Posts Tagged ‘Games’

I was recently debating whether or not to buy Dead Space 3. While I had enjoyed the past two games, and many critics were lauding the third installation, many of the fans were outraged. The game had included a system of micro-transactions through which one can upgrade their weapons, armor, and overall get a leg up on the game. In addition, many fans were frustrated the series had strayed from its survival-horror roots. After reading all the outrage, I began to doubt whether or not to purchase the game, a game I had been looking forward to. I find impossibly hard games fun and honestly had more fun playing Dead Space 2 then the first game, yet I faltered, unsure of what to do. To this day I still haven’t made up my mind.

Thus, as I write my final journal entry, I aim to look at what first drew me into the magic circle of Mark of the Ninja, and what has kept me playing. To do this, I am going to analyze the concept of play, and how it pertains to my gaming experience. Salen and Zimmerman break down play into several types, but the one I’m going to focus on is Pleasure. Some concepts (Social Play) don’t apply, as the game is single-player lone-wolf, and concepts of Meaning, Narrative, and Simulation are not what keeps me playing a game. I loved the story of Ninja Gaiden, I never finished it.

So then, onto pleasure. Pleasure is made up of varying components. The autotelic part of a game (something pursued for its own sake, such as a score), the flow of the game, the Entratainment, Challenge, and Goals. To be perfectly honest, what first drew me to the game was the Experience; the core mechanic of stealth and the visual/auditory interaction system I went on about at length in my first entry. So as to the first seduction, getting me to step into the game’s magic circle, it was predestined by the types of games I liked. However, what’s more interesting is what inspired me to keep playing the game.

One thing to be said about the game, it flows nicely. All areas are not only contained in a single space, but there are multiple ways to get to most areas. To this extent, not only does the game flow well, but it gives a system of Entratainment, or the concept of entertaining and trapping the player. This begins the complicated ladder, held in place with flow. The autotelic score is the Goal, the enemies getting in the way of that Goal present a Challenge, which lead to Entratainment. The rush one feels of success (usually complimented with entertaining Narrative), is a welcome relief after the tension of trying to overcome the challenge, and the occasional frustration of dying and having to go back. Yet what keeps you playing this is the flow, or the smooth ability to go forward, and back, and the various ways in which one can accomplish those things. Even the major objectives, one can decide to kill or steal from the target. The reason we swallow this ladder, and the reason we WANT to continue playing along with the game, is the concept of how smoothly the game interacts with us, and how we can use the environment, with the natural flow, to overcome the Challenges, to get to the Goals, to receive an autotelic reward, feeding into the system of Entratainment. From this, one could actually draw the most important part of Play, might be choice. However, that is a massive concept that I plan on writing about in a later post, look for it.

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I decided to play Plants vs. Zombies for my play journal because of all the types of games I’ve played, I think the sort of game Plants vs. Zombies is (going by a vague notion rather than a specific definition) is probably a type of game I have spent little to no time thinking extensively about. Expansive, elaborate games with an interesting plot, an immersive environment, well-developed worldbuilding, solid character dynamics, a unique aesthetic, and engaging gameplay – those types of games I’d say I’ve probably spent a considerable amount of time thinking about. Plants vs. Zombies is not that type of game. There is no plot involved, no immersive environment to explore, no particular characters. The art’s nice and the designs are cute, but not exceptionally stunning. The gameplay’s complexity and difficulty increase as you progress through the Adventure mode’s levels, but on the whole it’s pretty straightforward. However, none of this really detracts from how fun the game is for me. I found myself easily and immediately accepting the game’s invitation of “Next Level?” after each round without growing bored. This led me to think a little about not just what constitutes a game, but what constitutes a good game? How does a comparatively simple game like Plants vs. Zombies compare to much more sophisticated games?Image

As far as what constitutes a game in general, I took a look at how Plants vs. Zombies stacks up compared with the formal elements of play outlined by Huizinga. Plants vs. Zombies is certainly a voluntary activity. It’s even more “voluntary” (in the sense that you can start playing and stop playing whenever you want) than most games I’d usually play. I tend to play a lot of games where you run into points where saving and quitting is impossible or extremely inconvenient, so once I start a dungeon or mission or something I need to at least play through to its conclusion. Since I tend to take my time in playing that could potentially take me a while. Levels in Adventure mode or the Minigames of Plants vs. Zombies are pretty short. You can also pause, restart, or leave a round whenever you want without consequences. You can technically just up and quit any game at any point, shut off the console and leave, but usually you’ll feel a much more significant loss of progress. I found that the way Plants vs. Zombies is set up makes it really convenient as a quick distraction or break from work. When starting out, I would play a couple rounds at a time between doing readings or homework without the game consuming too much of my work time or making me feel pressured to continue playing. On the other hand, when I decided to go ahead and play for a solid hour or more I got easily caught up in how addictive the game can be. Part of why Plants vs. Zombies is fun and can be easy to get caught up in is because of how bizarre it is, how clearly distinct from real ordinary life as Huizinga requires of games.  I mean it’s a game where you defend your house from hordes of various types of zombies using a bunch of smiling plants that pop out miniature suns, shoot projectiles, and explode. It’s pretty silly. It’s fun.

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Regarding limits and order, Plants vs. Zombies definitely involves many sets of rules and maintains an internal and specific sense of order within the game. Like I said, the game has a bizarre premise so playing the game requires you to operate in a world where you understand things like, “I need to collect all these little suns to buy plants”, “walnuts take a long time to regenerate so you should keep track of when you plant them”, and “disco zombies periodically start dancing to summon 4 additional zombies so you should prioritize eliminating them.” More rules are constantly added to your understanding of the game as you progress and unlock more items, terrains, and zombies. It all progresses in a pretty intuitive way though. I suppose I’ll talk more about the gameplay next post probably. The only element of Huzinga’s definition of play I thought did not match up with Plants vs. Zombies much at all was the concept of the game building a specific gamer culture around itself that stressed differentiation between “us” and “others.” I know people talk about the game and share different strategies for it in some places online but I have yet to encounter any exclusive culture for it. I mean, Plants vs. Zombies, like Angry Birds, or Tetris, or Bejeweled is extremely accessible. Anybody can play it. Once I saw a 3 or 4 year old play it on an ipad on a plane. I find that kind of nice though. I think the accessibility of it adds to my enjoyment of this particular game.

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