Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Pleasure, Pain and Play

If we look at gaming Aesthetics we can get an idea of what makes gaming fun. The ancient Greek definition of the word is ‘perceived by the senses’. It is the sound effects the visual graphics the excitement that make the game fun to play. In the 18th century aesthetics became about ‘artistic taste’. What makes a game fun is its ability to satisfy our senses tastes. For example different graphics styles are available and people have preferences over them. People can also enjoy old fashioned graphics styles as it reminds them of a game they used to play. All of this leads to an individual opinion on what makes a good piece of art. A computer game is a piece of art, just like a film or a song. Games are dissimilar to other media though. They offer aesthetic pleasure in a unique way, because games aesthetics are located in play.

People play games for fun, but there are many times when a game can be frustrating. Pleasure and pain of play is closely related because you can have one with out the other. Playing games is not always fun. For example in half-life it was easy to get stuck in places and not know how to proceed. In world of war craft it can be annoying when you are killed by higher level players, or constantly fail to receive an item you want. But we keep playing. This is because it is emotionally rewarding to achieve the task even if it wasn’t fun when trying to do so. World of war craft I find exceptionally interesting as its rewards have visible evidence. You can work hard for an item that only exists in the context of the game world, but in that game world its rewards are very apparent. The items rewards can be used to go on and achieve more in the game. So ultimately it dose come down to achieving the objective of the game that we find rewarding. Game rewards are offered trough new items, lives technology etc. We endure pain and keep playing to get the next reward. Games can tap into the minds sense of reward. Just like you feel good when you finished an essay, you feel good when you complete that next level. This makes me wonder if the human subconscious is able to differentiate between a game environment and a real one. Perhaps this is why we can emotionally relate to digital games so well. Apparently the human brain is ‘wired for reward’. Because of this we are constantly seeking out new reward, despite the nature of the reward (digital or not). There are four types of digital game rewards. One is a reward of access, like in doom with the different colour key cards. Another is a reward of sustenance like health packs and ammo in fps games. Thirdly a reward of facility like new technology in strategies games like civilisation. Final the reward of glory, like a high score. The reward of glory is a big part of playing multiplayer games. It is satisfying to beat your opponent, whether they are a friend and you’re playing on a console, or a stranger and you’re playing online. Your alias can gain reputation online, you gain status, and people know how good a player you are if they have played you before. This is the biggest of the reward factor when playing an online game I feel.

Characteristics of games

To achieve play four characteristics have to be met.
1.It has to be voluntary. You must be a free chose to play, it cant be a duty. This dose get complicated when the idea of addiction and painful play are considered.
2.It has to be outside ordinary life. Therefore it must be a temporary activity, for fun, absorbing and unprofitable (you don’t profit from play). So gambling may be considered to not be playing.
3.It has to have fixed boundaries. It has precise rules that make achieving goals more complicated and even inefficient.
4.It has to promote social groups. There can be a secrecy among the players, this creates a sense of belonging. Nicknames often come from being part of a team game, so a separate persona is made.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Ban These Evil Games

Why do games receive such bad press?

A moral panic is a reaction by a group of people based on the false or exaggerated perception that some cultural behaviour or group, frequently a minority group or a subculture, is dangerously deviant and poses a menace to society.
This is the problem that computer games constantly face. The fact of the matter is that computer games don’t make you a violent person even if the content is violent, anyone who actual plays games knows this. It makes sence that playing isn’t going to create a dangerous person. If we take a look at the reasons some one may become violent it is usually due to a scaring experience. Playing a game is fun, not tragic, if anything gamers more passive.

Violence on TV and computer games seems like it is immoral and parents cant be blamed for being concerned. However there is no real reason why it would cause someone to abandon their moral values and take to the street murdering their friends.

Huzings idea of the magic circle goes some way to arguing this. When beginning to play a game you enter a safe area, you play in the games special context, a context that is unrelated to the real world. It has its own rules. On entering the circle you know to change your behaviour and attitude to play the game in its context. It makes you know how to act. For example in a first person shooter FPS game you can kill people and die with no consequence. This idea can be applied even to the oldest of games like chess. Playing chess is a simulation of war, but no one will accuse the chess club of undermining moral values and being a waste of time.

This idea of a lusory attitude where you change your mental state to play a game is like a safe guard from letting the behaviour leak out of the games context. People know the difference between the two contexts. It is almost patronising to accuse gamers of violence when you consider these ideas.

Are games a waste of time and a bad influence?

You would think it is safe to assume so. It can be seen as sitting inside playing for hours on end to accomplish goals on a game that lead to no gain in real life. An exception could be online poker, this can become an addiction. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that the real life gains are more apparent, lulling the user in with this feeling of accomplishing something through play. Well perhaps we are accomplishing something through play, even if it is not earning (loosing) us money.

Huizing describes man as Homo-Ludens, Man as a player. This looks at the importance of the play-element in culture and society. The idea is that play is very important to humanity. It is a primary category of life, integral to culture, just like language war and knowledge. Dr. Spock’s the author of a baby and child care book claims that ‘computer games are a colossal waste of time’. It seems to me that he has failed to consider the importance of play to people. Play is likely a very influential thing in a chilled development. It could be responsible for sculpting a child’s future skills and interests. Considering this not only are games not a waste of time but they can be a positive influence too. The assumption is that play is something else, a more important activity than it is given credit.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Why Study Games?

I chose to study games because I have enjoyed playing games since I was young. I have been involved in a couple of online games which got me thinking about the culture of gaming, especially online. Additionally I am a business student. I therefore understand the market potential of the game industry with the USA alone reaching $7 billion in sales in 2005. It is a growing industry and looks to stay that way for some time. Better understanding of the culture that surrounds the games leads to better understanding of how/why the industry works.

The average age of players being 33 suggests that there is a surprisingly diverse demographic of gamers. This is in contrast of the assumption gaming is just for kids. Another myth is that gaming is an entirely unproductive process. Much can be learned from playing a game, not just knowledge but behaviour too. With this of course comes a culture. a culture that knows no national boundary. This culture has grown exponentially over the last few years. One of the factors I attribute to this is the birth of the massively multiplayer game (MMO).