A Good Read About Flow

Came across this article which talks about the science behind flow. It’s an interesting read, check it out:www.newscientist.com

Content Behind the Game

I always find it interesting when there is more to a video than just the game itself. I like it when fans of a game spend time thinking about questions the game left unanswered or did not even ask, and I like it even more when a game’s developers encourage this kind of participation outside of actual game play.

The amount of fan culture behind the Pokémon series is tremendous, and understandably so. The game has been around for well over a decade, and has expanded beyond just video games into television, cards, movies, and more. The “content behind the game” I’m referring to in this post’s title is the fiction and theories that fans come up with, which in some cases even seems plausible enough to be true. I won’t go into detail about these theories (you can find a few of them here, and plenty more with a quick Google search), but one of my favorite examples from Pokémon is the notion that developers for some reason switched the sprites for Venomoth and Butterfree. In the game, Venonat evolves into Venomoth, and Metapod into Butterfree. However, the following image offers a pretty convincing argument that somewhere along the line sprites were swapped:

Another fun example of “content behind the game” relates to Valve’s marketing campaign for Portal 2. This unique campaign, called the Valve ARG (alternate reality game), began with a message on the Portal 2 website from the antagonist of the first game, GLaDOS, asking gamers to purchase and play games from Valve’s bundle of games dubbed the “Potato Sack.” GLaDOS claimed that playing these games would “provide the raw computational power” to “speed up the reboot process” (www.escapistmagazine.com).

What does this all mean? Basically, Valve was encouraging gamers to buy certain games and play them, and the incentive they were providing was an earlier launch date for Portal 2. People who played these suggested games “began noticing strange symbols and coded messages appearing in the games. Savvy users began to connect these ‘glyphs’ to other games — which were receiving new content from Steam — as well as to external websites and real-world locations” (mashable.com). The interesting part of all this was that these external websites and real-world locations often contained clues of various sorts that could be decoded in some way, revealing Portal 2 related messages and content. In fact, an entire wiki page was dedicated to the discovery and interpretation of these clues.

What I find fascinating is the culture and content built up around certain games. The amount of detailed thought behind these games, from both players and developers, shows the complexity of their relevant semiotic domains.

Gee’s Tri-partite Identity: Where do silent protagonists fit in?

After reading Gee’s book, What videogames have to teach us about learning and literacy, I was genuinely interested in his account of the tri-partite identity in video games. He explains that this identity consists of:

  1. The player that controls the character
  2. The character that is controlled by the player
  3. How the player actually plays the game as the character

Reflecting on this explanation, I found myself curious as to how the silent protagonist, a recurring type of hero in games, fits into this identity. A silent protagonist is basically a main character who is never seen or heard speaking by the player (even though other characters’ actions may hint that the protagonist can speak – see www.giantbomb.com for a more detailed definition). Some examples of silent protagonists from my experience playing games are Crono from Chrono Trigger and Gordon Freeman from the Half-Life series.

The protagonist’s being silent doesn’t affect the first part of the tri-partite identity listed above – the player’s characteristics are his or her own, independent from the game he or she is playing. But clearly, it directly affects the character being controlled, since the character’s personality and motives are not explicitly provided. We can get some sense of the protagonist’s persona by the way other characters act toward him or her, but we are left without any explicit idea of what he or she is thinking. This seems to leave the protagonist’s thoughts and motives to the player’s imagination. I think sometimes we even start to see the second and third parts of the tri-partite identity blend together. How the player chooses to control the protagonist sculpts the character.

However, I don’t necessarily think this is true in all cases. In fact, www.joystickdivision.com tries to explain how Jack from Bioshock, Link from the Zelda series, and Gordon Freeman each seem to fit differently into the mold of the silent protagonist.

I’m curious to know others’ opinions on how these characters fit into Gee’s explanation of the tri-partite identity. Does the silent protagonist really start to blend the second and third parts of the identity? Or do we simply need to understand the character’s personality from subtle hints in the game? Or do games with silent protagonists just need to be thought of on a case-by-case basis?