to the game’s conclusion at its last necessary button input in the smallest amount of time possible.” (Blaker) As to how a speedrunner achieves this, there are two main options. One entails going through the game the fastest, while acting within the games rules and mechanics, and the other involves bending the game to the runners wishes, in the form of exploits. In both cases the speedrunner is rewriting the narrative through spatial changes to reach the ending as quickly as possible.

The two most common speedrun variants are described in Blaker’s paper as finesse runs and deconstructive runs. (Blaker) According to him, this distinction between runs is spatial and narrative. Finesse runs are:

… runs in which the player interacts with the game as an extreme extension of what a game designer may consider an ‘ideal’ player. Such a run uses no game-breaking glitches. In de Certeau’s terms, a finesse run represents the most efficient tour of the gamespace. It also largely respects the game’s ‘narrative boundaries’ while navigating them with an extreme level of efficiency. (Blaker)

In comparison, deconstructive runs are the more spatial and narrative altering speedruns:

Deconstructive runs, on the other hand, are runs in which the player exploits glitches within the game to break scripted sequences and potentially skip several hours of gameplay altogether. To again use de Certeau’s terms, I believe that a deconstructive run dismantles narrative boundaries by transgressing both the literal narrative and the narrative implied by the design of the gamespace (the implicit rules). (Blaker)

Two of the best examples — [1] and [2] — of a deconstructive run comes from Pokemon Red/Green (“Pokemon Red/Blue”) and (“AGDQ 2015 Pokemon Green Speed Run in 0:04:39“).
Especially for deconstructive runs, there are specific types of exploits used that have strong narrative and spatial transformations. The most common are sequence breaks. These breaks entail playing the game out of order or skipping parts of the game entirely. The Metroid series holds countless examples of sequence breaks, usually jumping into places that the player should not be able to access right away or gaining power ups before they should be able to. (“Super Metroid Speed Run and Sequence Break Guide”) Less extreme examples of exploits are bunny hopping (continuous jumping to move your character faster than expected) and online specific exploits using disconnections and lag to gain an advantage or even avoid losing (such as wallhacking and maphacking). All these exploits make it so that the player is changing the narrative put forth. The big question now is how do the general public and developers deal with this narrative and spatial transformation.

To answer the question of how glitches and exploits affect the player community themselves, one has to look at both multiplayer and singleplayer games or game modes. From the developer’s point of view, their end goal is (usually) to create the most enjoyable experience for their target audience. Therefore, in multiplayer games developers strive to create a gaming environment that is the most fun for the most amount of players. Conversely, in single-player games, much more freedom is given to the player to interact with the game in the ways they want; in other words, much more is tolerated. Both types of game modes will be looked at below to provide a more complete picture of how players are affected by exploits and glitches. However, the fundamental difference between these two types of games is summarized in a quote from Feross Aboukhadijeh, “… offline cheating does not affect the game experience of other players. Online cheating, on the other hand, affects real people who have invested their time, money, and emotional energy into developing their online avatars. This difference is very important.” (Aboukhadijeh) Indeed, this difference is the basis for most decisions made by developers concerning exploits and glitches.

When looking at multiplayer games, it appears almost unanimous among developers that cheating or using exploits is unacceptable in any circumstance. This is because cheating or exploiting parts of the game directly affect other players, often in a negative manner. Even if the result of the cheat or exploit is relatively harmless to other players, developers usually met out severe punishments for such actions. For more disruptive exploits, developers frequently ban an online account completely in an attempt to persuade the offending player that cheating is not worth the risk of losing the ability to play the game. One example of this severe punishment comes from the popular game Battlefield 3, where players had discovered an exploit which allowed them gain excessive amounts of experience points (XP) during a match. With surprising speed, the developer responded, explaining,

… we’ve banned hundreds of offending accounts and have stats-wiped additional accounts for exploiting. We’ll continue to be monitoring and taking action against the minority that doesn’t respect the integrity of the game. I should also add that the Battlefield 3 community doesn’t tolerate this type of behavior. Our fans are rejoicing that we are supporting fair play. (Van Nguyen, Qtd. in Fogel)

This is representative of the reaction of most developers who discover cheating or exploiting in their multiplayer games. In many cases the offending player is not allowed to question the decision or make a case for themselves. Finally, Peter Van Nguyen brought up an important point in the last part of the above quotation: the fact that most players also look down on cheaters and want to see them punished. The player community usually looks at actions like this as one player, or a group of players, having fun at the rest of the community’s expense. “Repercussions of this behavior include ruined game experiences for other players, theft of virtual currency, and intimidation of other players. Cheaters are often looked down upon in the gaming community as “spoil sports” and troublemakers”. (Aboukhadijeh) Much like in conventional sports or communal games, cheaters are disliked by all their fellow players for trying to gain an advantage outside of the rules set out by the game’s creators.

To turn now to single-player games, the thinking is very different in regards to this type of game. Exploiting, glitching, or cheating is generally acceptable mainly because no other players are affected, and, after all, the player has paid for the game and should be entitled to play it in whatever way they want. As will be discussed below, exploits, glitches, and cheating can allow players to change the developer’s intended narrative or even create their own to suit their personal play style. As Aboukhadijeh explains, “creative innovation of game action that was not intended by the producers is actually positive for the game experience. These so-called cheaters are actually innovating in new ways, creating an entirely new form of creative expression.”  Therefore, many developers are fine with allowing players to use exploits or cheats and generally play the game how they want. They will usually only fix a glitch or exploit if it is deemed to ruin the playability or enjoyment of a game, or if enough players express a desire for a specific glitch or exploit to be fixed. In a 2011 interview with Justin McElroy concerning the discovery and removal of bugs, Skyrim director and executive producer Todd Howard said, “We try to solve most of it, we’re sensitive to a lot of it. There is a subset of that where we say ‘Well, that’s what can happen.’ If there’s entertainment value in that, whatever it is, we’ll leave a lot of it. If it’s gonna break the game, or unbalance the game in some way, we do try to solve it. If the solution is gonna make the game less fun … well, hey, leave it in…” (Howard, Qtd. in McElroy) This demonstrates that developers do in fact take into account that the player created narrative is not solely informed by their experience of playing through the game as dictated by, but also by subverting, the rules and mechanics therein.

Ultimately, with regards to narrative, the player can, through the use of exploits, impose a ludonarrative dissonance on a game where before one did not exist. However, to choose to seek out and exploit a software error in a game requires the player to disregard immersion prior to doing so, thus the entire question of whether or not the narrative is broken by the exploit becomes irrelevant. The pro-exploit player therefore chooses to engage in — and break from — immersion at will. This is not to say they do not remain immersed in the player created narrative, which is capable of accommodating all manner of emergent gameplay elements, spatial discontinuity, or suspension of the developer’s narrative that the player either initiates or consents to.

One can see how in multiplayer games, where every player involved performs an active role in shaping the narrative, this can negatively affect the experience for others. However, while utilizing these exploits in single-player games can alter the experience that the developer has envisioned for the player, there exists the potential to negatively affect no player’s experience but their own. It also creates the potential to positively affect the experience of other pro-exploit players. In the case of deconstructive speedrunning, players may share their experiences with one another, working together to find further exploits, and compete for shorter playtimes. For those players willing to forgo immersion, exploits can provide the possibility of a richer and perhaps more personal gameplay experience; one that not only empowers the player in allowing a player-created narrative to take precedence but also affords one the opportunity to enjoy a game, not in spite of its flaws but in consequence of them.

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