Highbrow High Score

The Art of Gaming Intellectually

Archive for the ‘New Media’ Category

Narrative Gaming

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“Don’t despair for Story’s future or turn curmudgeonly over the rise of video games or reality TV. The way we experience stories will evolve, but as story telling animals we will no more give it up than start walking on all fours… Rejoice in the twisting evolutionary path that made us creatures of story, that gave us all the gaudy, joyful dynamism of the stories we tell and realize that understanding the power of storytelling, where it comes from and why it matters, can never diminsh your experience of it.”

– The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall


After I heard this on a summer reading list from NPR, I was drawn to this idea of narrative and how it is viewed. Although I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, Gottschall seems to champion video games here as an evolution of how we tell our stories. The interesting part of this excerpt is the use of “curmudgeonly” to describe the old-world view of what the narrative is and what stories should look like – they should certainly not be experienced through video games, as if that would somehow degrade the art of storytelling itself.

But video games are not novels. We experience games distinctively, as both the audience and the author making the interaction idiosyncratic, rarely finding that blend in any other medium. Pieces like Heavy Rain and Shadows of the Colossus are heralded as narrative wonders of the industry. Beautiful though they may be, “quality” does not define content. Video games are more sensitive to subjective judgments like these because to be impressed by a story is rare in any form, but to be brought to tears by modern entertainment is almost unheard of outside of the gaming geek culture. To have a New York Times reviewer state that “no single-player game has made me feel as profoundly connected to the outcome of a story…” writing about Heavy Rain legitimizes video game story telling and it’s unique narrative form.

Yes, we have BioshockSilent Hill, and Final Fantasy that are engrossing stories that express emotion and narrative with depth and style. The art of video game story telling can be exciting for the player in action and in recollection of how it made him or her feel. And, yet…

There are still those who don’t see it that way, for whatever reason, and scoff at the idea. Literary elitist or technologically averse? Does content of Dead Space make it any more or less of a story than 20,000 Leagues under the Sea? Is it the audience or the marketing? Or just the curmudgeon’s futile dismissal of the narrative’s latest evolution?

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May 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Objectification in Pixels

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When I was around 14 years old, I played a game on PS2 called Bloodrayne. 

Although at the time I knew that feminine images in video games were more than slightly skewed, this game really rubbed it in the gamer’s  face. The titular character embodied the over-the-top indulgence of the game from her thinly veiled (if at all) innuendo to her gravity defying gymnastic style attacks – all clad in tight leather. Albeit blocky and pixellated, Rayne’s breasts were a jiggly extension of her overt sexuality.

Lara Croft

That's your fighting outfit?

But the game was fun and didn’t take itself seriously in any way.  I knew something was amiss with the representation of the female form, but I didn’t care and enjoyed it quite a bit.

The female characters in video games are almost always (if not always always) a vehicle for either direct or subtle eroticism. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing nor is it exclusive to the medium. The problem with women presents itself in every form of storytelling; women mostly tend to be extensions of the lead (presumably male) character in literature and she presents problems as a reminder of both sexual desires and the all but inevitable after effects of said desires: commitment, children, and an acknowledgement of mortality.

Take the dichotomy of the Madonna and the whore used and cited excessively in literature. It’s the basic idea that a woman is pure until she is not and represents itself in a myriad of ways from Desdemona to Lolita. This also plays well into the idea of the male gaze in film meaning that women are a reflections of the male lead, the male creator, and perhaps most importantly, the male viewer and their perceptions.

Now, take those two ideas and fast-forward to the age of the Xbox. Although the origins may not be as visible, the conceptions of femininity are still constructed quite tightly around them. We see a female character in a video game as either something to desire or protect (Princess Peach, we’re lookin’ at you) and the mere fact that they are women is cause enough for either.

There are some female characters that defy these conceptions, sure, but they are exceptions to a rule that the art of storytelling has made for us. Female protagonists seem to try to empower and titillate, contradicting themselves as action-oriented characters and objects of lust at the same time. However, being aware of these constructs, games like Bloodrayne serve as a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the extreme and if you’re in on the joke, you can gawk intellectually.

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March 29, 2012 at 3:22 am

Ludology: Best Job Ever? (Hint: The answer is “yes!”)

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Hello again! I won’t bore you with the details, but I’m sorry for the embarrassingly long delay. After a hectic month, we’re back on track! And on with the blog!

I discussed in my last post my most dearly held work of literature as well as the video game to which I owe most of my nightmares. Strange mix, no?

I can’t really speak to why those happen to be close to my heart, but I know they’ve influenced how I view many forms of media and art today. I’d like to think they set my standards for what I enjoyed. This might indicate that I enjoy strange things or at least that I expect a different kind of enlightenment from the separate medium.

Sounds fairly reasonable. What we expect from the myriad forms of art varies considerably, and rightfully so. When the potential knowledge or entertainment or artistic enlightenment one expects to gain doesn’t meet our expectations, we may write that work off as a “bad” one.

Being a student of the humanities, I couldn’t say exactly what sort of sociological trait this is. Our perceived expectations dictate how popular art and media are advertised to us and limit the “avant-garde” creative expression to an indie fringe – never challenging the mainstream ideologies of said media.

What I’m very wordily trying to say is that our world at large has very specific parameters for different types of art and media. Those expectations are used to produce and market entertainment to us, often recycling conventions from formulaic genres and sub-categories instead of trying for true innovation. And so we see a cycle…

But where does this leave video games? Socially, certainly not on the same tier with traditional art and literature. No, video games are delegated somewhere below that – often seen as “base” entertainment. Because of this divide, video games may never be seen as a comparable “alternative literature,” limiting gaming to (from some non-gamers’ perspectives) a childish, inadequate form of media.

I suppose the question at hand is “Why?” Why have we subjugated forms of media to be accessible to one group, excluding others? Why did video games become the preferred whipping boy for the societal problems of the youth?

I can’t pretend to even know where to start with those questions, but if you have any ideas, feel free to comment away. A comment by “D” last post inspired this tangent and I hope that people keep discussing their ideas. I promise to reply in a timely fashion next time : )

Thanks for reading through the rambles. Next time, I’d like to discuss the importance of perspective in video games and how that relates to classic literature. Hope to see you there!

Happy Geekery!
-Rachel

P.S. Ludology is the study of games, play, toys, and video games. It also sounds like one of the best. disciplines. ever. Check out this awesome blog as well as this one.

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October 27, 2010 at 5:38 pm