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Lesson 9: Track A Summaries

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Schedule   ::   Lesson 9   ::   Track A Summaries   ::   Track B Summaries

Bernstein, C., Chapter 8: Play it again, Pac-man

Reading summary/quotes:

Video and computer games are a relatively new medium all together. The computer tends to require that we as humans relate to them in ways unique from all other kinds of communication. This uniqueness can make the computer into an “alien consciousness”. Games can be played for goals or just to waste time or have fun. This is part of the lure of games.

In a sense, video games are how the computer is liberated from the menial tasks of word processing and calculations (p. 156).

Spending time or Killing it: Some of the lure of arcade games is that of extending one's game play due to bonus points or exemplary skills. Player's don't want the game to end (p. 157).

Games can be seen as a combination of just playing to “waste time” (general economy), or also as utilitarian and goal-oriented (restricted economy) (p. 158).

Message and medium: Fantasy adventures are a very popular home video game genre, with war games popular at the arcades (p. 159).

It can be useful to look at a medium in terms of its essence, that is what can this medium do that is unique and different from other mediums (p. 160)?

The medium of a video game is the CPU, just like paint on canvas, photography, film, etc. are other art mediums (p. 161). A video game is just a computer that only plays one program—the game.

The Computer Unconscious: Computers can be so fascinating in part because of the desire to explore a large number of combinations of a limited amount of variables to see what will happen (p. 161).

The nature of the computer is such that it can be turned off and on, something that we can't do with people or most other objects around us and always there (p. 162).

The Anxiety of Control/The Control of Anxiety: The computer is like an “alien consciousness”, alien in that the way in which we work with and communicate with it is different then the way we are used to (p. 163).

The nature of operating systems is similar to video games, i.e. Exit, save, escape functions are like saving the race, escaping danger, etc. in a video game (p. 163).

Just like watching a movie is attractive because the creator has narrowed down what a person sees to a small viewing window, games narrow down an infinite variety of movement to simple devices like joysticks, mice, etc. (p. 165).

Games can also be enticing because they produce predictable, repeatable results and can give one a sense of control or power. This is in contrast to the real world (p. 165).

Paranoia or Paramilitary: Computers are scary because one is not fully in control in a sense, the ROM and CPU are, which you can't see (p. 166). Using a computer is kind of like being next to another mind (i.e. paranoia).

Computers started as devices to simulate “attack/respond” scenarios, military devices (p. 167).

Related articles/class discussions:

  • Design Techniques and Ideals (Lesson 8 Track A): Crawford states that an artificial smarts system should produce reasonable behavior and patterns that should be predictable, this is similar to the idea that we like games because they are predictable.
  • The Internal Economy of Games and Game Balancing (Lesson 7 Both Tracks): Transitive relationships are such that a player starts weak, but gets stronger throughout game play by upgrading their status, gaining points, etc. This is similar to the idea that arcade games are addictive due to wanting to increase game play time for your quarter buy gaining more lives and bonus points.
  • Tapping Into Players' Habits and Preferences (Lesson 6 Track A): Some students in the survey played games as a means of escape and withdrew socially, this relates to the idea of wasting time or taking comfort in the computer.

Discussion points/questions:

  • Is playing games attractive because it is an escape from reality? Can this become destructive?


Grodal, T., Chapter 6: Stories for eye, ear, and muscles: Video games, media, and embodied experiences

Stories can be communicated with or without language. Some stories told on film or in novels are better at invoking 3rd -person emotions in people. Video games are good ad invoking 1st-person emotions due to their active participatory nature. Players are actively responsible for the outcomes in the games. Many stories are linear in nature because we tend to remember and relate events and stories in a linear fashion.

Video games can be seen as simulations of real-life experiences (p. 130).

Our brains have a framework or system of describing our experiences as micro-stories, I.e. Going to the supermarket is a story in a sense. Our brains use this as a mechanism to orient us in our daily activities (p. 130).

Video games tend to have a lot of lower-order processes or goals, i.e. Simply moving around and fighting. They can be couched in the context of higher-order goals like saving the world (p. 131).

Video Games in the perspective of media history

People tend to remember stories in a linear or canonical fashion, even when they hear the story out of sequence (p. 133).

Language can enhance stories, and helps with a third-person perspective (p. 134).

A third-person view is good for emotions like empathy, pity, etc. whereas first person is more like love, hate, etc. (p. 136).

Theater is a way of representing dramatic stories and third-person experiences (p. 136).

Written stories were longer-lasting than oral stories and allowed for more complex stories (p. 138).

Film is another media for the “simulation of basic story experiences (p. 138).”

Video Games, Story experience, and game playing

Computers provide an interactive element to stories, especially via motor actions, closest to “the basic embodies story experience (p. 139).”

Progressing through a video game is much more complex than simply watching a movie event. We must form complex mental models and maps to cope with the games (p. 139).

Game “play” means that we can perform the activity for pleasure and not survival. It is not a real-life situation (p. 140).

Linearity, Non-linearity, and Interactivity as agency

Because a video game is non-mediated unlike texts or movies, it requires active participation to flow with the story (p. 141).

Interactivity is not about changing the world one is playing in, but changing the mental state of the player (p. 143).

Stories are usually very linear because that is how people experience the world around them. That is why watching a movie backwards is very disorienting (p. 145).

Even hypertext environments are experienced linearly, i.e. Like tape-recording a web-browsing session (p. 146).

The Aesthetics of Video Games

Video games provide an “aesthetic of repetition”, that is just as in real life, video games require a lot of low-level repetitive actions, like running around, riding a bike, etc. Contrast this with films which “carry” us from frame to frame without regard to menial details or repetitive tasks (p. 148).

Exploratory coping: where the player explores to progress the game.

Dynamic coping: the player must dynamically ope with other monsters or agents in real-time to progress. (p. 149).

People need to feel that they have real options in a game. They are not just “stimulus-response” types of actions (p. 150).

When a viewer watches an event happen on film, they are not personally responsible for the outcome of the situation. The film is not personal to any one person. In a video game, the viewer is an active participant who is coping at an emotional and physical level with the situation (p. 150). It is a completely personal situation.

Some games like Myst are not dynamically driven the same way that 1st-person shooters are, i.e. The player can contemplate a particular scene and what actions to take (p. 152).

Related articles/class discussions:

  • Play it Again, Pac Man (Lesson 9 Track A): Game “play” means that we can perform the activity for pleasure and not survival. Similar to the idea of a general economy in which we play games just to waste time or for fun.
  • Computer games in education project, context article (Lesson 5 Track A): Games invoke emotions like anger, enjoyment, and excitement (similar to the idea that games are great at invoking 1st-person emotions).
  • Chapter 5: Narrative in the Video game (Lesson 3 Track A): The video game's narrative makes the viewer into a participant by allowing the player to control the character to some extent in the game world. This is similar to the idea that video games are very personalized experiences where players cope and affect outcomes of situations.

Discussion points/questions:

  • Which is more engaging, a good novel or film that invokes 3rd-party emotions, or a video game that requires active participation and invokes 1st-party emotions?
  • Why do people tend to think of stories in linear terms?
Contributors: Tom Caswell, Marion Jensen, Jennifer Jorgensen, Jon Scoresby, and Tim Stowell
Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2008, May 20). Lesson 9: Track A Summaries. Retrieved January 07, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License
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