This panel was ran by Sarah Bowman Ph.D, Patrick Hayes, and Adam White and they had two panels to talk about all the things behind the study of games. Everything below is basically what they explained in the panel along with a little bit of my own interpretation of it as well. So credit for these terms and the content belongs to them.
Game Theory 101
First let’s establish a clear distinction between digital and analog gaming. Digital will consist of mainly video game type of games where it involves computers and the internet while analog gaming is going to be more along the lines of LARP (live action role playing) and table-top gaming such as Dungeons & Dragons with pen and paper. Within all types of games there is usually a meta-narrative which is an over-arching theme that is laid inside of the gaming story. Sometimes it can be very subtle and won’t be picked up until the end or even won’t be present until there are additional installments in a franchise. One example would be how in the Mass Effect trilogy the main story is clear that you are there to defend civilization from the Reapers, but one of the meta-narratives might be that there is a constant struggle between organics and synthetics. Even in the first game when you encounter the rogue AI on Earth’s moon is an example of such struggle or to name a more obvious one with the Geth and the Quarians.
Another term discussed was liminality which can be described as a rite of passage of sorts. So a game where you, or a group of characters, have to grow and evolve yourself would be an example. The game the panel used to explain this term was Kingdom Hearts where you expand your knowledge of the Keyblade and progress into masters of the art. You are put into a liminal space when playing your games as you are in a state between you and your characters as you are not one or the other, but a mesh of the two and you move between both and progress together when playing the games. When you play your games you will sometimes get the feeling of communitas, which can be explained as the feeling of being part of a bigger cause. This can be applied in a couple of ways, one would be that you as your game character are feeling part of the universe’s cause or the other way is from a reality perspective where you feel like you’re part of a community. This can be achieved through sharing your achievements in games, more so now than ever with the use of Xbox achievements and Playstation trophies, and even playing a game cooperatively with someone you feel like you’re bonded together.
Another term that most should be familiar with is myth. This is a sacred narrative of sorts and are stories that will tell us of an origin or of becomings. Usually these are tellings of people that have become exaggerated over time and can usually involve a God or supernatural powers and entities. Myths started out in an oral fashion and have thus evolved into forms of media with films and games and more. Never before have story telling been greater and games are getting us more emotionally involved now more than ever. If you’ve played games like The Last of Us or Heavy Rain, then you know what it means to be emotionally involved in a game as those two are prime examples of setting the mood. There are 3 types of myth stories to be told: the creation stage, the hero stage, and the transformation stage. The creation stage is rarely done in video games due to the lack of action normally, but done more so in film and other media. The hero stage is primarily what is seen in video games that feature myth due to the action and adventure and stories that are involved with such. The final stage is transformation and normally details the afterlife or a resolution to things.
If you’ve ever played a role playing game such as World of Warcraft then you should be familiar with the term archetype, this is where you identify roles by stereotypes such as a person who is agile to be a rogue or uses magic as a mage or the strong hero as the warrior. You also have your character, and this can be your in game character or, in terms of analog gaming, your role in a LARP or even yourself fulfilling a role in society. Technically you are always in a state of character whenever we are in a social environment as we are trying to come across as a certain type of person. Within the video game industry, franchises end up restraining characters more than giving them freedom as they have to fit into a certain expected role in the games. However, there is a difference in how characters are done in an analog game as they have much more freedom of choice and the character can be executed in a multitude of ways.
There’s a little something called digital performance and it can mean a couple of things, but probably the main thing is you becoming a full avatar. With motion games you have to do everything in the game and you really feel like you’re the character so you’re essentially doing the actions as if you were the character. A good example is Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword where the motion controls allow you to swing your sword and do other various acts and gives you the sense that you’re sort of Link. It doesn’t have to be a motion game to be considered digital performance though, if you’re playing a game and somebody is watching then that is the same idea of digital performance.
A story is never limited to just one medium, in fact a story usually spans multiple mediums. Lately this act of having transmedia is more popular by creating video games along with movies and then books to add on top of that. The panelists used Star Trek as an example, but I see Halo as a better one so I’ll explain transmedia with that. So you have one story which is with the games, just take Halo: Combat Evolved for one. You also have the book Halo: The Flood which tells a similar story but in the same universe or Halo: Fall of Reach which is a prequel to the game. Also now with Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, adds another level to the transmedia. So basically the whole story of Halo is being told between multiple forms of media and that is what transmedia is. This is not to be taken as “cross-platform” which is supposed to be just the same exact story told on multiple mediums (such as Call of Duty on Xbox 360 and PS3 and PC). Another form of gaming is the alternate reality game and these are games that are played out in real life that are usually used as a form of advertisement for the actual game. The biggest example is the “I love bees” campaign that Microsoft used for Halo 2’s release in 2004. While the game has obviously ended, it involved users going to this site and attempt to decrypt the code and solve the puzzle. Users would have to a crazy amount of things like go to a payphone at a certain time and location to talk with a pre-recorded message or an “operator” which was a character from the game.
