Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Face Your Fears and Enjoy Yourself

          What makes horror games scary? What draws people toward the horror genre in any medium? What motivates a gamer to dive into an imaginary realm full of nightmarish creatures and fight their way out? These were the types of questions Jacky Tideman and I (Cody Lenox) thought about while approaching this final project. These questions have broad answers that incorporate many aspects of games, including the rules of the game that limit the amount of control the gamer has on the events occurring in the game, the imaginary world of horror games typically full of monsters and bloody corpses, and even the slowly moving narrative unveiling secrets and horrific past events. All of these elements combined create not just a game, but an experience: one must feel some sense of attachment to a protagonist, complete the objectives presented through the narrative using the rules of the game, defeat bizarre, grotesque enemies in a grim, uncomfortable setting, and gain knowledge and skill to progress to the end of the game where some resolution to all of the bad shit going on hopefully occurs. Many thrill-seeking humans search for that adrenaline rush of an enemy approaching at a rapid pace (or an eerily slow, zombie speed) and immediately reacting with the fight response, or having to hide from an enemy and blowing it up as it walks away. The satisfaction of destroying villainous creatures and saving a child or humanity itself is comparable to, if not more than, the satisfaction of completing a game reviewers call “the scariest game of the year!!” The thought, “I took on this scary freaking game and fought my way through fear and foe” is undoubtedly a rewarding one.


Haunting still from Silent Hill: Homecoming
          To truly understand the fear horror games create, one must turn to the specifics of individual games. Games focused on here are specifically of the subgenre of horror games known as survival horror games: Silent Hill, Amnesia, and F.E.A.R., among other series. In the article “Restless Dreams in Silent Hill: Approaches to Video Game Analysis,” Ewan Kirkland defines survival horror games as “action adventure games employing a third person perspective, and drawing on horror film iconography, in which a typically average character navigates a mazelike landscape, solving puzzles and fighting off monsters with limited ammunition, energy, and means of replenishing it” (172).  The Silent Hill games as well fit this definition perfectly, as do the Resident Evil games where the term “survival horror game” was coined. Amnesia and F.E.A.R., however, employ a first person perspective, and in Amnesia fighting with the monsters is not so much an option as is hide, while F.E.A.R. employs an abundance of first-person shooter gaming tactics to battle freaky crawling experimental creatures and enemy combat forces. At any rate, all of these games progress with the completion of small tasks or objectives in a multi-layered mazelike atmosphere full of enemies (e.g. monsters, enemy soldiers, demented human-like creatures) and bizarre, unsettling images (e.g. burning corpses, walls made of flesh, pools and trails of blood). While the plot of each game or series of games is unique, the expectations of a gamer playing a survival horror game span this whole genre of games because the repertoire of a gamer familiar with the survival horror game genre knows the general aspects of the games well enough to come to expect them.


Creepy enemy from F.E.A.R. 2
          These expectations of horror survival games are due to the constant returning to the same methods of frightening the gamer and typical progressive structure of the games with some slight emergent qualities. The broad horror genre of media including horror movies and novels typically has the same type of structure. For example, movies about a group of teenagers going on a trip typically end up with an enemy picking off the group one by one, with the characters who survive the longest being the main characters of interest throughout the film. This type of pattern, among other stereotypical horror plots, adds to the repertoire of the gamer playing a survival horror game. Nielsen, Smith, and Tosca assert in Understanding Video Games that a survival horror gamer’s repertoire includes “kill all monsters, pick up all objects because they might help solve puzzles, there is a boss or monster that is especially difficult to kill at the end of each level or area, ” (185) among other tasks and plot variations. Specific to the survival horror genre of game, other expectations of the gamer are created from past knowledge of horror storytelling. One of multiple defining elements in the repertoire of horror is gore. Slaughtered people and creatures, decapitated torsos with head nearby, freshly bloodied and rolling away come to be expected and treasured for their grotesque quality within horror movies, and especially in horror games, when these actions are many times controlled by the gamer.


Disturbing surroundings in Amnesia
           Control plays a large part in the levels of fear a game can provoke. While horror movies leave all of the control up to the directors, writers, and producers, and horror novels give control to the author to start and complete the narrative, games must give over some control to the player in order to achieve a level of interactivity that makes the player more engaged and invested in the experience than would a film or a novel. In Restless Dreams, Kirkland references Krzywinska, another video game theorist, who “relates the masochistic appeal of traditional horror genre pleasures of helplessness and loss of control, to tensions between structure and interactivity within horror video games. While horror film spectators are almost entirely subjected to the pre-determination of the cinematic text, horror video gamers, Krzywinska argues, through periods of protracted interaction, experience more intensely the loss of control when interactivity is suspended, often through intrusive violent or threatening cut-scenes” (172). This suspension of interactivity through cut-scenes or forced button mashing causes the gamer’s anxiety to rise, feeling like control being taken from them could result in immediate death. While this typically does not happen, yanking the little control given to the gamer away from them causes an immediate, negative reaction, even if the cut-scene is not all that terrifying or the actions that must be taken are oversimplified. In F.E.A.R. 2, Becket ends up in a tiny, tube-like chamber with two characters talking to him and the player playing as Becket, and all motion capabilities cease to work, except moving the camera around. The player must watch as tentacles incinerate the flesh off of soldiers nearby, and hallucinations take hold of Becket’s mind, and nothing can be done until the scene is over. This idea of loss of control coincides with the idea of general arousal theory discussed in Understanding Video Games: “video games will increase the player’s arousal level and thus increase his energy and the intensity of his actions. The increased arousal will not necessarily lead to different player actions, but more likely a heightened intensity in these actions” (228). 


From real-life experience, this theory holds true, for Jacky and I both react quite intensely when surprising or daunting obstacles occur within a game. Our breathing quickens, our palms sweat, one or both of us may let out a shout, or a girlish scream. Many times, our reactions are so intense, we have to pause the game, giving us a moment to lower our blood pressure and react to the events in the game with a clearer, less frantic mind. Personally, for us, this feeling of arousal and excitement that comes with emerging oneself in a horror video game is a major factor in the desire to continually play these often unoriginal, lackluster games. However, many other factors contribute to building fear and keeping the gamer on the edge of their seat.
          The narrative of the game, or the storyline/plot, helps to engage the gamer and dish out tidbits of frightening information. In F.E.A.R. 2, the plot is moved forward by commands from the fellow active soldiers completing unseen tasks apart from the character (Becket) whose eyes the gamer sees through, as well as intel items picked up off the floor, shelves, and countertops throughout the game that inform Becket and the gamer about events, revealing secrets about the operation Becket belongs to and what events transpired that has led Becket and his surroundings to their current state. These little pieces of information seem normal and militarized at first, but as the game progresses, get more and more sinister, experiments performed on children while unconscious, and the children’s response to the events despite not having any true memory of them. The telekinetic abilities implanted in the soldiers allows for the psychic hallucinations Becket experiences, creating terror in him as well as in the gamer, unable to control when reality is replaced with Alma’s (the vengeful, seemingly all-powerful enemy of the game) projected hallucinations. 

Reading an intel item in F.E.A.R. 2
As in this game, other games with plots heavy with gaps and uncertainties leave the gamer with a sense of dreadful uneasiness. Survival horror games love messing with the psyche of the main character and the gamer, oftentimes starting a game out with the character in a room with no idea how or why he/she is there, just as the gamer is uncertain about what got the character there. This interactivity the gamer has with the plot of the game makes the narrative aspect of survival horror games important, albeit difficult to analyze. Narrative helps instill fear in gamers, but would not be able to do so without the limiting rules of each game.

