Rather than attempt to talk about what Ian Bogost’s unit operations through the examples given in his introduction and excerpts which we read in class, I am going to attempt to use his ideas to discuss a common tool in video games and what this operation does for the games which incorporate it.
Two universal pieces which interact in traditional literature are the speaker and the audience. Whether the narrator is third person, second person, or first person, the author creates an entity who tells the story occurring. The audience is the reader, the person consuming and interacting with the story. This is typically understood to be something which exists across the different storytelling mediums. Games, however, have a slight difference where this is concerned. The creators must tackle the difficulty of providing a story in instances where they cannot possibly create every permutation of experiences they want to offer their audience (the player).
One common way of overcoming this is through the Silent Hero. I will define the Silent Hero as such: the main protagonist of the story, whose personal appearance, voice, and decisions are not assumed beforehand but are given over to the control of the audience (the player). The author through this removes many barriers to the audience taking the identity of this character. Whatever story may be underlying this character, by giving the player control over his/her actions and behavior the game may afterward get on to what it is trying to do: create a hero. The operation in this context is that of overcoming/embracing circumstances to become a hero. The story becomes one unit and the audience the other. By interacting across the (often purposefully) unfocused character, the audience is able to be taught they can change the world and have an effect on the outcome of the story (their life).
This is not restricted to video games, however. Some poetry makes use of a similar operation implicitly in its reading by using “I” or “you” when describing the events and emotions. While the direction is not the same (to affirm efficacy), the poetic use similarly allows the author to turn the audience into the speaker, and therefore empower them to experience the narrative. The main difference here is that the narrative is often fixed and short. Because of the idiosyncrasies of playing a game, length and linearity are no longer necessary for a reader to identify with and assume the identity of a character in the story.
In conclusion, I believe that this notion of a Silent Hero allows us to understand how players of games from Mario to Mass Effect can describe their actions and accomplishments in the first person- even if describing an in world action (e.g. “I just beat Bowser!” or “I saw one of those giant spiders and ran the other way!”). This is comparable to similar trends in author-speaker-audience interactions in other mediums, but has its own distinct effect due to the nature of games as a medium of action. This is my example of how Bogost’s unit operations could be used to explore trends and better understand the medium of video games.
First of all I want to start by nerding out over the fact that Bogost’s chapter “Encounters across Platforms” had one of Charles Bukowski’s poems in it, since he is my favorite poet probably of all time.
Second, I liked that Bogost used different examples to help flesh out his points. I’ll work backwards a bit and start with The Sims: Hot Date example since I think it is most relevant to the age group of our class. After explaining his opinion of the game as a parody of consumerism, Bogost says that the chance encounter in the game is the unit of operation. The fact that every time your Sim visits the place of dating (whether it be a restaurant, park, etc.) they could meet someone different; the Sims they meet are there purely by chance. He also says that the game allows interactivity whereas literary mediums do not. In the game, although it is a chance encounter, there are a finite number of situations since it is a simulation, as opposed to the infinite number of interactions that could happen in real life. For example, there is no command to tell your Sim to “watch other Sim walk away.” Because of this, the game allows for the freedom of the player to use their imagination and fill in parts of the narrative that they are conducting in the game. Same goes for the reason you might be able to select a topic to discuss with another Sim, but you cannot hear exactly what they are saying. With Bukowski’s poem “A woman on the street,” Bogost is showing not only the chance encounter but also interacting with it and accepting it. Bukowski sees a woman on the street in a chance encounter and immediately thinks of her shoes in his room, perhaps on the floor as if she lived with him. By just the image of her, he creates an imaginary situation where he seems to know her intimately enough to say that just her shoes would light his room. He is fantasizing something due to the chance encounter, which makes it into a unit of operation between the poet and the figure that fascinates. Although the lines aren’t meant to be read in this order, I read them as “like all things / that make a difference. / she walks away” which I love because it emphasizes Bukowski’s acceptance of the chance encounter. Although he has given life to her through meeting her and imagining what some sort of life near her would be like, he simply states that she has made a difference, and then she walks away. It is honest and short and gives a poetic interpretation of beauty to the chance encounter.
