Category Archives: Games

‘Save the world’ game outline

My game is a hard one to make playable in a classroom. The concept involves people returning lost items in exchange for points, which then could be redeemed for items from the game’s virtual gift shop. People who have lost things would post online — “My dog ran away. Anyone seen it?” — and then anyone who finds the item — in this case, a dog — would return it and write about it in another post. Items will vary in value (points) based on the importance of the item to the person who lost it.

The in-class version of this game requires three or more players. Each player must take out two scraps of paper. On each scrap, the player will write the name of an item and its value, which can range from 1 point to 10 points. For example, a scrap might read: Chemistry book (8 points). These two scraps of paper represent the items you lost.

Next, all players will place their scraps face-down in a pile. Once all the scraps are in a pile, players will take turns drawing from said pile, removing one scrap (finding one item) at a time. After a player “finds” an item, he or she must ask to whom the item belongs. This can be verbal. After the owner’s identity is known, the player who found the item can return it and collect the corresponding points. If a player draws his or her own item from the pile, they must put it back, and their turn effectively will be skipped. This will continue until all the items are found.

At the end of the game, players will add up their points, and a winner will be crowned. Sorry, but there is no gift shop, and there are no prizes. Shouldn’t the feeling of helping another person be reward enough? Isn’t that I’m-a-good-person sensation, while temporary, worth more than any prize your virtual points might afford you?

Depending on the number of players, this game usually can be played in five minutes. Don’t be tempted to attribute little value (points) to the item you lose in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage. For example, you might write: Chapstick (1 point), which is fine, but you shouldn’t do so to keep your competitors from racking up serious points. I wouldn’t even say you’re competitors. You’re more like compatriots who frequently misplace things but love and help one another.

A response: Gamergate

I’d never heard of Gamergate before reading the assigned articles. Most of all, I’m surprised so many people care so deeply about games that something like this would happen. I guess people who spend considerable amounts of money and time playing games are passionate and feel deeply invested when it comes to games, who makes games and how they’re covered in the media. It still surprises me that people care.

Basically, Gamergate started because some guy blogged about how his ex-girlfriend supposedly cheated on him with five different men. Ostensibly, she “did” this for publicity purposes — to drum up interest in her own games. As it goes, some members of the game community were outraged with this immoral, pleasure-seeking woman, and they publicly attacked and threatened her. When these people realized they actually were the ones being made to look bad, they made the issue about the ethicality of people who review and write about games. They even duped Intel into being on their side.

It’s upsetting that this woman was personally and publicly attacked over unconfirmed accusations concerning her private life. It’s upsetting that some gamers supported this movement and later attempted to shift from the personal attacks to a moral high ground — a shift they made only after realizing that personal attacks and misogyny were bad colors on them. It’s upsetting that some people care so deeply about games they would attempt to harm other living people in the name of games and the industry’s credibility. It’s all very upsetting.

I don’t have much of an opinion about some of the issues that fall under Gamergate — I lack knowledge of the game industry and how such business is conducted — but the entire notion of Gamergate seems misguided. A few people were mad that this woman might have been unfaithful to her boyfriend in a ploy to grow interest in her games. When that became an unpopular and unbecoming position for gamers to have, they conveniently shifted focus to the ethics of game journalism, even though this woman doesn’t seem to have crossed any ethical boundaries. It seems as if these people are scouring their lives and the game industry for presumably nonexistent issues about which they can be upset.

‘Make the World Better’ game concept

I’d like to see a game in which people who have lost things — keys, wallet, pet dog — have them returned. The game could come with incentives for people who find and return lost things to their rightful owners. The game would rely on people who have lost things submitting a “lost item” report to the game designers, as well as people actually looking for the items.

The game itself would exist online, with “lost item” reports and “found item” reports being documented there. I would require the person who declared an item missing also to be the person who declares an item found and returned. I would need some sort of verification process to ensure there’s no collusion among players, who could intentionally misplace items for their friends to find and then cash in. The “lost item” reports could include detailed descriptions of the items and where they might have been lost, which would allow item-seekers to narrow their search. Another problem is ensuring item-seekers don’t just visit the website, learn of lost items, and then go find the items to keep themselves.

The game would never end, or would never start. Its arc is completely reliant on people misplacing things. In a perfect world, there would never be any lost items, and the game wouldn’t exist. Players would be expected to submit “lost item” reports, and  those players who look for items would be expected to return them if found. There could be a forum online in which players discuss their experiences concerning the game. Maybe the game could run on a point system. I could have an online store in which players could spend their points on items they hopefully won’t turn around and lose. But if they do lose them, there’s a game that helps with that.

A response: ‘Ghosts of a Chance’

“Ghosts of a Chance” sounds a little more stimulating than “World Without Oil.” The concept of “Ghosts of a Chance” — hauntings at a museum — certainly is more attention-grabbing than an oil shortage. What does that say about our priorities? The biggest issue I see with “Ghosts of a Chance” is its accessibility, or lack thereof.

It’s a creative and engaging idea, and I like that museum-goers can play the game during an afternoon visit. From the museum’s standpoint, it’s a profitable idea. The game creates new ways in which visitors can see paintings and engage with their surroundings. It also encourages teamwork, as some clues — those that are coded, for example — might only be accessible by a small number of people.