A memo discussing a lobotomy; not completely readable
          Rules play a significant part in adding to the fear a gamer feels while playing a horror game. When playing Silent Hill, if one could just curl up in a ball and wait for the lights to come on and the nightmare of Silent Hill after the sirens to disappear, or run through a wall instead of fight a hoard of zombie nurses without faces, the game would not offer significant challenges that motivate the player to continue on in the horrifying journey. Juul discusses many definitions of rules by other gaming theorists, but clarifies his definition of rules with parameters: “Rules limit player action. . . [yet] also set up potential actions that are meaningful inside the game. . . Rules specify limitations and affordances. . . [and] rules give games structure” (58). While this is certainly not the only definition of rules, it is a respectable one. It is applicable to almost all survival horror games. In Silent Hill: Homecoming, the only rules are that the player can walk around, attempt to open doors, fiend off enemies with a combat knife (in the early stages), and read pamphlets, memos, maps. These limiting rules keep the player from making the character jump and run, but require the player to make him try to go into every room, reading every piece of paper possible, and finding information that will further the player into the game. While many rules in games are frustrating, Juul also discusses Sid Meier’s assertions of “interesting choices” which Juul calls enjoyable rules which force the player to make a choice, and make it unclear whether one single option is better than another choice, even though the choices should not be equally good, but the player should be able to make a somewhat informed choice (92). An example of this would be the rule in F.E.A.R. 2 that allow Becket to carry only four guns even though there are seven or more types of guns. The player must choose what type of arsenal to haul around, depending on the effectiveness of the weapon or the shooting time or the amount of ammo available. This type of decision fits all of the criteria for an “interesting choice” or “enjoyable rule.” Another example is in Amnesia, where light attracts the monsters toward you, but staying in the dark depletes the character’s sanity, as does staring at the enemy too long. As an example of an “interesting choice,” it fits, for each one has equally negative side effects: draw the monsters to you or deplete your sanity. In both of these games, these choices affect the gameplay and the player’s interaction with the game world, and add to the overwhelming anxiety caused by survival horror games that something is going to go horribly wrong at any moment.
          Finally, and possibly the most terrifying aspects of survival horror games, is the world of the game. Every survival horror game we have played does not let us down in this regard: the images seen as the player guides his or her character through the game are disturbing and stick with the player. Possibly because we are relatively inexperienced playing survival horror games, when we first started playing F.E.A.R. 2, both Jacky and I were taken aback by the sheer gore and unpleasantness awaiting us in every room, around every corner. Heaps of dead bodies with organs trailing and pools of blood made us cringe at first, the environment making us physically uncomfortable. We soon learned this is a staple for games of this nature. Nothing is scarier than walking into a dark room with one fluorescent bulb flickering, showing glimpses of a contorted corpse lying in the corner, mouth wide open or cryptic messages written in blood on the walls. Silent Hill preys on these fears as well, with empty, caged rooms in a hospital full of rusty equipment, bloody everything, corpses in body bags strewn about, and bodies cut in half, one half in an operating room, the other up a flight of stairs, one hand clutched around a key you must find to progress. Grotesque images left and right, horror games fill every nook and cranny with perverse images, creepy writing, and disturbing artifacts. The world of Amnesia looks like a cabin in the olden days, calling to mind areas haunted by civil war soldiers or the angry, bloodthirsty ghosts of slaves. Any horror game is less frightening when the surroundings are totally normal, the only abnormalities being the creatures. Attention to detail adds the seriously important creepy-ass ambiance needed for the full, fearful effect of a truly horrifying horror game.

Frightening images in the world of F.E.A.R. 2
          What keeps the gamer playing through these unsettling worlds full of terrifying obstacles? The constant supply of motivation. The continuous minute additions to narrative, the imminent vanquishing of fearful foes, the anticipation of the next room, the next surprise, and the next horrifying sight, as well as the satisfaction gained from the completion of each objective to the completion of each interval of the game, an abundant amount of aspects must be utilized to keep the player motivated, engaged, and interested in the game. Horror games are especially good at giving the gamer a sense of relief, watching the twisted, horrible creatures of the game suffer by the hands of the character as the creature surely inflicted pain and suffering onto other, innocent beings. Another element that keeps gamers hooked to survival horror games is the feeling of piecing together the plot themselves, not spoon-fed a story in cut scenes that the gamer would do anything to skip over. Giving the story up piece by piece in optional pieces of intel or memos keeps the gamer wondering throughout the game, “Why am I here? Am I ever going to get out of this hell hole? WHAT IS GOING ON HERE!?” and increases the hope for resolution. Every person wants a story to have an end, be it good where everyone makes it out of danger happy and alive, or the character dies or realizes the whole mess of events was in their head. When a story concludes, the gamer experiences catharsis, a release of all the anxiety and intensity created from playing through the game. Any resolution must be worked toward, and that final resolution will keep the gamer going until whatever horrible events conclude and the character he or she has grown attached to meets their fate and the credits roll.
          Horror games must be deeply analyzed to figure out what makes them creepy and what keeps the gamer coming back for more uncomfortable gaming sessions. Key contributing factors are starting the game unknown and to uncover the grim plot piece by scary piece, like in F.E.A.R. 2 or the Silent Hill Games, vanquishing disturbing monsters and other creepy-crawlies or zombies, like in Resident Evil or Silent Hill, the hype of experiencing a truly scary, masterpiece of a game like Amnesia, and the gruesome, frightening worlds of each of the games. Motivation to continue through these games involve attachment to the character, facing fears most likely unconquerable in real life, resolving whatever horrors are occurring within the game, and the intense feelings and increased intensity the gamer experiences when a loud grunting occurs from an unseen location or a demented creature leaps forward from behind a crate. Horror games are not for everyone, but they are for those who enjoy some creatively disturbing environments, heightened, intense reactions, and just love the feeling of being creeped the hell out.


Sources:

Egenfeldt Nielsen, Simon, Jonas Heide Smith, and Susana Pajares Tosca. Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Kirkland, Ewan. "Restless Dreams In Silent Hill: Approaches To Video Game Analysis." Journal Of Media Practice 6.3 (2005): 167-178. Art & Architecture Complete. Web. 23 May 2012.

Juul, Jesper. Half-real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2005. Print.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Gamer’s Inside Analysis


The Xenosaga series gave the imagination of a story, with epic action and adventure with a feel of Japanese anime, into a different game that is equally large, if not larger, to the Xenosaga series on the PS2. Gamers that play Xenoblade Chronicles will think back to them playing Xenosaga, if they played any of them, and compare to Xenoblade Chronicles by amount of gameplay, the story, and the entire layout of the game itself.

The story starts on the creation of the world the characters live in, which are two giants, locked in battle, over a vast ocean and under an endless sky. The common denominator is the sea and the sky, because they exist in reality, but it’s clear 2 giants are fictional. One is called the Bionis, and the other is called the Mechonis. Then, all of a sudden, they are mysteriously frozen in time. So, “Eons” later, life and machines rise from these giant titans. It’s clear that the name Bionis has the prefix bio- which means life, and the prefix of Mechonis is Mech- meaning machine. With that being the case, life rises from the Bionis and machines rise from the Mechonis. Humans called Homs try to defend the Bionis, their home, from these evil machines from the Mechonis called Mechon. The Homs tried everything to stop the Mechon, but nothing was effective. However, there is only one weapon the Bionis used to fight the Mechonis that the Homs now have. It is a mystical blade called the Monado. Its power is said not only to easily cut Mechon, but to let its chosen wielder see into the future. Unfortunately, if someone else uses the Monado, its power will be so strong; it will control its wielder.

For cases of gamers or players willing to try the game, I will not reveal any of the characters or spoilers of the main story of the game. It’s meant to grab the attention of a gamer to have a curiosity and passion to be willing to play the game. Every gamer has a certain imagination and curiosity with different games they discover. In the Introduction chapter of Jesper Juul’s Half-Real book, he talks about how players find the rules with the perspective of being inside of a game to give the imagination of the player actually being a character inside a game. Players have their own unique imagination and personality to discover games with different set rules that sets a complete comfort zone for that specific player. For example, I like to play different RPGs that give lots of room to customize my play style with limited rules so it can feel like I’m inside the game. I sometimes like to play some action/adventure games that increases set rules to fit my play style without much customization.