To be graded hard:
In Alexander Galloway’s article “Gamic Action, Four Moments,” he describes the types of actions that take place in a game. He starts by explaining that video games are actions, just as photos are images and film is moving images. He also notes that there is the action of the player, like finding a special power up, and the action of the machine, when the power up actually works to boost the characters abilities. He describes two terms diegetic and nondiegetic: diegetic deals with the game’s totally world of the narrative story and nondiegetic elements are the ones that are still important to the narrative but are completely outside the narrative world. He explains these make up two perpendicular axes between the machine and operator, diegetic and nondiegetic, and that this diagram is the basis for the four moments of gamic action. Some of the pages in the article are cut after that, so I cannot tell what all four are. While reading this article, I could not help but think at some points, well duh. Everything that he is describes seems incredibly obvious. I am not sure what the point of the excerpt that we read is, but it seems like he is just trying to figure out some way to sort and categorize the way video games work. While this is admirable, I guess I did not know we were at the point of dissecting video games the way we do other mediums. When there is a new revelation to be found about the narrative, I really enjoy analyzing texts, but most of the time we seem to be analyzing for the sake of analyzing. It usually seems redundant and excessive. I am betting he ties all of these obvious points together in not-so-obvious points later in the article, but since it skips ahead I am not quite sure what to think as far as that I agree with him so far. Because video games are machines that require buttons to be pushed or commands to be given at all times, they are definitely interactive, or as Galloway puts it, they are an action-based medium. This is a bit confusing however when he likens it to photographs, because for the photograph to even exist, someone had to press the button telling the camera what to do. This article is a good example of a reading that needs a bit more direction before reading it. I think it would be more effective if we were looking for something or knew the point he was trying to make so we could identify how he supports it.
To be graded easy:
The game demo presentation that I really enjoyed and was interested in was the Sword and Sworcery game. Because music is such a big part of my life, I love anything that would even attempt to incorporate meaningful music into it. From what she showed us in the presentation, it looked like the game was in time with the music during the whole gameplay, which I think is pretty neat considering the amount of effort it probably took. Listening to the soundtrack, I can imagine playing a game to that kind of music, and it seems to fit it perfectly. It’s very ethereal sounding and has a sense of epic-ness to it. It also correlates with the games graphics that are a little bit old school. Some of the songs have more vintage instruments like organs in them and other sounds that seem to come from an old video game. However, these sounds are integrated with modern, almost sci-fi sounds that make it incredibly intriguing and make me really want to play the game. I think music plays a big part in video games, because it can be the deciding factor of whether or not people really get into the narrative of the game. If you are playing a game with fairies and unicorns and bands like My Children My Bride or The Devil Wears Prada play the soundtrack, you’re going to be thrown off and probably a little freaked out. Same goes in the opposite direction, I don’t want to listen to what sounds like the theme song for the Shire scene in Lord of the Rings when I’m fighting evil dragons, because it would separate me almost completely from the game. Sword and Sworcery does a good job of linking the feeling of the music to the feeling of the gameplay.
As for the actual game narrative, it either seemed too confusing or I was over thinking it and it’s actually really simple. However, reading some in depth game reviews, some were conflicted about the narrative. There were certain aspects of the story they really liked, but that the gameplay interfered with, like that the bosses could kill you with one hit. It sounded like it turned into a game of experimentation instead of skill, which I know I might get frustrated with, because I see LIMBO as working the same way. While it is rewarding when you finally figure out what works, it can get boring when you are on the same level over and over again and it seems to take forever to get past it. In many cases, this is the point that you lose gamers, especially casual gamers that don’t play a lot. I would definitely give this game a try, but I’m also a college student so I probably wouldn’t end up buying it. I’m also one of these casual gamers, so if I spend time playing a game, I want to know that it has five out of five stars in every aspect.
To be graded medium: (if I have any medium gradings left! if not, hard)
Due Sunday, December 8, by midnight.
Answer any 3 of the following questions in short, typed, double-spaced answers. Your answers should be one or two paragraphs long.
