Week 5 - Reward, Flow and Iteration

I have decided to concentrate on the state of flow for this post. To do this I would like to use the example of casinos, however as we must relate this to digital gaming I will relate it to the use of computerised roulette in casinos (from my experience observing gamblers in casinos, and having a dabble myself!). Firstly, what is flow? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first came up with the idea, however, a more simplified and shorter explanation has been put forward as this:

'[flow is] a state of deep focus that occurs when people engage in challenging tasks that demand intense concentration and commitment. Flow occurs when a person’s skill level is perfectly balanced to the challenge level of a task that has clear goals and provides immediate feedback.'

There are 8 components of 'flow', 4 pre-requisites and 4 effects. The first pre-requisite is the challenge. This can be related to casinos by the way in which gamblers have the challenge of guessing the right number or colour in which the ball will land on the roulette table, or indeed in card games to outwit the dealer. The next requirement is a clear goal, obviously for all gamblers the goal is to win more money than they came in with, so to put money on a number that comes up will complete that goal. Next we have feedback, in this example the feedback can be the amount of money in the gamblers pocket, the number of chips left in their corner of the table or the balance on the roulette screen which shows them whether they have had success or failure over the night. The final pre-requisite is control in uncertain situations, this can easily be related to casinos because the gambler always has uncertainty in whether they will win or lose but still have the chance to quit.

The next 4 components show the effects of 'flow'. Firstly there is a merging of action and awareness, this produces spontaneous actions from the gambler, for example, continuously betting the same numbers automatically at the end of each spin. Next, there is extreme concentration from the gambler as they try to work out the game and plan their next move. Thirdly, there is loss of self-consciousness, everything to the gambler seems to be almost an outer-body experience - movements and positioning become automatic. Lastly there is the transformation of time, the gambler doesn't realise that what feels like a minute is actually an hour or more, they are so involved in the gambling and betting.
So is this state of flow actually known more commonly as addictiveness? Possibly. This is why I think so:
In casinos gamblers are totally at one with the game they are playing, the same as gamers.
In casinos there is no sense of time (next time you go to one look for a clock on the wall, most casinos never keep one so the gamblers lose all sense of time), the same can happen whilst playing an involving game on the PC or Playstation.
In casinos you are still the master of fate, i.e. you can cash in at any time, the same as playing games, e.g. you can shoot who you want or control what you want.
In casinos there is extreme focus when you are concentrating on how much to spend on a spin of the wheel, while games draw the gamer in and command the gamer's concentration.
In casinos gamblers have exhilaration and excitement at winning, while gamers have the same emotions from completing a level or defeating a 'boss'.
And finally, both gamblers and gamers get 'in the zone' of their respective games very easily by becoming involved emotionally and physically.
I hope this has all made us much sense reading it as it does in my head!
Chamberlin, J..(1998) Reaching ‘flow’ to optimize work and play. [online] Retrieved on 07/03/07 from http://www.apa.org/monitor/jul98/joy.html


Week 4 - Lusory Attitude and The Magic Circle

In the International Journal of Learning the lusory attitude has been described as follows:

'Games require what Bernard Suits has called a "lusory attitude" - game players intentionally and willingly accept rules that compel them to use less efficient means to achieving an end.'

This can be related through digital games by the way we accept seemingly strange occurances as part of the gameplay. For example, having just purchased an N64 (a classic console!) and playing Banjo-Kazooie your character is a bear called Banjo and your sidekick is a bird known as Kazooie. This in itself is rather odd...you are after all a bear! You must go around collecting certain things and attacking odd looking carrots and equally strange other things. After my initial surprise at playing such an odd game you can really get involved with what is going on and almost talk in terms of the game - 'Get more notes!', 'Shoot more eggs at the bull!' etc etc. This leads us into the Magic Circle.

Johan Huizinga first suggested the 'Magic Circle' where the gameplayer is in a fantasy land in which they can do anything as part of the game which in non-gaming circumstances would not be possible to do. My example for this would be in 'GoldenEye 007' where you are James Bond going through missions on Her Majesty's Secret Service. Clearly in real life (unless you were to become a secret agent!) you would not be able to go around Russian military bases shooting guards and completing missions on behalf of the secret service. A clear fantasy for many people especially after watching a Bond movie.

Kupperman, J., Stanzler, J., Fahy, M., Hapgood, S.. Games, School and the Benefits of Inefficiency [online] retrieved on 06/03/07 from http://ijl.cgpublisher.com/product/pub.30/prod.1185


Week 3 - Rhetoric and Bad Press

Are video games evil? Well, clearly not all games are evil, or even bad. For example one could hardly say that games such as Madden 2006 or FIFA 2006 bring out the evil side in a person. However, there are games that can promote a sense of evilness. In class we looked at the effect Manhunt has had in the world, even being banned in a few countries. Personally I have never played Manhunt so it would be wrong for me to comment on this, however I believe that a similar game could be Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. In GTA, the aim is to rise to the top of the criminal world by completing missions in which you usually have to kill a lot of people or collect drugs or other gang members. This can be portrayed as being an evil game due to the amount of violence that it appears to promote.