This game fits my play style perfectly. It has a nice amount of gameplay that can give different styles of customization. First, characters can learn new arts to use in battle, along with using Art Points (AP) to increase the level of those arts. Characters accumulate AP by defeating enemies and completing quests. There are plenty of arts that a player can assign a character to help out with different battles. Along with Experience Points (EXP) and AP, characters also accumulate Skill Points (SP). SP is used with a current set skill tree for a character to gain active or passive skills when enough SP is accumulated. Passive skills are used constantly like an enhancement to the stats of that character. Active skills are activated when certain conditions are met. When a character levels up, an art can be learned, but they also get an affinity coin (AC). Characters use those to set skills attained by other characters to gain the benefit of the skill. For example, if another character’s skill requires 5 ACs to set it to your base character’s skill set, and you have 15 ACs, setting it will subtract 5, leaving you with 10 ACs left. However, to increase the amount and types of skills for one character to another, you need to increase the affinity, or bond, between those two characters. Affinity can be accumulated by starting and completing quests with the right characters in your party, or by supporting each other in battle by helping up a character from certain ailments and encouraging a discouraged character.

All of these elements will help progress further into the story, as well as the game itself. Some elements can be optional, such as side quests and item collecting, or collectopedia. Collectopedia is a section where you can put in items to make a library of collectables from different areas in the game. If a category in an area is completed, you get a useful item or piece of equipment. If an entire area is completed, then you receive a better item. Even an achievement system is in the game, because of its expansive gameplay.

It is also a game that presents tutorials as you progress into the game. If a certain point in the game comes when content unlocked or hints are necessary, a quick tutorial pops up to inform you and guide you through those points. There are not many games that give rules on gameplay, so players will be lost when they play a game with rules or tutorials to guide them.



Even though it’s licensed by Nintendo, Japan has its own version or import of the game, but the North American version still has variations of word pronunciations Japan used since they could not understand English words well. For example, instead of using “learned,” they used “learnt,” not “defense,” but “defence,” and not “armor,” but “armour.”

There was an early tragedy in the story, but worse was seeing the future of that
happening, but can’t do anything about it. That was disappointing to me, but going out

for revenge made me felt better. A small spoiler is not too bad, but I don’t want to

ruin the imagination of the game. For those that are not sure, watch the YouTube videos of the trailer and the opening to game. I hope you would enjoy this game as much as I do!


Here are the links to the trailer and the opening in the game.
US Trailer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7Xc6in86rs&ob=av3e

Game Opening (Title Intro)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pI_Wybd82V8

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Never Enough: A Look Inside Video Game Addiction

Video games. Kids tend to think they are amazing while parents generally disagree. The argument adults reach for first and foremost is that games “rot your brain“ or “turn you into a zombie“. This is completely an exaggeration, as we all know. This dispute’s prevalence has even died down in our culture in the past five years.

                                             Just one more level and I'm done, I swear.

Video games, if leaving any negative effect, might cause a sort of desensitization in gamers young and old. While I know that hardcore, lifelong gamers would beg to differ, I also have had many psychology classes and have completed research projects proving otherwise. Consistent stimulation through any medium, be it games or other sources, causes a person’s brain to constantly be primed or seeking the next thrill. When something comes along that doesn’t satiate that need or if the thrill isn’t satisfying, humans are wired to pass over it until they find something else that gives them the response they crave. I’m sure I’ll catch criticism for this, but this need for constant stimulation is similar to illicit drug use.

                                                      Which will Mom hate more?

Video games are fun, don’t get me wrong. I have dedicated tons of hours throughout my life to games. I’ve used them as an escape from reality, as a time killer, and just for their entertainment value because I enjoyed them. You know what else my previous statement regarding video games as an escape, time killer, and entertainer applies to? Drugs. Drug addicts worldwide have been using these reasons to explain and/or rationalize their drug use for years. Not to say that gamers are addicts, just to elucidate the similarities between the two.

On our second class meet, we discussed if it were possible to be addicted to video games. I believe it is. I also believe the percentage of people who are actually addicted to games is a very small number. Like a single-digit-percentage-for-the-entire-world’s-population small number. There are some people who are completely, one hundred percent immersed in video games. They can’t eat, sleep, think, or breathe without the electronic stimulation video games provide. It’s not a nonexistent problem but then again it’s not a widespread problem either. Video game addiction is somewhere in the middle. Most gamers fit within the happy medium between addicted and indifferent. Some would argue that an addiction to video games is harmless compared to something like drugs, but addiction of any type has the potential to become dangerous.


                                                      Must beat game. Must beat game. Must beat game.

If a person doesn’t realize that they are engaging in a behavior that can be hazardous to their health or wellbeing, they’ll never know they’re in danger until they’re already hurting. For example, a person who has been fired from their job because of their preoccupation with games becomes reclusive and doesn’t leave their house for anything. They’ve depleted their bank account buying game related items and/or games. They are so fixated on getting that next achievement or beating that “impossible” boss fight that they haven’t eaten, slept, showered, etc in days. Their body is literally shutting down along with their cognitive functions, and they had no clue because they were so wholeheartedly immersed in that game that reality became a distant past.

I realize that the scenario I’ve presented seems ridiculous and farfetched. If it were, gaming/internet addiction would not be on the list of additions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 i.e. the book the American Psychiatric Association publishes and counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, etc use to diagnose mental illness. The key to maintaining that happy medium is as it is for a lot of things, moderation.

                                                               The DSM 5 is due out May of 2013.

In conclusion, video games are not monsters. They are also not saints. Games can become an addiction or just remain a hobby. The differential between those two extremes is mainly a matter of the person involved, much as it is with drug addiction. Nothing can take over your life without your participation or permission. With that being said, I wish you all happy gaming!

Skyrim // The Psychology of Spatial Immersion

















There has been a long history of people being drawn into games as a pastime in modern society one might call this a lifestyle. People who participate in this lifestyle are usually given the title gamer. Playing video games is very common these days, almost everyone I know plays them. It is no longer an obscure hobby that is seen to be what it was twenty years ago.

This medium is at its apex in terms of norms or social acceptance. One might ask why it's so popular or why gaming is such an tedious hobby that it could be described as a lifestyle on its own. It's simple: video games are designed for pleasure and with pleasure one can certainly lose track of time with it. In my experiences I usually blame this loss of time on something about the game that draws me in: immersion.

                                   but
  • What exactly is Immersion?

Feelings of immersion can be present in almost every medium, but what exactly makes something 'immersive'? What does it mean to be immersive?

In essence immersion is the state of being deeply engagedinvolved, or absorbed. That definition being established it's safe to assume that there are various ways one can be engaged (etcetera) through the concept of immersion, especially with a popular medium such as video games.

Psychologists and researchers have identified and categorized the types of immersion as well as how immersion is experienced within books, cinema and even video-games for decades

Earnest W. Adams (2004), author and consultant on game design, separates and outlines immersion into three categories: strategic, tactical, and narrative.

Strategic Immersion: Strategic immersion is associated with mental challenge. Players of Chess experience this type of immersion when choosing a correct solution among a vast array of possibilities.

Dude this game is so immersive

Tactical Immersion: Tactical immersion is experienced when faced with tactile operations that involve and require skill. This type of immersion is very physical and immediate, survivability is more valued than strategy. Usually rhythm games utelize this type of immersion. Tactical immersion should not include any strategy and should be fast paced to get players "in the zone".

Yay Joy Division!

Narrative Immersion: Narrative immersion is experienced when a player is invested in the story aspect. It's similar to what is experienced while reading a book or watching a film. It's also generally common that a player ignore game play flaws if they are invested into the story.

Your dark-side is showing James.

