Perhaps one of my most adored childhood video games is The Simpsons: Hit and Run. It had the freedom and exploration elements of Grand Theft Auto, but wasn’t filled with swearing, sex and blood; things an innocent, 11 year old girl is often naïve about.
I remember being so in love with the game that I purchased The Simpsons: Road Rage, another PlayStation game, followed by a couple of The Simpsons comics and The Simpsons show bag from the Easter Show.
My infatuation with The Simpsons franchise wasn’t based on the game itself. ‘Computer games are not just a game, never just a business strategy for maximizing profit, but always also a battlefield where the possibility to realize specific, bottom-up, heterogeneous forms of participatory media culture is at stake’ (Raessens, 2005). The creators of The Simpsons video games had developed more than just games; they had created a world in which the games existed, and in which I as a user could also exist and participate.
Henry Jenkins explains a participatory culture as one ‘with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement… where members believe that their contributions matter’. He goes on to explain that while not all participants must contribute, they believe that they are free to do so when ready (Jenkins, 2006).
Rovio have successfully established this kind of culture with their stylized, wingless birds mobile game, Angry Birds. Blogger J.J McCorvey puts it perfectly: Angry Birds ‘has amassed legions of followers, incited fierce battles between parents and their tablet-weaned children, and won professions of love from the likes of Justin Bieber via Twitter and Dick Cheney on the Today show’.
Angry Birds’ creators, Mikael and Niklas, realised the importance of not only gaining fans, but holding on to them, and have done so through the use of merchandise and other complementary collateral. In 2013, 45% of the company’s revenue came from merchandise alone.
The Finnish gaming company have also been adding new levels to the game so that consumers don’t get bored. On top of this, they have opened the Angry Birds Space Encounter in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and are planning to release a 3D animated movie sometime in the coming 2 years.
Of course, Rovio’s success can be pinned to the brilliantly addictive nature of the game. However, the Angry Birds world has been able to hypnotise consumers, by creating a participatory culture that not only offers members with an engrossing gaming experience, but the ability to participate in the Angry Birds franchise outside of just the game. Mikael understands this exactly: ‘Now we have real fans who live and breathe the thing that we created’ (2013).
Jenkins, H, 2006, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Part One), Confessions of an Aca-Fan, weblog, 20 October, viewed 14/5/15, http://henryjenkins.org/2006/10/confronting_the_challenges_of.html
McCorvey, J.J 2013, ‘Rovio Takes Flight With “Angry Birds” But Disney-Sized Success Still Up In The Air’, Fast Company, viewed 14/5/15, http://www.fastcompany.com/3002945/rovio-takes-flight-angry-birds-disney-sized-success-still-air
Mogg, T 2013, ‘Angry Birds Maker Roviio Can Thank Merchandise For Record Profits’, Digital Trends, viewed 14/5/15, http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/angry-birds-maker-rovio-can-thank-merchandise-for-record-profits/
The end of this session is fast approaching and, as most university students would understand, I’m getting tired of staring at walls of texts every day. So, I thought I’d mix it up this week, and instead of writing out a 400 word blog post I have made a slightly more attractive infographic. I’ve detailed what my game group’s objectives are for the next four weeks, and what I will be doing to contribute to fulfilling those objectives, and to get our game ready to rumble in time!
For some context, my group and I are creating a snake-inspired game, in which the user has to collect a trail of ‘friends’, and attempt to get as many ‘friends’ as possible without dying. We’ve called it ‘Friend Request’, a simply brilliant name if you ask me which we came up with by mere accident. We want to not only create the game, but a universe to go along with it. This will involve a website, videos, illustrations, and social media interaction. For this reason, we’ve got a range of content that needs to be produced before week 12, which can be seen below:
This week we were asked to play-test and review a game of our choice. I decided to flick open the App Store, and download the number one free desktop game.
The game was Octagon, described by the developer as ‘a minimal arcade game with maximum challenge’.
After launching the game, I was welcomed by a motivational, techno pop ballad, and a quite beautifully minimalistic game design. I immediately immersed myself in the game. Huizinga used the term ‘magic circle’ to describe this special and quite unique nature of games. This notion suggests that games have no correlation to the real world, and while are known to be pervasive, are useful only for engaging in play (Jakobsson & Pargman, 2008).
I attempted to get my fix of play by starting the game, and realised the developer had not lied. Despite the crisp, geometric aesthetics of the game, it was a challenge to get going. While the text on the screen said ‘scroll to change game mode’, after much deliberation, I could not change the mode. By pure accident, I found that ‘scroll’ must’ve meant ‘drag’, as dragging the game mode icon shifted the game mode. I was agitated by this misuse of words, and went to the App Store to complain, but was stopped when I realised the developer had already put up a notice:
IMPORTANT! ‘scroll to change game mode’ means ‘drag and slide to change game mode’ I’ll fix the hint in next update, thanks
Suppose I’ll let that one slide then… or should I say scroll?
Having put my aggravation aside, I returned to the game and finally made it to the actual game play part. A screen like this appeared:
Once again, I was met with a challenge. I had no idea what the idea of the game was, or how I was meant to play. Disappointed by the lack of instruction, I escaped the game, and reviewed the rules, which were hidden in the somewhat ambiguous menu.
The objective of the game was quite simple: get the ball to the end of the level. Navigation was executed through the arrow keys, and the ball moved automatically at a constant speed.
Once I got the hang of it, I started to enter that antsy state, an early stage of game addiction. I was really enjoying it. The design didn’t fail to impress throughout game-play, and the balance of challenge verses ability to actually complete the level was perfect.