YOU ONLY NEED TO ANSWER 3 OF THESE QUESTIONS!!!!!
- Reread the excerpts from McKenzie Wark (https://narrativedigital.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/wark_gamer.pdf ). Why, according to Wark, is the game outside the Cave of video-game life somehow “lacking”? Can you relate this to any of the points made by McGonigle in Reality is Broken? (make sure to quote her text and give page numbers; pertinent chapters are available here: http://idhmc.tamu.edu/classes/VIZ/narrative.html
- On p. 54 of Ian Bogost’s book Unit Operations, he defines Comparative Video Game Criticism as “seek[ing] to understand what it means to be human.” Use an example from a game, or use one of Bogost’s examples (the Sims Hot Date expansion— http://idhmcmain.tamu.edu/classes/VIZ/bogost6.pdf), to explain what he means by that.
- Take a game that was demonstrated by someone other than yourself and apply the key terms of narrative to it that we extracted together in class: https://narrativedigital.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/terms-concerning-narrative-structure/. You may need to reread the selections from Bell, Genette, and Chatman online here: http://idhmcmain.tamu.edu/classes/VIZ/narrative.html
- Take any point made by Scott McCloud about how comics work and apply it to one or two frames in V for Vendetta.
- In the image with the giant parentheses from Seymour Chatman’s Story and Discourse (http://idhmcmain.tamu.edu/classes/VIZ/chatman.pdf), excerpted here — https://narrativedigital.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/terms-concerning-narrative-structure/ — Chatman gives us some terms for analyzing stories. Can you find one term among that list in which the item differs between a book and movie, a game and a book, a game and a movie? Of course you talk about V for Vendetta or Ender’s Game (even if you wrote a paper on differences between the book and the movie in the case of the latter).
- Find a quotation in any of the readings you were given this semester that really struck you. First, introduce it by saying who says it and in what context. Second, quote it. Third, explain what it means and why it is striking.
- Find a quotation that you found very impressive in any of the blogs written by your classmates. Explain the context, what your classmate was discussing, and then quote the sentence or sentences that struck you. Explain what they mean and why they were striking.
This semester has absolutely flown by. It seems like just the other day when our class met for the firs time. After our final discussion today, I decided that I’d go ahead and write my very own in-depth critique/commentary on the course itself. As many mentioned today, there were quite a few high points in the class, but at the same time, there were some areas in which it fell short.
As we all know, this class was very much so based on the discussion aspect. In order for a discussion to be successful, input from multiple sources is necessary. While only a few different sources are necessary for a successful discussion, more input almost always adds to the discussion. In order to maximize input, I feel that we should have had more direction in what it was we were supposed to focus on in our readings, and the readings themselves could have been a little more relevant. I can’t speak for everyone when I say this, but for me, a few of the readings were quite intimidating, and as much as I hate to say it, I typically don’t provide much input when dealing with information I don’t think I fully understand. Perhaps a better approach to this would have been to discuss the topics that would be discussed in the readings in class prior to the readings. This would help us understand what to look for in the readings as well as help to lessen the notion of “I’m afraid to speak up because I forgot to do the reading” and encourage us all to speak.
On the topic of speaking up, I absolutely loved the idea of power-ups. I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement, and I cannot think of a better way, in regards to this class, to get students to speak up. While it was a fantastic idea, I felt that the system that we used to distribute power-ups had some shortcomings. As Colleen mentioned, we really had no way to keep up with our power-ups, and a form of tangible record would be the perfect solution to this issue.
The topic of power-ups does a great job of representing this class. The concept of this class is phenomenal. I cannot say enough great things about it, honestly. The execution of this concept was the only thing that had some slippage, but these shortcomings were minuscule in size and simply helped pave the way to an even greater course. I would consider our class the “beta” version of this class. It needed a little refinement, but after this refinement, it will be in a league of its own, not to say it isn’t already. This class made me think outside of the box more than any class I’ve ever been in, and Professor Mandell brought a new flavor to teaching that I have grown to treasure. I wish all of my classes were driven by the students just as much as the teacher (as this one was), and I tip my hat to you for being so innovative, Professor.
To be graded “Hard”