These three types of immersion are very prevalent in video games. Similar to Adam's outlining, Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen (2004) in Patterns In Game Design also categorized immersion in similar ways except they referred to the three categories above as as sensory-motoric immersion (tactical),cognitive immersion (strategic) and emotional immersion (narrative).  In addition to these they add another category that they identify is also a type of immersion within video games: Spatial Immersion
  • Spatial Immersion

The theory of "spatial presence" commonly referred to by psychologists like Dr. Wissmath happens when “media contents are perceived as ‘real’ in the sense that media users experience a sensation of being spatially located in the mediated environment.” (Wissmath et. al, 2009, pg. 116).


Based on Wissmath's definition it's safe to assume that spatial immersion (or rather 'Spatial Presence' as some psychologists would say) in video games is experienced when a player feels that the virtual world presented is so stimulating and almost photo realistic that it's perceptually convincing
This type immersion would brings feelings that he or she is really "there" and that a simulated world looks and feels "real". 


Does it feel real? I think.
  • Skyrim and Spatial Immersion
Skyrim is a game I found to have prevalent qualities that facilitate spatial immersion. Although it's common for me to be hunched over for hours playing games Skyrim has an allure that makes me seem to really forget the time. I find myself (and many others) so easily consumed by this title.

Having this said let's have a look at what characteristic and elements Skyrim boasts to facilitate spatial presence: 

A cognitively demanding environment:  Whenever playing Skyrim you're faced with so many different things to perceive and attend to. You're scanning for threats, looking for treasure, and sometimes the correct pathway. 
A whoooole new worrrld.

On a personal note I feel that when wearing fancy headphones during a Skyrim session actually improves this cognitive demand. While I was wearing them I was so sensitive to the sound that I could hear the footsteps of a sabre cat stalking me. This made me be wary of not just my visual processes but also the auditory aspect of this 

and speaking of sound with visuals

Coordinated sources of sensory information: The soundtrack, the environment ambient, the intrinsic sound of a blade or an arrow as it juts through the soft carelessly exposed flesh of my enemy. Maybe even the visuals of a fire spell and the sound it makes as it scorches the skin of anything it comes in contact with. This is just with the battle system-- don't even get me started on the actual environment. Needless to say Skyrim's audio aspect is very coordinated and beautifully done. I feel that this would be a major factor when it comes to spatial immersion because when I hear and see these things part of me really feels like I'm there.
Did I just hear bones cracking? How enchanting

Completeness of sensory information: This has to do with the mental model of the game world itself and by mental model I mean the game’s fictional virtual world and how it's perceived. By looking at various cues in the game we, usually unconsciously, create a mental model for a fictional world-- and this doesn't only stop in video games this type of thing is also very prevalent in other mediums such as film and books.
In Skyrim's case, on a subjective sense, I feel that it was based on an area likely Iceland or Norway. 
A side by side comparison of Skyrim and Norway

In this case abstractions and improvisation are ill concepts and likely enemies of spatial immersion; the fewer blanks about the mental model we have established for our virtual realm the better. In Skyrim the towns are cluttered with townsfolk. "Assassin’s Creed 2 was immersive because its towns were filled with people who looked like they were doing …people stuff." (Madigan 2010) 

Skyrim simulates its own convincing society by having npcs walk around the town, by being black smiths, shop owners, jarls, and housecarls. It feels lively and it makes sense. If towns were barren for no explanation ever-- this sort of thing will cause the player to improvise different reasons as to why this occurred, this type of thing reduces spatial immersion because instead of letting you make comfortable assumptions you're pulled out of the world wondering why that specific town was so barren.

Lack of incongruous visual cues in the game world: Usually when I play an rpg (especially mmos) it's common to be bombarded with a vast amount of numbers and words on the screen. Maps, menus, profiles of my party members to the left with their health and mana gauges all these things are fairly common.If you're constantly reminded you're playing a video game how would you feel spatial presence? Even Juul takes this into consideration when he mentions the blue arrow in GTA.

Concerning the UI you can strategically immersed in mmorpgs but likely not spatially

In contrast to the design above

Myself, my compass and the romantic northern lights of the night sky. For a moment I forgot I was playing a game.

Skyrim definitely excels at limiting incongruous elements from the screen. In combat you're shown minimal user interface such as your health, mana, and stamina bar. That's pretty much it excluding menus that aren't forcefully pasted on the screen at all times. Although this goes with its flaws, players will often find themselves walking around with diseases for days without knowing. Dovahkin is so tough that he/she doesn't even notice-- I mean you have something called bone break fever and not even a single stur. However, when you are around other NPCs they do comment about your how 'sick you look' and sort of give hints for you to check if you're diseased so you can go pray at an alter to cleanse yourself and then move on with your life.


Extensive interactivity: You can interact with almost everyone and everything in Skyrim. You can keep a collection of wooden bowls in your inventory if you liked, or put buckets over people's heads, sit on chairs, use the forge to craft weapons and armor. These interactions give feedback to the player's actions. Simply talking to npcs, using the lumber mill, chopping wood and fiddling around makes it seem like various pieces of the world fit together consistently. I feel that this aspect of the game facilitates spatial presence wonderfully.


I did this sort of thing with cabbages


One last word:
There are developers out there that take spatial immersion and incorporate it beautifully into their games. In specific I feel that Bethesda Game Studio's Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim incorporates spatial presence wonderfully into the virtual world of Skyrim. I truly got lost in this game. I pre-ordered and "no life'd" Skyrim for a few weeks, with an understanding of immersion I feel that my experiences and joy with Skyrim are more pronounced and defined

----------------------------------------------
References:

- Adams, E. (2004). Postmodernism and the Three Types of Immersion. Obtained May 18th 2012 
from: http://www.designersnotebook.com/Columns/063_Postmodernism/063_postmodernism.htm

Björk, Staffan; Jussi Holopainen (2004). Patterns In Game Design.
Charles River Media. p. 206. 

- Juul, Jesper. (2011). Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds.  
Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 

Madigan, J. (2010). The Psychology of Immersion in Video Games. Obtained May 18th 2012    
from: http://www.psychologyofgames.com/2010/07/the-psychology-of-immersion-in-video-games

Wissmath, B., Weibel, D., & Groner, R. (2009). Dubbing or Subtitling? Effects on Spatial            
Presence, Transportation, Flow, and Enjoyment. Journal of Media Psychology 21 (3), 114-125



Final: Fictional Worlds


Video games draw in an impressive number of people, around 70% of the world’s population, and with all the options available, it’s no wonder. There is almost nothing you cannot find in a video game. Whether you want to partake in wars, build cities, or fight monsters, there’s at least one game out there just for you. In addition, many games feature impressive fictional worlds that the viewer may have the option to explore. These worlds can range from slightly fictitious (like our own, but with different creatures or strange people) to completely fictitious (a completely new world, with almost no ties to ours). Giving players a glimpse into exciting new worlds is enough to draw in quite a crowd.

One game that is close to our own world is Left 4 Dead. In fact, aside from a bunch of angry people with the munchies running around, it is exactly like ours. It has cities, swamps, towns, subways, seemingly endless fields, and everything else. In this universe, however, a rage virus has infected a large portion of the population, leaving only a few lone survivors who must fight their way toward what they can only hope to be safety. Another small portion of the population has been turned into various Special Infected, which are stronger, smarter, and much more dangerous than common infected.

The Pokemon universe is also similar to our own, but with one very large difference; rather than animals, they have creatures called “Pokemon” (Pocket Monsters) which are used for nearly everything. They are pets, workers, fighters and food for the people that inhabit the world. In Generation 1, there were only 150 Pokemon, but ten years later, Generation 5 has brought us up to 649 different species.

With each generation comes a new region. With over five regions in total now, the Pokemon universe has successfully created its own small world. The regions can all be put together to form islands and continents with deserts, oceans, rivers, mountains, caves, ruins, etc. There are huge, bustling cities, tiny towns, vast fields, hidden trails and well-traveled roads all ready to be explored. Pokemon does an excellent job of setting up wonderful maps to travel.