However, while I was playing, I couldn’t help but think about how I was doing so while watching TV and eating. Unlike Huizinga’s ‘magic circle’, I existed in the world of play and the real world. The challenges that I was faced with in the game activated my initiative to attempt to solve them, and the design inspired my creative thinking. Different elements of the game affected me in ways that will impact my life outside of me playing it.While the scores and game controls were limited to remain inside the game, as Jakobsson & Pargman argue, ‘the idea of a clear limit between play and non-play’ is not realistic.
Needless to say, Octagon made an impression on me. While my first encounter wasn’t very smooth, the visuals and audio, coupled with the addictive nature of the game made it enjoyable. I’d recommend the game for visually pleasing, brief bursts of entertainment, however not much more.
Jakobsson, P & Pargman, D 2008, Do You Believe in Magic? Computer Games in Everyday Life, ‘European Journal of Cultural Studies’, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 225-244
BETA GAME PITCHES
While I have tried to develop some of my own game design ideas, nothing quite matches the ideas of my fellow students that I’ve heard floating around. For this reason, I aim to work with others. I plan to put together the Prezi presentation for one of the groups, and will help in any other ways I can. My skills align mostly with the media group, and so I will ensure that I am actively participating in this group, filming let’s play videos, and documenting the development of the different game designs.
FINAL GROUP PRESENTATION
While I feel limited by my lack of extensive knowledge surrounding games and game culture, I have experience in graphic design and illustration, and am adept in marketing as I major in advertising and marketing communications.
These will be my major assets, and therefore I plan to contribute to the final game presentations by:
- Creating game artwork
- Helping with the projected design of the games
- Developing an integrated marketing communications plan, including:
- Researching the behaviour of the intended target markets
- Developing potential advertisements for the game
- Creating a social media campaign to support the game
- Helping with the logistical aspects of the presentation, including:
- Developing a concise and realistic budget (my dad’s a trained accountant, it’s in my blood)
- Creating a list of items and procedures that require expenditure
- Exploring the potential problems that might arise regarding the funding
- Helping with the general organisation of the presentation group by:
- Keeping individuals accountable, ensuring each person is completing what they said they would
- Ensuring that we meet our deadline
- Ensuring that each person is aware of their presentation day responsibilities
Using my blog, I have already begun to compile my weekly contributions to the project development process. I will ensure that my dossier includes a diverse range of materials, including video, research, tweets, comments and blog posts. While I was a late bloomer in this subject, I finally feel like I can take ownership of something; I’ve created two Let’s Play videos so far, and am eager to create more content that will help me to learn more about the digital game culture.
I want to, and aim to, work hard in this subject, and while I do find myself a little confused at times, I try my best to understand the theory, and to engage in the practical work. I find the readings intriguing and would really love to get a Distinction for this subject. It doesn’t have to be a higher end Distinction, I’m not too picky, but I am aiming for a grade somewhere between 76 and 79. I hope that my inexperience of the whole gaming world doesn’t inhibit my ability to achieve this grade.
This week we were directed to design our own digital game based on the space and place of our university. I was persuaded to find something I take interest in and base the game around that- pretty simple really. I wanted something that would reflect some of my own character, however all I could think of was how exhausted I was from the fast-paced journey I had endeavoured upon to arrive to class on time.
That’s when the idea was birthed.
Why not create a game based around one of the most common problems university students face: getting to class on time (or getting to class at all for that matter). My visions were fast developing and I could see a landscape something like that of Tony Hawke: Pro Skater.
The aim of the game would be to get to class before the tutor arrives. Each mission would require the player to make it to a different building and room each time, with all faculties on campus involved. The player would be able to swap between 3 different movement settings: walking, running, skating. Different obstacles would meet the player, such as traffic on the stairwell, path closures and bumping into friends, and players would be offered bonus points if they could fulfil sub-missions along the way, such as purchasing a coffee or printing out homework. My idea was rapidly growing, and I was becoming overly involved with it, playing out different potential levels in my mind.
‘I thrash, ollie, and grind my way through an abandoned park, then a suburban neighborhood and a parking garage. As I move through these spaces, I get better and better at maneuvering on my skateboard and the spaces I encounter are increasingly complex. Yet as I move through these spaces I am actually relatively immobile’ (Murphy, 2004).
This is exactly how I felt. In my mind I was outside, running amidst the autumn breeze, stumbling down countless flights of stairs, rushing to building 19, however in actual reality, I was also immobile. I was gaining a sense of the immersive interaction that Sheila Murphy outlines video games can offer, and I was merely thinking about playing a game. Murphy discusses the continual overlapping of our world and the world of the game that occurs when we engage in video games. Unlike television, we are not simply static consumers, but are enabled to be so engrossed in the game that the ‘character controls me [us] more than I [we] control him’ (Murphy, 2004).
It occurred to me that this blurring of two inherently different worlds replicated that of what we repeatedly do in our own minds. While physically we may be stationary in one place, mentally we could be absolutely anywhere, figuratively exploring places that exist on the other side of our world, or even places that don’t exist at all outside of our own mind. Escapism.
Video games are often criticized for their ability to foster escapism, embodying ‘the alluring unreality of something erroneously conceived of existing on the other side of a screen’ (Calleja, 2010). This notion seemed almost nonsensical, given that video games seem to emulate the very nature of our own imaginations. How intriguing that we can be both completely physically present in a real-life moment, but also be completely present in the world of our imagination, or the world of a game.
- Murphy, S 2004, ‘’Live in Your World, Play in Ours’: The Spaces of Video Game Identity’, Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 223-238.
- Calleja, G 2010, ‘Digital Games and Escapism’, Games and Culture, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 335-353