Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sex Vs. Violence

As sex, and sexual video games are some of the topics of the week, I'd like to make the inevitable comparison between sex in video games, and violence in video games.  I won't make a stance that one is more morally corrupting than the other, as I have to expertise to do so.  I would like to have a quick look at sex and violence's use in video games, how they both can be mechanisms for advancement, and how they vary on their game impact.

I have to preface this entire blog with the caveat that I have never played any sexually focused games.  I have no problem with them, but I have no desire to ever play them.  Because of this, I have fairly limited information on these types of games, and will be going off what we have read and discussed in class, making this mostly an opinion piece.  I have, however, played ample amounts of violent video games, so my views on them are a little more informed.

One of the biggest, and most jarring differences between the killing in an action game, and the sex in a Boys Love, or other sex focused game, is the time required to kill / participate in a sexual act.  The thugs that stand in your way in Grand Theft Auto V are quickly dispensable.  They're the barrier between you and the next cut scene, or mission.  Each of the enemy characters spend very short period of time on screen, and are mere annoyances to your character and his gun.  A player could easily dispose of a room of 10 thugs in under 30 seconds, with the set up for each kill (the aiming) taking no more than a few seconds, and the actual killing (pulling the trigger) taking even less time.  Killing these thugs isn't the goal of the game (usually).  These thugs are merely a roadblock, padding the mission's length, providing a slight challenge and break in between pre-rendered cuscenes, or various other forms of gameplay.  Although these enemies are often unimportant fodder, and killing them usually isn't even considered part of the game cannon, in most action games they're the means to access a  final boss, who you do eventually have to kill.

From what I've read about sex games, the sexual acts have a time scheme that is quite the opposite of the killing in action games.  It appears that the majority of the gameplay in Boys Love, or Otome games, is focused around the luring of a partner through dialogue, or the stalking of a potential victim.  This main game play focus could be paralleled with the quick dispatching of a room full of faceless thugs in an action game.  However, the majority of the gameplay in a sexual game seems to not host much explicit material.  Sex is the payoff, the boss, not the cannon fodder.  Because of the time and effort players put into actually getting to sexual acts the games, the scenes that actually depict the sex are likely much more graphic, or prolonged than any of the instances of killing in an action game.  If the sexual acts were not a significant amount of time, the player may find them as an unfit reward for their efforts.  Sex appears to be the end in sexual games, where as quick kills are usually the means in violent games.

Violent videogames often also provide the players with tools and mechanism for distancing themselves from the violent acts their committing.  Weapons, especially ranged weapons, aid greatly in removing the character from the act of killing, making the death of an enemy even less meaningful.  Shooting an enemy from across the map easily allows players to dissociate from the act that was committed in game, dispatching of enemies in a relatively non graphic way.  These tools also make killing in games much quicker an act than those conducted with bare hands.  Prolonged scene of violence where there is little in the way of the killer and the victim seems to create some of the instances when violence in videogames is especially contentious.  For example: both the torture scene in GTA V, and the manual decapitation in God of War were very visceral, graphic, the focal point of the scene, relatively long sequences of death, and there was little, if anything, in separating the killer and the victim.  Additionally, killing is often justifiable as a method for surviving.  Surrendering is rarily ever an option in an action game, which remove's a player's remorse when killing droves of unyeilding, merciless enemies.

There are no tools that distance the players from sex, or rape.  Both of these acts are occurring between two in game characters, without, or with little aid from technology or extensions of the player.  Sexual acts are the direct physical action of the player's character, and other characters in the game.  In order to display any part of the sexual act, you will likely see the direct physical interaction of the two bodies, with no physical, or metaphorical distancing between them.  This is also an act that the player is seeking out.  In taking the reigns in most sexual games, the player's avatar is actively seeking out partners, and would be considered the aggressor or pursuer.  This makes for a much different tone than a game focusing on self preservation.