The final game I’d like to take a look at is Gauntlet; Dark Legacy. Its fictional world is one of the furthest from our own. There seem to be no ordinary humans, but instead there are monsters, wizards, sorceresses, ogres, and many other creatures.

You are able to choose between large variety of characters and four different color schemes (yellow, blue, red, and green) before starting your journey. Each character has different attributes in magic, melee, attack and defense.

Once you’ve made your character, you must work through several levels of several realms to collect crystals and runestones in order to eventually defeat Garm, then Skorne, and take back control of the worlds.

Each realm has about 5 – 7 levels which must be completed in order to unlock the next level. Once all portals in a realm are open, the player must defeat the boss on the final level to beat that realm and open the next one. The realms are all unique and contain different terrains, environments, and monsters.

Fictional Worlds in video games can range heavily from only slightly varied from our own to completely new and mysterious. There is a game for everyone, which is why the video game industry is one of the most popular and wide-spread industries in the world.

So Daddy Is the Big Baddie



Parents: it is generally safe to assert that everyone has them. They may be alive or dead, maybe a combination of the two. In video games, while they may not be explicitly mentioned, the characters also have parents or parent like figures. In role-playing games (rpg's), which for those who do not know rpg's are story heavy games, there are three main stereotypical elements that deal with parents: both parents are dead, one parent is alive but is killed in the progress of the game, or the father is antagonistic towards the character. Occasionally the mother will be the villain but it is significantly less common than the re-occurring evil father stereotype. I would argue that the rpg genre is a Freudian playground of material and I want to focus mainly on antagonistic relationships between fathers and characters and how defeating or surpassing the father figure is often the an important event that takes place within the narrative of many rpg games.  Spoilers will abound in this article for the sake of coherency so be warned. The two game I plan to focus on are Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X.
Since this article will be focusing a bit on the Oedipus Complex, I want to make sure that everyone has at least a grasp of this psychoanalytical theory. Basically it refers to the relationship between the parents and the children and how the child competes with the opposite sex parent because

" they now realize, for example, that their parents may choose each other over them. The children feel a whole gamut of emotions in response to this affront: from passionate love to equally passionate hate; from jealous, angry, and resentful to frightened, abandoned, and needy. They may scheme to interfere with the exclusive relationship that they now see between their parents, hoping to recreate the sense of being the most important person in the parent’s life, and/or fight for one or the other's attention in the hope of winning them over." (Levy-Warren 4)

However, in video games where a mother character is not present, the a male child(not necessarily a child in age but in relation) may still compete with his father to either prove their worth, save the world, or just because the character hate his father. The commonality of this competition, if you will, between father and son, mother and daughter, or father/mother and son/daughter, may be attributed to the very real relationships between children and parents. Children and parents do not always see eye to eye on various issues, whether it be curfews, food choices, friends, or many others, and often tension is high. While this is not entirely related to the Oedipal complexes, it had a ring of familiarity to it that makes incorporating parent/child strife in video games a relatable element that developers of rpg's incorporate. The more identifiable the player is with the characters, the more likely the game will succeed if it relies heavily on narrative aspects which rpg's do. When I say narrative I refer to the first and sixth definitions Juul mentions in his chapter over fiction within games, "1. Narrative as the presentation of a number of events. 6. Narrative as the way we make sense of the world" (157). It is therefor the sequence of events that shapes how the characters and the players perceive the world and as a result it determines how they react to it.While yes, the role of literary criticism applied to video games is apparently controversial, Nielson makes a good point "There are characters with individual motivations and personal agendas, a mystery to be solved, a whole city to be explored, and histories to uncover that have shaped your character" (170). The relationships between the characters and their father's can be a major influence on a character's development and thus impact the overall story within the game and with rpg's the story just as much as the game play can make or break the game.

First I would like to address Final Fantasy VII and Sephiroth's obsession with his mother (who is and is not his mother) and his hatred for his father. Sephiroth is a hero turned villain when he discovers the experiments that where done on him and believes himself to be a monster and the last of a race that died out a 1000 years ago (More stereotypical elements of rpg's: 1000 year old extinct race and the hero turned villain motif). Early on in the game you are treated to watching Sephiroth "free" his mother from a coorporation. Who he claims as his mother happens to be a head that was stored in a tube. Throughout the game he liberates a couple more pieces of his mother and as fate would have it, he is trying to destroy the world because that is what his mother would have wanted. His father is a crazy scientist named Hojo and it was he who experimented on his son when he was in his real mother's womb (who dies during childbirth) and puts Jenova DNA (the creepy head he carries around) into him while he is gestating thus giving him superhuman strength. He has a deep hatred for Hojo which turns into a hatred for all life in general. After finding out that the Jenova DNA he was fused with comes from a being that tried to destroy the world he embraces his mother's attempt as his life goal and summons a big meteor to smash all life from the world which would include his father Hojo. How he plans to gain his mother's approval since his mother is a head is a bit beyond understanding but it is clear he desires to please his mother at the cost of his father's and all of life's lives. Sephiroth would be a good example of an unsuccessful resolution of the Oedipus complex, since he clearly turns psychopathic and roams around with his mother's head. He never gets to confront Hojo directly and his eerie devotion to his  mother and desire to gain her favor fails thanks to a dead girl who he killed at the end of the first disc.

Pictured: Dead girl who saves the world and Sephiroth's signature sword. Infer what you will. 

Now that I've given a brief overview of Sephiroth and his origin, lets talk about the fear of castration and why Sephiroth has it. First off, castration anxiety is "a fear of both literal and figurative emasculation...and that his father will also castrate him as a punishment for desiring his mother" (Cherry). Hojo has experimented on Sephiroth since his conception, so a literal castration may be a genuine threat for Sephiroth. In the various games that tie into Final Fantasy 7 and the lore that is found in the game it is revealed that Hojo refuses to answer any questions pertaining to Sephiroth's mother and Sephiroth makes it clear that he has no feelings of familial attachment to Hojo. Hojo, being a typical mad scientist, is always experimenting and thus Sephiroth is more of a super-soldier test subject and less of a son. Hojo through his testing and refusal to give Sephiroth information regarding his mother encourages Sephiroth's castration anxiety. As a result he does not develop into a healthy, stable adult which leads to his descent into insanity when he finds out the truth of his creation. He completely disregards his father, unable to relate to him and because of this he does not develop a super ego to control his impulses and thus blossoms his one minded devotion to carrying out his mother's unfinished task to destroy the world.  

The relationship between Tidus and Jecht in Final Fantasy X is another example where the Oedipus complex plays an important role in the narrative of the story. In the very beginning of the game Tidus is depicted as being stuck in the shadow of his father, Jecht. Like his father, Tidus is a Blitzball player (an underwater combination of soccer and football) and the fans and sports commentators are constantly comparing the two, even speculating if Tidus can pull off his father's signature move that no one else can perform. His father disappeared so even though Tidus does eventually manage to successfully execute the move, he remains in his father's shadow and is unable to prove to his father his worth. To complicate matter, when his father disappears his mother is clearly distraught but the young Tidus refuses to acknowledge the love between Jecht and his mother and claims that he hope his father never comes back because he hates him. He wants to have his mother all to himself because his mother does not make him feel useless and cause him to cry. His mother eventually dies and he becomes even more embittered towards his father because his absence is what essentially killed his mother. Tidus does not know that his father was transported to a different world and that he can not return. When Tidus also gets transported to that same world, he is still stuck in the shadow of his Father who has managed to become the hero by helping defeat a giant monster called Sin that can literally destroy entire cities. It is revealed later in the game that in order to defeat Sin, Jecht is turned into a giant monster himself, destroying his humanity, and becomes the next Sin who will show up in again in a few years. Thanks to this transformation Tidus gets to go and fight Sin when it appears and eventually confronts his Jecht who is in the center of Sin. When Jecht is dying/disappearing, he acknowledges his son's growth and sort of tells him he is proud of him and that his son can help end the cycle of Sin. Tidus, while he surpasses his father but defeating him, comes to terms with their rocky relationship and hates with love instead of hating with hate. (Very cheesy and complimented with whine, courtesy of Tidus). As one can see so far there is constant rivalry between fathers and sons. Final Fantasy X has more of the competition for the love of the mother with that aggression transferring into other areas such as sports and adventuring.
Dad? Good luck escaping this father's shadow. 

