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Parody Games and the Changing Face of Collectibles

Posted by Nick Dinicola on August 14, 2009

Parodies by their very nature give us a different perspective on things. Whether it be a plot, genre, or game mechanic, we see a different side of things when they’re viewed through the lens of humor. There are two recent flash games in particular that, while making fun of popular game mechanics, give us a unique look at the roots of those mechanics and why they’re so popular.

Upgrade Complete

Upgrade Complete is a game that makes you upgrade everything. To begin the game, we have to buy a shop menu screen, but since we don’t have any money in the beginning we have to accept a loan from the developer. Then we have to buy the preloader to actually load the game and menu buttons to actually play it. The game itself is a 2-D top-down flying shooter. We can buy missiles and lasers and guns (all upgradeable of course) to help against the waves of enemies, or we can use the money we earn to buy and upgrade a logo, copyright info, the graphics, or a game over screen.

Achievement Unlocked is game that’s all about unlocking achievements. The game itself is mostly a platformer: there’s a single screen filled with blocks, jump pads, and spikes, all traditionally found in some form or another in platformers. But Achievement Unlocked is really more of a puzzle game, since our only goal is to figure out how to get all 99 achievements. It begins easily enough, giving us achievements for preloading the game, watching the sponsor screen, and pretty much rewarding every other simple action we could make: moving left, moving right, jumping, dying, etc. Everything nets us an achievement; we’re even given infinite lives so the game doesn’t end until we either give up or get every achievement.

Read the rest at PopMatters.

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Your Virtual Physical Self

Posted by Nick Dinicola on August 7, 2009

“Physicality” has become a buzzword in the gaming industry, used as a shorthand expression for anything that gives the player a sense of their avatar’s physical self. The intro to Call of Duty 4 is a good example: The character is shoved into a car, driven around, then dragged to a stage and executed. As he’s thrown around, the camera is also thrown around, so not only do we see what the character sees but we experience the same distortion he does. But watching this intro now, one gets a vague sense that something is missing: Limb movement, but specifically arm movement. Other games have embraced this new approach, putting an emphasis on the character’s limbs. While the idea of seeing our legs in a first-person shooter isn’t new, the way some games let us interact with our environment through our arms is new.

Far Cry 2 - Dislocated Finger

Far Cry 2 has an interesting approach because of what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t show your character’s legs. Despite this omission, the game is praised for its immersiveness and how well it portrays a sense of physical self. This praise is entirely due to the game’s unique healing animations. Our character will stab himself in the arm with a syrette, snap a dislocated finger back into place, burn a wound shut with a flare, and the list goes on. The important takeaway here is that we heal ourselves by interacting with our body, and most of those interactions focus on our arms. Because of the unique and memorable nature of these animations, we think of them when we think of the game, not the lack of the character’s legs. Most players probably won’t even realize they don’t have legs over the course of the game because there are few reasons for us to look down. When we do have to look down to pick up an object, the character’s hand reaches out and grabs that object instead of magically picking it up by walking over it. Our body, our arm, interacts with the environment, attracting our attention away from the fact that even though we’re staring straight down we don’t see any legs.

Read the rest at PopMatters.

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Homelessness in The Sims 3

Posted by Nick Dinicola on July 31, 2009

The Sims 3, like all the Sim games and really anything by Will Wright, is a playground in which we can make our own stories. Sometimes we try to keep thing realistic, but the potential for insanity is never far away. The Sims has always been a great source for over-the-top melodrama befitting the worst daytime soap, but it’s also a source of far more serious stories.

Alice and Kev - Fighting

One that stands out is the blog “Alice and Kev.” Alice and Kev are homeless Sims. Kev is described as “…mean-spirited, quick to anger, and inappropriate. He also dislikes children, and he’s insane. He’s basically the worst Dad in the world.” His daughter Alice “…has a kind heart, but suffers from clumsiness and low self-esteem.” Each blog post is a snapshot of their daily lives, and while some are humorous, there’s an undercurrent of sadness running through the entire blog. Reading about the hardships Alice faces while trying to go to school and dealing with a father who hates her is frighteningly realistic, and seeing the joy she gets out of simple things like a good meal and a bed are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Kev provides some comic relief with his haphazard attempts at love, but it’s also hard not to feel sorry for him when his attempts constantly fail, and the drama returns when he comes back “home” and takes his anger out on Alice. It’s a captivating story in its own right, but this premise has been done before with The Sims 2 and can be reproduced by anyone who has the game, what really makes “Alice and Kev” unique is its presentation.

Read the rest at PopMatters.

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Permanent Death in Far Cry 2

Posted by Nick Dinicola on July 24, 2009

“…meaning does not come from playing a game… it comes from playing WITH a game. It is the manipulation not only of the actors in the game that is meaningful, but the manipulation of the game itself.”
-Clint Hocking

Ben Abraham over at SLRC started an experiment with Far Cry 2 that has since been picked up and repeated by other bloggers.

The experiment:

Play Far Cry 2 on normal difficulty and stop when you die. You only have one life. Death is permanent.

Ben’s posts, and those by others who have taken up the experiment, read like a normal game of Far Cry 2. The introduction and the tutorial always play out the same, and while everyone’s first mission is different, what happens to them isn’t all that different than what happened to me when I played the game: They get in a shootout and kill a lot of people. That’s essentially every mission in Far Cry 2. So what makes this experiment so interesting? Why am I compelled to read each post, and why are others compelled to take up the challenge of Permanent Death?

Clint Hocking, in his post about the experiment, suggests that people don’t actually care about the individual narratives being related to them, they don’t really care what happens to Ben Abraham or his avatar, they care about what can happen. “The reason I think people are paying attention is because Ben is playing with the game. He is manipulating the game itself…It is not the combination of Far Cry 2 + authored narrative irreversibility that is making the permadeath experiment meaningful to Ben and to others, it is the fact that he is able to manipulate the game to create this experiment that is bringing meaning.”

The result of the experiment is a new experience, one similar to what it would be otherwise, but given a deeper meaning due to the player’s own conscious manipulation of the game. By adding his own rules to the game, Ben ceases to be just a player. He’s now a director of his experience in addition to being an actor in it, and yet he’s still subservient to the whims of the emergent gameplay. His role as player is changed, but he’s still very much a player. He is, as Clint Hocking said, not just playing the game but playing with the game.

Read the rest at PopMatters.

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