There aren’t a lot of gamers who do this anymore, but those of you who go through and read up on the lore about a game universe or do some research about the game itself before/during your playthrough then you are metagaming. Basically any time you learn about a game to better yourself at it or better understand the game itself. However, you could be playing a game within the game and that would also be considered metagaming, If you are familiar with Rooster Teeth’s Let’s Play, that would be the perfect example of that.
The last thing talked about in this panel is the dark area of gaming called pervasive gaming. This is where bad things tend to happen and real life harm could be had. One way I relate this to real life is by thinking of “trolls” who mess with people intentionally to get a certain response out of them which is the whole idea behind pervasive gaming; users who play a game with someone who don’t know that you’re actually playing a game with them. Con artists are a particularly good example in real life as well, due to them tricking you into believing one thing then completely doing something different usually to steal your money or valuables.
Game Theory 201
Time for round 2! So you know when you’re playing a game and you’re so caught up in it that time flies by? Or how emotionally tied you get to the characters or the universe of a game? This is immersion and is basically the flow state in any medium. Immersion can be broken by pausing a game, ending the game, even just an event that was done differently in the game itself, or perhaps just a bug in the game. More and more are we seeing a deeper level of immersion with games and personally I love it. Games like The Last of Us are an excellent example, that game sets the mood just right to put a little tear in your heart when stuff happens to certain characters. When immersed you are usually within something called the magic circle and this describes an imaginary line between the game life and our real life where we know the difference between reality and the rules of the game. When inside the magic circle you shift personas from your normal self to the game character. With the magic circle characters have an alibi of sorts for their actions due to the fact that you are supposed to be fully immersed as a character and your actions are that of your character and not of yourself. So if your character is an evil backstabbing guy, then in a game of Dungeons & Dragons you might find yourself betraying your friends simply because your character might do that if it were real. Now where does the magic circle start? For some it starts in the preparation phase when they’re setting up and getting ready for their game, like a ritual, but for most it is whenever you actually enter the game space.
When you are involved in a game, sometimes you get to a point where you have a loss of self or reality. You’ll be so highly immersed in the game that to some degree it will bleed into reality and sort of breaking the magic circle. Bleeding is when there are emotions that carry over between the games and reality, sometimes even romance can bleed over when you might fall in love with a game character. The act of being highly immersed in a game is also called deep play and doesn’t mean that it is harmful, just that you are very wrapped up in the game itself. If you’ve ever played a game of The Sims or even Animal Crossing then you’ve probably experienced deep play at some point in time due to the high level of immersion that the game usually creates. This is also similar to a gambling addiction where an avid gambler would just continue to gamble even when he doesn’t have anything to gamble with simply because he is just caught up in the moment. Once you get to the part where your deep play could cause harm to yourself or others, then you might want to cut back a little bit. Another type of play is dark play and this is where things might get a bit dangerous. If you remember pervasive gameplay from earlier in the article, then this term is very similar to that concept that there are players who are playing for mischief or to inflict harm on others. An example of dark play is Xbox Live, or rather any online gaming, where there are players who bully and cause trouble just to mess around with others.
Not everyone is in for the gameplay and action, some like to simply watch the cutscenes to get the story and get a movie-like experience and that would be considered narrativism when story is the most important part of the game. Another approach is gamism where players maximize player potential. The other one is simulationism and this is where players simulate a realistic environment like Flight Simulator or The Sims. There are many different styles of games, but you have 3 core styles of railroad, sandbox, and open world games. You have the railroad which has the game go in a linear fashion from one point to the next and with no deviation. Then you open world where you can follow the rails, but you are also free to venture out and do whatever you want to. The final is sandbox where the game is purely creational and there isn’t really a path to follow. These three methods of gameplay can be combined of course and is done so frequently. Games like Minecraft explore more of a sandbox and games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim would be considered open world while Call of Duty would be more of a railroad. Also in some games you are given moral choices such as in Mass Effect with the Paragon and Renegade, while both sides are still heroic one causes more catastrophe than the other. Or perhaps Dishonored with the chaos meter, or the classic Dunegons and Dragons scale of variations of good, evil, and neutral. Sometimes you are posed with a moral duality where an action puts you at odds with yourself to make a decision. For example with inFAMOUS 2 at the very end the person who has been good has suddenly decided that an evil action must be the correct course. Putting you at conflict with yourself as to which choice to select. Some games make you choose to make a moral decision such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 where you are placed inside of an airport with a gun and told to shoot everyone there to ignite a new world war basically. While yes you are able to skip it or even when in the scene you do not have to shoot anybody, but the result is still the same so the game forces a moral decision upon you.
I hope you all have found this as enlightening as I have and that if you have any questions about these terms to please comment below and I’ll do my best to get them answered. Also if you’re truly passionate about gaming and understanding the gaming culture, I implore you to become further educated in the culture and expand past your comfort zone sometimes. Attempt to try different styles of gameplay, or just take more time to appreciate the game and lore itself. Also becoming social about your games is a great experience. As mentioned in the article, this could be playing with another player or even just talking about your achievements with your friends is a good way to experience communitas.