  To resolve the Oedipal Complex and "develop into a successful adult with a healthy identity, the child must identify with the same-sex parent in order to resolve the conflict. Freud suggested that while the primal id wants to eliminate the father, the more realistic ego knows that the father is much stronger" (Cherry). By confronting his father who used to emasculate him by constantly calling him a cry-baby even if it was done jokingly, Tidus is able to secure an apology from his father and as a result begin to empathize with the man instead of hating him. He comes to understand his father's attempt to "toughen him up" and give him the strength to endure and possibly leave the shadow Jecht casts on Tidus. He  no longer fears his father but respects him.
 These are just a couple of examples of the many games within the rpg genre that have conflicts between the parents and children and often incorporate Oedipus Complex elements into the narrative. Some other well-known rpg's that have similar stories are Suikoden, The Legend of Dragoon, Star Ocean Till the End of Time, Rogue Galaxy, Infinite Undiscovery Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, Fallout 3, Bioshock, Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep (more father figure vs pupil), and Red Dead Redemption (occurs mostly at the end of the game). These rpg's, while having varying levels of familial strife, all make use of a father figure as someone the character is trying to compete with even if the role the father plays is not exactly antagonistic.

Here is a fun link with a flow chart for every single rpg ever made. 

Works Cited
Cherry, Kendra. "What is an Oedipal Complex." 2012. http://psychology.about.com/od/oindex/g/def _oedipuscomp.htm. Web. 19 May 2012. 

Juul, Jesper. "half-real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. 1st. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011. Print.

Levy-Warren, Marsha H. Wherefore The Oedipus Complex In Adolescence? Its Relevance,       Evolution, And Appearance In Treatment. Studies In Gender & Sexuality 9.4 (2008):  328-348. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 May 2012.

Nielson, Simon Egenfeldt, Jonas Smith, Susana Pajares Tosca. Understanding Video Games: The 
Essential Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.



Final Project: Mass Effect Analysis

By Chad Pelton, Hayden Petitt, and Allyssa Roeske.

At the heart of all three Mass Effect games there is the deeply personal idea of choice. The ramifications of said choices drastically affect the entire story as well as game play. In-game, friends and loved ones are saved and sacrificed, much to the bitter dismay (or joy) of the invested gamer. As the story’s narrative slowly develops like a good novel, the game play too evolves with extreme sophistication.

The goal of this project is to examine the Mass Effect saga through both the narratologist’s and ludologist’s eyes. What we found is a seesaw-like distribution of the level of dedication between the story and the game mechanics as the years progress. In the first game, the importance lies in the story, not the function of play. This is practically reversed with the release of the third game: game play is phenomenal whereas the story suffers from neglect.

----------------------- Chapter 1: The Story -------------------------

The entirety of the first Mass Effect plays more like an RPG than any of its two successors. The story begins by putting the gamer in the shoes of Commander Shepard of the Alliance Military. After creating a personal Shepard with unique looks and a past, the player is assigned to the SSV Normandy, which is making its maiden voyage to the human colony, Eden Prime. However, this routine mission is suspect due to the fact that there is a mysterious SPECTRE (SPECial Tactics and REcon: essentially a spy under the command of the Council) agent present. It is soon revealed to the player that the Normandy is actually investigating a Prothean beacon (a relic from an ancient and extinct species) – a mission that will assess whether or not Shepard has what it takes to become a SPECTRE. Things turn drastic when the Normandy receives a distress call from Eden Prime stating that they are under attack by an unknown force. Shepard and a small team are dispatched planetside to secure the beacon, whereas Nihlus (the SPECTRE) preferes to rough it solo, stating that he “move[s] faster on his own.”


Shepard and squad mates move on, but quickly discover that their enemy is the illusive geth. These synthetics were created by the quarians centuries ago before they overthrew their masters and took over the quarian homeworld Rannoch. Rumor has it that they have not been seen outside the Perseus Veil in over 300 years. After a teammate is killed in action, the team runs into Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams, the lone survivor from the distress call. Williams opts to join them to avenge her fallen teammates. What is important to know is that the player always has independent choice when it comes to dialogue and narrative action. The dialogue wheel (typical of Bioware RPGs) includes the option for Shepard to be nice (paragon), neutral, or antagonistic (renegade). Answering a certain way will increase paragon or renegade scores – a feat that can unlock certain persuasion dialogue options and change the outcome of any given situation.  

For instance, after discovering Nihlus' body (he was murdered by fellow friend and SPECTRE, a turian named Saren), the player can use paragon or renegade dialogue to access grenades from a civilian. Afterwards, Shepard and team move on and secure the beacon, but as Shepard is calling the Normandy for pick-up, a team member accidentally activates it. Shepard throws them out of the way, but is caught up in the beacon's aura.  Shepard is imparted with a terrifying, yet disorganized vision of organics' destruction via an unknown synthetic enemy. The beacon then explodes, rendering Shepard unconscious.  The hero wakes up on-board the Normandy, which is already en route to the Citadel, the galactic hub of trade, commerce, and politics.

The stint on the Citadel is essentially the gamer’s que to look for evidence against Saren. In the meantime, Shepard is able to recruit important and memorable teammates: turian C-Sec officer Garrus Vakarian, krogan mercenary Urdnot Wrex, and the young quarian Tali’Zorah nar Rayaa. Tali proves to be the most essential of the three because she has an audio recording that proves Saren was behind the attack on Eden Prime. The recording also incriminates the powerful asari Matriarch Benezia when she briefly mentions the return of something called the Reapers.

After getting the evidence against Saren, the chase is on. Shepard’s mission is simple: stop Saren and the return of the Reapers. This leads the gamer to far away planets such as Feros, Therum, Noveria, and Virmire. The events on Therum help recruit Liara T’Soni (Matriarch Benezia’s daughter) to the Normandy while Shepard learns more about the Prothean beacon vision on Feros. When Benezia imparts information on Noveria, the team find out Saren wants to go through the Mu Relay – a Mass Effect relay that leads to Ilos and from there to the mysterious Conduit. The Conduit is necessary for transporting the Reapers through dark space and allowing them to commit galactic genocide against all organic life. Shepard chases Saren across Ilos and through the Conduit (which happens to be on the Citadel) but by then, Saren has already begun his assault against the Council. In the end, Shepard defeats Saren and halts the return of the Reapers.

The second game picks up the narrative a few months after the Battle of the Citadel. The Normandy is out investigating ship disappearances in the Terminus Systems (outside Council space). Suddenly, the vessel is ambushed and destroyed by a powerful, unknown enemy. While evacuating the ship, Shepard is killed in action. The player, undoubtedly shocked and angry that their character just got spaced, is treated to a cut-scene involving the restoration of Shepard through Project Lazarus. The Project’s director is Miranda Lawson, but she serves a more foreboding pro-human splinter organization called Cerberus. Shepard awakens to the sound of gunfire and is promptly notified that the facility is under attack. Escaping with Miranda and Jacob, Shepard immediately meets the Illusive Man, the leader of Cerberus.

The boss explains his reasoning for resurrecting Shepard was because the Reapers are still an imminent threat to galactic peace. The player reunites with flight pilot Joker, who shows him the brand new SSV Normandy SR-2, an improved replica of the original. They are then sent to investigate a missing colony. Once there, it is determined that the colonists were abducted by a race called the Collectors, who supposedly live near the galactic core. Upon discovering this information, Shepard’s missions transition from investigating, finding, and then destroying the Collector base.