Which leads me to rhetoric. Rhetoric is 'generally understood to be the art or technique of persuasion through the use of oral or written language' (Wikipedia). But how can we relate this to digital games? We can do this both in the representation of games and from within the games themselves.

Representations of games vary greatly, from a generalised view of games being either good or bad, to representations of individual games. For example, reading a small article in 'The Sun' newspaper titles 'Gamers in speed rap' contradicts itself by stating in the the first paragraph that 'A third of boy-racer drivers admit they go faster after playing games consoles'. However, in the final paragraph of four paragraphs the article says that 'Thirty-four per cent of 1,000 people polled thought regular gaming helped their real driving. Fifty four per cent of them said they passed their test first time.' This leaves the reader with a mixed message about gaming - are we being told it is a good or bad thing?! Usually the press gives a very one sided view of games, for example we were shown in class an article from the 'Daily Mail' front page article - 'Ban these evil games', a very bold and blunt statement. That article clearly used rhetoric through its choices of words and apparent scientific backing.
Rhetoric can also be applied from within the games themselves by showing the games individual values, for example Civilization II holds values that you should conquer the world and destroy those that get in your way, however Civ. II also has the ability to allow you to create world peace and live in harmony with your neighbours, but this is made hard to do, especially after speaking to your military advisor who is sure to tell you to get fighting!
While reading an online text written by Chris Suellentrop an interesting fact came up, and one which would put down the 'haters' of digital gaming:
'Those who assume that video-game players are a bloodthirsty lot might be surprised to learn that of last year’s 10 best-selling games for the PlayStation and Xbox consoles, not one was a shoot-’em-up.'
An interesting point, but still the fact remains that 'despite their popularity, video games remain, in the opinion of many (particularly those who don’t play them), brainless or, worse, brain-destroying candy.'
Suellentrop, C. (2006) Are Video Games Evil? [online] Retrieved 03/03/07 from: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=wq.essay&essay_id=193155
The Sun (2nd March 2007) Page 25 - Gamers in speed rap.


Week 1 - Defining 'Game'

A tricky one indeed! How should one define the word or concept of game? On Wikipedia (I know...not the most reliable source! But an excellent definition) the term 'Game' has been declared as:

'A recreational activity involving one or more players. This can be defined by A) a goal that the players try to reach, B) some set of rules that determines what the players can or can not do. Games are played primarily for entertainment or enjoyment, but may also serve an educational or simulational role.'

I believe this definition can be related to digital gaming, not just to games played outdoors such as 'It' or 'Bulldog'. Indeed, over the years in my life that computers have arrived on the scene I have played many a digital game, from games like Super Mario Brothers on the game boy or SNES to Championship Manager (one of my favourite games, extremely addictive!) on the PC. I believe that a game may not have a certain goal, but by not having a goal it creates the opportunity for the player themselves to create their own personal goals. This is true, for myself anyway, in the game of Civilization II (one of the most addictive games - be warned!!) where you control your tribe from ancient times to the future, but in the end your goals are your own, you can be a friendly nation and be at peace with all others, or you can be a bloodthirsty warlord intent on World domination. However, most games do have obvious goals - get past the boss at the end of the level etc. as was the way in Super Mario Brothers on the game boy or SNES, or the game has a specific outcome - either win or lose, as is the case in games such as FIFA Soccer or Pro Evolution Soccer.

On reflection, another attribute could be added to the definition of 'Game' - Addictive. To be a successful game surely there must be a certain amount of addictiveness for the player to continue wanting to play their chosen game, perhaps joining with the effect of having goals for each game. Indeed, Wittgenstein reflected on overlapping similarities that games have by giving these examples:
1. chess - involves skill, no luck and is competitive.
2. the lottery - involves no skill, all luck and is not competitive.
3. frisbee - involves skill, involves luck and is not competitive.

Of course there are flaws in this above assumption, for example, at an amateur level chess can involve luck - the opposite player may not see an opening to pounce on your piece. Although the lottery is definitely luck, some players do use statistics to see what is likely to come up soon (although this probably does not help at all!). Frisbee could be argued as being a competitive sport, there is even a frisbee team at Brookes University who play other universities which would definitely constitute competitiveness.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1968). Philosophical Investigations. 3rd edition. Oxford: Blackwell
Wikipedia - Game [online] - retrieved on 20/02/07 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game