Sex and violence are very different acts, with varying in game and out of game repercussions.  Again, I don't think that the inclusion of either of these features in games is any more or less moral than the other.  However, they appear to be handled with varying strategies, which I find an interesting point of discussion.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Let Go of Retro

I love some games that would be considered retro games.  I reminisce about the soundtrack to Comix Zone, being my favorite gaming soundtrack of all time.  I loved the huge satisfaction that you would get from passing a level without scaling difficulties.  Though, for the most part, I do not find old games more appealing than more recent games.  I may be materialistic, or superficial, but when returning to game titles which have recent iterations, I can't help but stack the two against each other.  Controls, visuals, gameplay, and storytelling methods have all been greatly improved over the decades, and I believe it's for the better.  I would much rather listen to engaging dialog, see the character's emotions, and pick my response in Mass Effect, than read lines of dialogue in an rpg of the past.  This may be totally lazy, but I don't care.  Current games can be bogged down with unorthodox motion controls (Twighlight Princess), or ridiculously complicated UI (The Witcher), but as I whole I prefer the depth and style of gameplay that is allowed by current gaming technology.  Admittedly, retro games do absolutely have their advantages, (see: http://metro.co.uk/2013/03/29/why-i-love-retro-gaming-and-why-its-still-relevant-readers-feature-3564251/), but I have found the advances in gaming technology to be primarily for the better.

Beyond the games themselves, I have difficulties with the term "retro games".  In the Suominen reading, retro games were loosely defined as "Typically the current retrogaming refers particularly to the usage of game devices that were used before personal computers (common since the early 1990’s)."  While I appreciate the suggestion at making a blanket term to cover most, if not all videogames that were produced before, after, or during a certain time period, the term retro game actually raises many more questions than it answers for me.  Are remakes of retro games still retro?  It is not uncommon for game developers to revive long lost games with new remakes which polish up the graphics, and update the game mechanics and controls to be friendlier to the modern gamer.  Is this a retro game?  Does the designation of when a game becomes a retro game change with time?  Is the chronological line that is drawn separating retro from non retro games static?  Or will it dynamically change when time advances?  Are there any features of modern games that will never be considered retro?  Will all generations of gamers be subjected to the same rules for what is and is not a retro game?  How can a player return to a game that was released before their birth?  Is a game status as retro purely based off the year they were released?  Or are the game's features more important for it to be assigned the title as retro?  Modern games which strive to look or resemble older games, such as Hotline Maimi, or 3D Dot Game Heroes, will they receive the retro title?

For people like me, who have a difficult time with such an inclusive, and exclusive term as retro games, I would prefer simply stating a game's console or year of release, instead of qualifying it as retro. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Changing Landscape of Game Development

To avoid the content intertwining of this week's reading with my upcoming presentation, I would like to write about one of the finer points that was examined in the Aoyama writing: the evolution of video game production teams.  Over the course of time, the development of video games for consoles has transformed from a one man production, to a team of hundred of talented multidisciplinary workers.  From the one man team behind the Atari 2600's Adventure, to the 250 person team who created GTA V, the landscape for creating games has forever changed, but so have the tools for creating games.  For further reading, I must suggest Racing the Beam by Montfort and Bogost chapter 3, which outlines the 1 man design process behind Adventure for the Atari 2600.  If you're looking for a great read on  the whole, I suggest the book in its entirety to everyone.

Aoyama discusses 2 distinct paradigm shifts that occur in gaming history which had a great effect on the makeup of a game development team.  Those changes were: the introduction of game narrative and identifiable characters in games like Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros, and the transfer of console games from cartridges to CDs.  Both of these changes altered the game development team by requiring more artistic chops to model more believable characters and animate them, write compelling stories, and render beautiful in game cutscenes, etc.  The expectation  for triple A games to contain all of these features listed above ripped large scale game development out of the sole programmers hands.  However, a more recent trend in game design has given the power back to the small groups, and allowed for a greater breadth of practices to be involved in game design.