Here, the Bioware team have made interaction with Shepard's new team essential to the outcome of the second game. At a certain point in the narrative, the player is given side quests by each teammate that will determine how dedicated they are to Shepard's mission. The outcome of these "Loyalty Missions" can mean the life or death of certain members because if they are not solely loyal to Shepard, they will make fatal mistakes in the final run that cost the lives of the others. If the player refuses to complete any of these tasks, Shepard will most certainly die at the end. Another vitally important task is acquiring the three essential upgrades to the ship – if that is ignored too, it is possible for the Normandy to end up like the previous ship, causing more characters die in the process (regardless of their loyalty).

Once Shepard gathers enough people and obtains the necessary upgrades, they travel through the Omega-4 Relay for an assault against the base (likely a suicide mission). Fighting their way through, they reach their objective and are faced with a monumental decision: destroy the base as originally planned, or flood the base with radiation, thereby killing all remaining Collectors (this would leave the base intact for future Cerberus study). Regardless of Shepard’s decision, once back on the Normandy, Shepard is given a datapad that has the schematics for a Reaper. The camera then zooms out to show thousands upon thousands of Reapers approaching the Milky Way, setting up for the inevitable apocalyptic battle for the galaxy in the next installment.

Unfortunately, the third game's story is not as linear this time around. The player finds Shepard under Alliance house arrest, having narrowly escaped a court-martial for destroying a Mass Effect relay and a batarian colony. However, this plot point is only available through the DLC “Arrival”. If the DLC was not bought and installed, the narrative is blandly reinterpreted and Shepard is arrested for having come back to the Alliance (after having saved human colonies in Mass Effect 2, this makes no sense). The reapers waste no time in suddenly invading the Sol System, forcing Shepard is to flee and attempt to unite the Council races in an effort to save Earth. A trip to Mars leads to the discovery of an ancient anti-reaper weapon blueprint, the Crucible. 

This introduction of the Crucible screams dues-ex-machina because it seems like such a simple solution to the Reaper threat. After eons of Reaper decimation, it just so happens that there is an end-all weapon tucked away in a historical archive on Mars? In order to assemble armies for earth and researchers for the Crucible, Shepard is sent on numerous convoluted quests to unite all the alien races. The turians will only help retake earth if the krogans send aid to Palaven. However, the krogans will only offer support if the genophage (a sterilization virus implemented centuries ago by the turians and salarians) is cured. The cure can only be obtained by going to the salarian homeworld, but the salarians themselves are unwilling to negotiate. Every time the gamer comes one step closer to completing a main task, they are set back by the multitude of miscellaneous quests each essential ally demands be done before any aid will be given.

Once all of the hoops are jumped through and every alien is cooperating, Shepard is called back to the Citadel to investigate corruption, a coup, and an assassination attempt instigated by Cerberus. After the coup is foiled, Shepard heads off to form another alliance with the quarians, and if possible, the geth too. The quarians have recently instigated a futile war in order to retake their home world, Rannoch. Shepard helps resolve the situation by either uniting the two races or siding with one over the other (this option will always kill the losing side). Now that every race is free to worry about saving one small, insignificant planet (which belongs to a group of species said aliens have proven no liking to), the whole galaxy marches on to Earth, and Shepard has to personally fight the largest and deadliest assemblage of Reapers forces. The ending, unfortunately, takes a complete nose-dive narration-wise, but this will be explained in full later on. Comparatively speaking, the plot of Mass Effect 3 is anything but linear as the previous games. 

----------------------- Chapter 2: The Gameplay -------------------------

Having detailed how in-depth the narrative of the Mass Effect series is, now the discussion moves on to the ludology aspect. In a sense, the game play of the first two titles of the series is overshadowed by that of the third title and found lacking. This is because the focus of the first two games is on delivering an enthralling and rich story rather than hardcore game play. Juuls describes that, “The way the game is actually played when the player tries to overcome its challenges is its gameplay. The gameplay is an interaction between the rules and the player's attempt at playing the game as well as possible” (56).

Rules are often thought of as a restriction in the gaming world, but rules more often than not help to form the meaningful actions that a game can perform as well. In the Mass Effect series the rules of the games stay fairly consistent. As Shepard, the player is given very clear objectives such as defeating enemies in an area or securing a strategic point. There are of course restrictions on the actions the player can take to reach these goals. Throughout the trilogy, Shepard can do things like shoot a weapon or use a power to take down enemies. The ways the player could do these actions is restricted by the rules of each game. These rules change for the better between each game.

In Mass Effect, the combat system is tough to use at times because of its less-than-ideal cover system that requires a player to run to the area they want to take cover in while braving enormous enemy fire. Attempting to move away from cover often results in the player remaining stuck in the covered position regardless. Melee attacks are difficult to perform because of the odd control system as well as the limited sprint (which also took a long time to recover) a gamer needs to reach the desired target. The class system is very loose and the powers associated with each class limited. Cool-down takes an excruciatingly long time, especially when the gamer needs any and all bonus powers available during a stressful fight. Some classes in Mass Effect (i.e. the engineer) are almost worthless and have little play value because the majority of its skills are unpractical in many given situations. The best way the game play in Mass Effect can be summarized as is clunky.

In Mass Effect 2, the cover system receives a drastic overhaul and becomes easier to use. Melee is also less demanding and a more viable means to attack an opponent. The introduction of thermal clips limits the number of shots the player can fire before a new heat sink is needed to make the gun function again. This essentially eliminates the previously endless ammunition supply of all guns in Mass Effect, but this adds a level of difficulty for the player to overcome before he or she feels accomplished. It is this feeling of accomplishment that is crucial to keeping a player wanting to continue experiencing the gaming aspects, not just for the riveting story.

As the series evolves with the release of Mass Effect 3, the game play drastically improves for the better with the introduction of a revamped cover system and dodge rolls for sliding in and out of combat. Classes in the games are re-balanced and remodeled so that their abilities become quite useful in combat. Melee became a selling point in advertisements because it was a powered-up slash tailored to each specific character class (Gies). As a result, attacks become more practical and less like a suicide dive at the enemy. With these improvements, the combat in the game is more rewarding and enjoyable: the player spends less time fighting with the basic mechanics of the game. Coupled with the new map marker system, the act of moving on to the next objective or plot point is simplified.

What also changed throughout the trilogy was the difficulty and diversity of enemies. The diversity of abilities and enemies in the game means that in some situations the player has to stop and strategically consider what powers they will use on their enemies in combination with Shepard’s squad mates to help defeat enemies to reach the end goal. In Mass Effect, while the varieties of enemies are endless, the main bad guys are the synthetic geth. However, variety does not always equate with difficulty, seeing as how a majority of the multitude of foes all had the same weapons, tactics, and defenses. With an unlimited supply of ammo provided in the first game, killing enemies emphasizes less tactics and devolves into an endless shower of bullets until someone winds up dead (usually the player).

This drastically changes when Mass Effect 2 brings in the limited ammo supply and class power upgrades. The gamer faces off new enemies that ultimately require strategic use of bonus powers to compensate for lack of ammo. Use of one power causes all powers to undergo cool-down, but this is significantly shorter than that of its predecessor. Notably, in Mass Effect 3, the enemies build up resistances to some powers or forms of attack. “Exactly how you take down these unstoppable foes will remain a mystery until you witness the battles for yourself” (Juba 58). While there are not as many types of enemies in this game (they all consist of Reaper, geth, or Cerberus forces), each villain has varying differences that require different powers to defeat them. A simply play-through of the combat reveals the unique style each enemy employes. This forces the gamer to wisely choose which teammate to take with them in an effort to effectively use power tactics against intelligent enemies.