That’s also the major drawback of the game in my view: a lack of accessibility. Some people like to play games alone, whether it’s because they’re shy or enjoy a challenge. If some clues are hidden in computer coding, foreign languages or complex riddles, a singular player’s ability to complete the game is diminished considerably. So, the game essentially forces players to work with one another, which could be a turnoff for some.

A response: ‘World Without Oil’

I don’t exactly know what to make of “World Without Oil.” I think the designers’ intentions are in a good place; making consumers think critically and with an eye for solutions when it comes to our dependence on oil is a novel idea. I just don’t know how many people would be interested in playing. I don’t really play video games. I know I wouldn’t play it, regardless of its merits and problem-solving potential.

I think the idea is compelling for a few reasons. First, it plays off a contemporary issue with which almost everyone is familiar. Second, it lets players dictate the story through their posts, as opposed to players working toward a ready-made, predetermined outcome. Third, it’s a sort of practice field on which players and researchers can consider a fake problem before it becomes a real one.

On the other hand, I suspect interest in the game and similar games might not be strong. First, it only lasted for about a month, which doesn’t allow much time for players to recruit their friends, or for players to grow accustomed to the game. Second, the game is somewhat of a downer; people might not want to think about a potential oil crisis. Third, documentation and record-keeping isn’t exactly exhilarating.

A response: ‘Video games go to Washington’

I’d never heard of the Howard Dean video game before reading this article. I, like the designers of the game, pondered at first how to make a political video game that wouldn’t be seen as trivial but wouldn’t be seen as a tacky, desperate plea to voters, either. Though his campaign was unsuccessful, Dean demonstrated for future political candidates how technology could be used to advantage a campaign. Even technology normally existing outside the political realm, like video games, has a role to play.

The Dean video game points to, what in my estimation, is a broader infiltration of politics into institutions used for entertainment or recreation — institutions that used be free from politics. I tend to view politics — at least the images politicians hope to project — as traditional, professional and stately. It seems a little odd that politicians and their campaigns would venture into the realm of video games, cell phone applications and so on. But it’s happened.

And while I tend to associate video games and cell phone applications as frivolous or entertainment-based, they also have qualities that make them powerful political tools capable of swinging an election one way or another. The more I think of it, that political campaigns employ this new technology isn’t odd at all. There was a time when newspapers were news, and then came a time when they were first used by political campaigns to convey messages. There was a time when TV was new, and then came a time when political campaigns recognized the opening TV presented for advertising and public appearances that could advance the interests of a candidate. It makes sense video games would follow a similar path.

A couple characteristics of the Dean video game stick out in my mind. First, the game focused not on partisan politics but on the strength and influence of grassroots efforts. On the other side of the spectrum, I imagine an action game in which Dean attempts to take over the White House, sparing the country from the policies of the Bush administration. I think the Dean campaign was wise in its design of the game and its premise.

Second, it’s interesting the Dean campaign picked a promise rooted in civic duty and grassroots efforts. The game was able to show the ability of grassroots efforts to multiply; if you reach out to two people, they might reach out to two people and so on. The game also was entrenched in real time, counting down to the Iowa Caucus. This alerted players as to the date of the caucus, an aspect of the game that worked to eliminate the ignorance and indifference that some cite as reasons for low turnout. In this way, the game served a public good.

A response: ‘From work to play’

I didn’t understand much of this article, but I did understand some parts. I don’t play video games and don’t know much about them. One concept that caught my attention is the malleable definition of fiction and the changing aspects of storytelling. This applies not just to video games but to storytelling of all modes and methods.

I found interesting the argument that some video games are not fiction or storytelling in the traditional sense. The argument centers on the idea that users/players control the action — the structure — by pushing buttons and joggling sticks and such. It doesn’t even matter if the game has a singular ending reached regardless of the users’/players’ actions. Such games diminish the elements of shared experience and standardization — two staples of traditional pieces of fiction.

But at the same time, this argument can be made for even traditional pieces of fiction if the users/readers consume the material in unique ways. While more traditional pieces might not allow consumers to control the action with buttons and sticks, they do allow consumers to decide certain aspects of how the story unfolds: speed (all at once or piece by piece), time of day and environment (which could affect how the piece grips the consumer and emotion (how the consumer is feeling or thinking at the time he or she consumes the piece). Among these factors there is room for interpretation and variation across experiences with a single story. In this way, traditional stories and modern video games might not differ so strongly.

I also found interesting the idea that players of video games might play out the stories but not read the plots. There are arguments that work both to support and disprove this. Players of video games might play simply because it is fun or stimulating, paying little attention to how their actions relate to the broader plot. This might be because some early games had few detectable plot points; PAC-MAN, for instance, is about a yellow guy eating dots, but do players feel a connection, a responsibility to the plot?

On the other hand, the very act of playing a video game essentially requires some sort of connection or adherence to plot. Even playing PAC-MAN involves users assuming a similar mindset to that of the yellow guy, with eating the dots and avoiding the ghosts of critical importance.  A user might play more for fun than to provide impetus for the plot, but he or she still agrees to enter the fictional world and its conditions, which include plot. In this way, the act of playing is inseparable from the notion of plot.