The creation of the licensable and open source videogame development kits has radically changed the way that games are developed, and who can develop them.  These kits provide game developers with most, if not all of the tools they will require to model textures, animate, build lighting, create objects, program AI, etc. with relative ease.  All of these things which would have been propriety before, can be licensed from a game engine, such as the Unreal Development Kit, or Unity.  Many of these kits and toolsets are readily available, and free, allowing developers to create their own game without fees.  Once the games begin to sell, then the kit developers will take a percentage or a fee.  Because there are so many pre-programed tools available to artists, this allows much more broad array of disciplines in videogame development with minimal programming experience required.  These kits are also monumental in allowing smaller companies to develop their own games without having to invest the huge amount of time and resources required for building a custom game engines.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Characters and the Creation of content

Characters in entertainment mediums can vary massively in their importance to narrative.  They can be present for comedic relief, the primary protagonist for the viewer to identify with, or they can drive the narrative in its entirety.  While I believe characters are almost vital for a narrative to occur, I don't believe that characters are inseparable from their stories, or monogatari.

As discussed in the Condry reading, characters can be incredibly important to the stories that they're in, and in many ways, their interactions can drive the story.  The introduction of a new character can be important for the plot of an episode, or an entire series or story can be constructed around single characters.  For example: Zenmai Zamurai, an unimplemented cast member of the Japanese shorts "Dekoboko Friends", had an entire series crafted around his existence.  While not as extreme as the Zamurai example, the characters of Dragon Ball Z exemplify the importance that characters can have to the narrative of both anime and manga.  More so than the premise and the setting, the Dragon Ball Z television show's events are almost entirely character driven.  Seasons, and multi-season events are often based off the introduction of new characters, who are often antagonists.  As can be seen in this article nearly every season of the Dragon Ball Z series is named after the characters or antagonists that are introduced during the season, and the story is most definitely driven by the existence and actions of the antagonists.  The seasons/ story lines begin with the introduction of a villain, and end with the defeat of the villain.  When consumers engage with these characters in a medium outside of the original manga or TV series, they're engaging with characters that are not just a part of a grand narrative, they are the grand narrative.  Freiza, Cell, Buu, all purchasable action figures, and all embodiment of extended story arcs, not just glimpses of the Dragon Ball Z storyline.  While the characters of DragonBall Z are entirely vital to the narrative of the show, if donjinshi creators so please, the characters can absolutely exist outside of the story that they're created in.  No characters are safe from transmedia, even if the medium is not cannon.

While I believe that there are no monogatari characters that do exist, due to the existence of parody manga and individual narrative developments, there are characters which are awfully close to being unable to exist outside of their story.  Super Mario, for example, is a cannibal of game titles.  Mario's existence within a game, especially when he is a playable character, almost guarantees that he will not only be a marquee part of the game, but will have his name in the title. See this list of titles Mario is featured in.  After 1986, nearly every game that features Mario as a playable character, has his name in the title.  Mario's existence within a game bends the narrative around him, and designates the game as a part of Mario's story.  In games like Mario Kart, Mario Tennis, and Mario Party, where Mario's presence as a playable character is no more important than any of the others available, his existence will induce Nintendo to brand the game under his name, and potentially utilize him as the game's narrator.  While this is done to increase sales and interest in the game title, it is an unfair individualization of game narratives by one character.  The utilization of popular characters in exotic medium is exactly what separates them from their story.  Super Mario's appearance on a lunchbox hardly corresponds and reflects his battles with Bowser.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Otaku etc.

When learning about Japanese culture, I do my best to try and draw parallels between social groups and cultural trends in Japan and North America.  Japanese Otaku could most likely be compared to North American nerd culture, or perhaps even the Wapanese (http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/12-types-of-otaku).  The Otaku's use of 2 channel could be easily paralleled to 4chan.  However it seems like Otaku culture is/has experienced much more flux in the realm of social acceptance and identity than that of North American nerd culture.  But what effects does the presence of Otaku culture have on the world's view of Japan?  Despite their prevalence and acceptance in Japan, the Otaku's tendecy to congregate in certain areas of the country may give the outside world a skewed view of Japanese culture as a whole.