Save-importing from previous games allows a level of immersion when beginning the second and third games. The player's personal Shepard can continue his or her previously built-upon legacy. However, the common opinion with Mass Effect 3 is that the game moves away from its established goals of immersing the player in a science fiction world with deep characters and multiple outcomes and more towards overly dramatic story-changing events. The focus targets violence and action shooting by introducing graphic head-shot damage (the heads explode in a fountain of gore). The best possible game play, and to an extent narrative, hinges on the newly developed multiplayer function.

By playing in multiplayer, the gamer has the chance to build up their Galactic Readiness Score--a meter that lets the gamer know the odds of Shepard's success in the final confrontation against the Reapers. The more that multiplayer is utilized, the more the score percentage increases. An extremely high score leads to unlocking a few new cut-scenes that may not be available for players who stick solely to single-player. This shifts the the series' previous ideology (playing for the sake of furthering the plot's mystery) towards mindless side-combat extravaganzas. Multiplayer can be fun and engaging: the player has the chance to meet people online and work as a team towards a mutual goal as well as experiment with different power bonuses. Unfortunately, the player eventually becomes more obsessed with buying upgrade packs and increasing their international rating than improving the single-player experience. This "game within a game" notion is eerily reminiscent of plot-less Call of Duty FPS games (Sharkey).

To summarize, the progression of ludology from all three games continually enhances and improves. Nevertheless, the shift in Mass Effect 3 solely focuses more on game play and combat as opposed to presenting the player with a unique personal narrative, as gamers clearly saw towards the end of the series.

----------------------- Chapter 3: The Ending -------------------------

Having discussed all three games in terms of both gameplay and narrative, we arrive at the ending of Mass Effect 3: the Catalyst Scene. Widely criticized for its lack of continuity, the end scene is a complete departure from the original narrative that provides gamers little input to boot. After Shepard’s confrontation with the Illusive Man, the proceeding cut scene lures the gamer into a false sense of security—Shepard and Anderson stare proudly into the vastness of space, slowly succumbing to their wounds, yet they (and to an extent the gamer) feel accomplished. However, this is not the case, as Hackett is quick to announce over the intercom that the Crucible has yet to destroy the Reapers. Shepard shuffles over to the console in an attempt to find the 'start' button but collapses before anything can be turned on. It seems like the end for our hero. Suddenly, the platform beneath Shepard ascends in a flash of light and transports Shepard into a vast and infinite room where he/she comes face to face with a projection of the little kid from his/her dreams. Said kid introduces itself as the Catalyst.

The narrative at this point takes a decisive downturn into a convoluted mess of logic that completely defeats the purpose of the story and renders the gameplay absolutely null. No one really needed to find the catalyst component in the first place because apparently it was already installed as an AI component eons ago. In fact, the Catalyst goes on to boast its instigation of all the reaper invasions throughout galactic history. Its reasoning for genocide is supposedly simple: organic life has to be eradicated by synthetics every 50,000 years because it was only a matter of time before organics and their synthetic creations would destroy themselves. In effect, the catalyst has been systematically putting civilizations out of their would-be misery over a mere possibility. 

Shepard goes so far as to point this out too—that perhaps it is not preordained in organic’s history to even create synthetics, much less go to war with them. While playing, the gamer cannot help but recall all the hours spent uniting the geth and quarians after their three centuries of bitter civil war. But in this scene, interactive game play comes to a screeching halt: the infamous dialogue wheel's options do not work at providing a coherent platform for the gamer to speak through. There is no available paragon or renegade interrupt option Mass Effect 3 was so liberal with during previous play. In effect, despite all Shepard has done for the galaxy this cycle, he/she is forced to deal with the very poor cards that have been dealt.

The Catalyst proceeds to offer Shepard two solutions (three if the galactic readiness score was high enough; for this project we’ll discuss all three): a.) merge Shepard’s consciousness with the Reapers, thereby obliterating his/her body but is able to control them long enough to send them back into deep space; b.) destroy the power junction that controls the station, the Catalyst, and the Reapers but also all synthetic life and technology in the galaxy (the geth, EDI, Shepard’s and Garrus’ cyborg implants—they will be destroyed as well); or c.) provide Shepard’s body as a template for organic and synthetic synthesis. There are massive amounts of problems presented with all three endings.

The “control” ending provides no serious conclusion to the series. Shepard will have needlessly sacrificed his or herself into delaying the inevitable. The Reapers are not destroyed (the ultimate goal the first game set in motion)—instead they are waiting back in deep space for the next cycle to begin all over again. The “destroy” ending throws a wrench into both gameplay and narrative because, while the Reapers are destroyed as planned, it also undoes all the quests Shepard accomplished in the third game. In effect, this lackluster ending makes hours of gameplay seem redundant. There is no point in catering to either the geth, quarians, EDI, etc. if all they do in the end is die. The reward factor is significantly reduced.

The “synthesis” ending poses an awkward solution that more or less illuminates the dodgy writing provided in the game. If the Catalyst has known about the synthesis option for all these millennia and worried over the fates of synthetics and organics, then why has it never instigated synthesis before? The Catalyst, appearing as this omnipotent and omnipresent AI, is confident that organics and synthetics would inevitably wipe each other out. To an extent, this third ending is a benevolent choice given to Shepard as a reward for having a maximum Galactic Readiness Score. Yet this solution is awkward as it defies all preceding commentary—the catalyst has proved that it does not actually care about organics’ choice because it cyclically destroys billions of species without pause with an invincible synthetic army.

Regardless of whichever of the three endings the player chooses, the ultimate conclusion is the same for everyone. As a 'reward' for endless hours of game play, all players are forced to watch Shepard die, all relays explode, and the Normandy (which is seen uncharacteristically running away from the battle) gets stranded on a remote planet. According to Juul, it is important that any game make attaining the positive end challenging enough to satisfy the gamer upon achieving it (40). Yet despite the intense game play, there technically is no positive ending in Mass Effect 3, which explains the general feeling of player disappointment.

There are only three endings, all unsatisfying and indistinguishable from the other except for the colours of the relay explosions: red for “destroy,” blue for “control,” and green for “synthesis.” Never mind that it was previously established (DLC “Arrival”) that should a Mass Effect relay ever explode, it would take out the system it is in. Never mind that without the relays, all the species Shepard has called to Earth’s aid are now stranded in the Sol System. Dextro-amino aliens such as the turians and quarians would surely die from starvation so far from home and the krogan would quickly resort back to the old Tuchanka motto, “Survival of the fittest.”

However which way someone spins it, the ending to a fantastic series falls short of expectations. The advances made in progression of fun and challenging gameplay are defeated when offered no absolute closure. The diversity of enemies made for exciting battles but the Catalyst scene thwarts the gamers’ attempts at defeating the Reapers: everyone is ultimately doomed to an unknown, yet presumably nasty end.

----------------------- Conclusion -------------------------

In conclusion, the Mass Effect series displays the immense ability to grow into an intelligent and simplistic style of gaming as well as create an in-depth, three-dimensional world for gamers to immerse themselves in. Mass Effect has a richer plot than Mass Effect 3, yet the game play of the latter is unparalleled. However, while the action of Mass Effect 3 allows for new, FPS audiences to play with ease and familiarity, the story's conclusion comes across as stale and flat.
 

Works Cited:
  • Gies, Arthur. "E3 2011: Mass Effect 3 - From Cover to Combat." IGN. 2 June 2011.       <http://ps3.ign.com/articles/117/1172200p1.html>
  •  Juba, Joe. “Mass Effect 3.” Gameinformer May 2011: 50-61.
  • Juul, Jesper. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds.  Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2011.
  •  “Mass Effect 3 Ending and Why We Hate It!”  Youtube, 2012. Web. 20 May 2012.
    <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4H_A7SeawU4>
  •  Sharkey, Mike. "Preview: Mass Effect 3's Co-Op Multiplayer." GameSpy 27 Oct. 2011. <http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/mass-effect-3/1210851p1.html>