When reading about the Akihabara, I decided to have a look at the particular area to try and visualize what I was reading about.  Upon finding pictures, I thought to myself "Hey! It's that street!".  When seeing the images I confused sections Akihabara with Shibuya Crossing.  Though my initial recognition of the street was off, my recognition of the bright lights of Japan made me ponder.  In one of the readings, it is stated that Akihabara is one of the top ten tourist attractions in Japan.  Seeing so many tourists a year, many of the visitors to the country who take a walk through Akihabara will likely imprint that street as part of Japanese culture, as its general appearance is consistent with other popular areas like Shibuya Crossing.  Will the interests and practices of the locals to Akihabara (Otaku) also be taken as a Japanese authentic and staple population?  The Akihabara is such a small portion of the country, but it is so recognized and well traveled that it, and the Otaku may have a deep impact on the world's view of Japan and the Japanese.  Canada, much like other areas of the world, tends to be seen by the world as big, geographically varied, and contain large metropolitan centers like Toronto.  Though the country has so much more to offer, is it ever really seen?  Or is a country's appearance to the world restricted to first hand accounts and general knowledge?

Credible or no, this article: http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/12-types-of-otaku complies with the Otaku Talk and shows the great potential variety that members of the Otaku culture can enjoy, while still being filed under the same subculture.  The subculture seems to be less about nerd culture, and more about holding a certain amount of passion for some aspect of culture.  Being overly passionate about something that may have a slight nerdy taste to it may land you as an Otaku in the eyes of some.  To me, it seems like the word Otaku itself has lost the majority of its meaning, and is being re-appropriated for a modern age, and rightfully so.  But is it really necessary to cling to subculture terms like Otaku, when the current use of the word is so distant from the original intent?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Oct 9, 2013

I love media mixes. I think that it is fantastic that content developers are giving the fans of intellectual properties multiple mediums to interact with their source material. The convergence of old and new forms of media have provided media participants with more material to engage with than ever before, with different platforms serving different niches. Love playing World of Warcraft, but need something to do on the bus? Read one of the many novels or comic book tie ins. Enjoy GTA V and need something to do while you're supposed to be studying at school? Download the GTA V phone app. There are two ways that come to mind which media mixes may effect the experience of a title's content: converging media can be used enhance the experience with peripheral narrative or experiences, or media mixes can be used to retell a story in a new medium.

For videogames in particular, it is not rare for large releases to be accompanied by, preceded by, or followed by the release of a complementing story, phone app, online forum, podcast, or other mode of engagement. These additional mediums allow for fans of a game to engage with the world of their favorite characters on multiple platforms.  These additional avenues of play and interaction grant additional opportunities for game creators to extend the content of their game well beyond the medium it was initiated in.  Star Wars The Old Republic is a prime example of a well executed media mix, with converging mediums surrounding a game release.  The game was the spiritual successor to the acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic series, granting it a rich lore base to build off of.  Prior to the release of the Old Republic, 3 comic miniseries were released (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Wars:_The_Old_Republic_(comics)), 3 full novels were released (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Wars:_The_Old_Republic_(novel_series)), and an online community was founded which released weekly content on the game.  The novels and comics were used to both augment the story of the upcoming game release, and tie the lore to the pre-existing story from Knights of the Old Republic, while the site was used to hand feed the gaming community weekly tidbits of information, boosting the game’s massive hype.  Media mixes are able to expand an original product into a deep universe with multiple mediums for content consumption.  The Star Wars franchise at large started as a movie and novel release, and has exploded into a IP with countless mediums for interaction.  See this list of Star Wars media release for an idea of the company’s yearly releases: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Star_Wars_media.  Media mixes give entertainment the opportunity to extend beyond the original intended medium, drawing in new potential consumers who may be a fan of the expanded medium (ie. comics), providing existing fans new mediums for participation, and ultimately offering a deeper expanded IP narrative.

In addition to enhancing narratives, media mixes may also include the same story being reinterpreted and retold in varying mediums.  There are several Japanese intellectual properties which have different interpretations of the same stories available in both manga and anime.  Some of the notable series include Dragon Ball Z, and Naruto.  While these intellectual properties likely do have narrative enhancing peripheral texts similar to those in the above paragraph, they also offer fans of a series more than 1 way to experience the same general story.  The stories that are transferred to the new medium are likely not direct mirrors of the original story's content, (see comparison of Dragon Ball Z manga and anime here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWxg99VkXLY, see comparison of Naruto anime and manga here: http://naruto.wikia.com/wiki/Anime-Manga_Differences) but they do provide the developer the opportunity to adapt the story to the new medium. If necessary, the authors can conduct some rejigging of narrative elements so that they're more appropriate to the new platform of consumption, or to remove or edit features which may not have been successful.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Public to Private

Are the times of cumbersome public entertainment structures gone?  Good question.  Though the readings by Chalfen & Murai, and Plotz were informative and interesting, I'm not certain if I have an understanding of Japan's current stance on the Pachinko parlor and Print Club.  Both of these articles were written in 2001-2002, and popular culture, especially digital entertainment have been radically changed by current technologies.  Purika enthusiasts and passionate Pachinko players may be a dying breed, flocking to new, more efficient methods to quench their thirst for social contact, or different forms of absorbing entertainment.  Or perhaps the appeal of both Pachinko and Picture Club is the satiation of the Japanese appetite for machinery and gadgets, as Plotz alluded to.  If this is the case, then they're likely safe in the hands of the Japanese public.

More so than Pachinko, much of the niche that was once satiated by the Picture Club can be replaced by a pocket device.  Print Club Photography in Japan Framing Social Relationships was published in 2001, documenting the Print Club phenomenon that was prevalent in mid-late 1990's Japan.  I would think that the catalyst of the craze of Puriku in Japan was the participant's ability to see their photos, and have their pick of the litter prior to printing out their photos.  The 1990s were in the age of film, which may have granted high quality photos, but the tiresome process of having film developed may have deterred many Japanese youth from participating in any form of social photography.  The immediacy of viewing your photos and printing them following the photo session would have been incredibly appealing in a time reliant on film development.  The era of film cameras was also a time that predated preview screen on digital cameras, restricting participants from viewing their shots, and making 'selfies' a risky use of film.  Cameras of the 1990s often removed the photographer from the photo shoot, giving those who own cameras very little reason to carry cameras as a method to document their adventures with their friends.  All photos of an outing's events would exclude whoever was selfless enough to take the photo, unless you were brave to trust a bystander with taking a quality picture.  Additionally, Picture Club provided photo modifying software and frames that would not be commonly available until years later.  All of these benefits provided by the Print Club cabinets (selfies, photo review, photo modifications) have been downsizes to a device that will fit into your pocket.  Cellphone users can now take selfies with a friend, review the photo, and modify it within seconds on their phone.  In addition, phones are now host to digitized social networks, such as Facebook.  The friend list on Facebook plays a very similar role to the photo albums compiled by Japanese youth who would judge their self-worth based on their ability to acquire stickers of or with their friends.   Does this make Print Club vestigial? Perhaps not, but Print Clubs are an example of a publicly accessible medium which may be replaced by private items.

Much like my paragraph on Picture Club, I can only speculate on the current presence and importance of Japanese Pachinko parlours. Plotz mentions in Pachinko Nation that the popularity of Pachinko parlors has leveled off due to the increased competition from television and video games.  While Pachinko is a somewhat limited medium, requiring minimal engagement from the participant, videogames, for the most part, require much more active engagement.  If the goal of a session of Pachinko is to turn off your brain after a long day's work, I do not see videogames as a threat to Pachinko's popularity.  Television is a much more passive medium, requiring little, if any input from the participant.  Perhaps videogames have aided in the reduced popularity of Pachinko, however, the migration of players from Pachinko to popular videogames would be due to a desire for a more interactive experience, and not necessarily the desire to be absorbed.