The Importance of Dialogue in Gaming

I was sitting on my bed this evening, talking to myself (I do that a lot…I like to think out loud in my room and just process things verbally. I swear that I am not crazy! At least not that crazy…) when I had a realization. For me, language and conversation are necessary for me to form connections and to create concrete ideas. Cooperation, whether in a game or in a real-life situation, cannot happen for me without dialogue, and learning, for me, occurs best when I can either verbally work something out myself or when I am able to run it by other people. I study in group settings before exams; it helps me to form better connections. When I am writing, I often bother my boyfriend or my roommate to help me to figure out how to phrase something. I read things back to myself when I am reading research papers for science courses or for my Honors Thesis to further process ideas. For me, dialogue is incredibly important in learning, and I am realizing the importance of dialogue both in learning during videogames and in establishing in-game worlds.

The game that I am playing for class, Final Fantasy Tactics, is well-known for its intricate story line, but it is also well-known for its poor translation. The story is very complex, and, although the main plot is well-translated, side quests and dialogue between characters is confusing at times. For example, one of the characters stands up mid-way through an argument, slams his hands on the table, and yells at another character, “Your words are harsh!” Translation issues range from awkward, like this character’s angry comment, to confusing and detracting from the story. This occurs in both the tutorial and in side quests and makes the game’s world difficult to navigate and prevents me from being overly motivated to participate in side quests because I may not understand what is going on and how to integrate it into my understanding of the world.

There are other games where the use of dialogue is incredibly efficient at drawing the player into the world and creating the illusion of a fantasy setting, as discussed in our reading for class this week, that engages the player and encourages their interaction with the world. Bastion, one of the games presented about in the poster session today, has a voice-over narration that explains the back story and provides a strong connection to the character. This voice-over narration also serves to motivate the player to continue by providing fairly regular feedback on the player’s actions and giving advice to the player when the player appears to be having difficulty. In several RPGs, including my favorites Earthbound and Chronotrigger, characters in the world address the silent protagonist with the name that the player has given the protagonist, allowing greater identification with the game world.

Dialogue can also be used poorly in games. In Final Fantasy X, an excellent fantasy world is created, with excellent dialogue between the players. However, the protagonist is a rude and brash individual. The player has no way to control his interactions with the other characters, and many characters end up disliking the protagonist. The player is left feeling discouraged, unwanted, and lacking control over the development of the character and of the fantasy world. In League of Legends, a free on-line game, the narration in the tutorial is condescending and overly critical. Although it provides advice and feedback, like the narration in Bastion, it does not motivate the player but instead reduces the player’s self-esteem, leaving the player less motivated to continue to attempt to learn how to play the game.

Is anyone else a verbal learner? Has anyone else had any experiences with dialogue and its importance or influence on a videogame?

Females in Video Games (And a Random Rant!)

As I was writing my Game Selection Paper, I was thinking about the tripartite identity mentioned by Gee and by Professor Fishman in lecture, about the identity of the player in the real world, the character in the virtual world, and the blending of the character and the player into an integrated identity. I chose a role-playing game for my video game for class, and one of the things that I am most interested to learn this semester is how developing the blended identity between the player and the character in the game facilitates learning and motivates the player to try new challenges in the game and encourages the player to play the game differently. However, I realized that this is going to be a slight challenge in the game that I chose for class. Although I have played other characters in similar games with the same challenge and have still formed a connection with the character, the main character in the game that I chose, Final Fantasy Tactics, is male. I am female, and I wonder how this impacts my connection with the character. Would I be able to connect with the character on a different level if the character was the same gender as me? It will be interesting to consider how I may have played the game differently this semester if the main character was female.

Considering how I connected with a character in a video game who is a different gender with me made me consider gender dynamics in video games in general. Although the number of females playing video games is only slightly smaller than the number of males playing video games in general, many gamers assume that other games are mostly male. One of my favorite games currently is Minecraft. (To read more about Minecraft and consider getting it because it is awesome and will take up all of your freetime, visit: http://www.minecraft.net/). I was on a forum about Minecraft and was discussing one of my current projects with another player. At one point, I mentioned that my boyfriend was helping me to design the roof for the giant cathedral that I was building, and the player paused for a moment before typing, “Wait…you’re gay?” According to current research, only ten percent of the population is homosexual; fifty percent of the population is female. Why did he pick the less likely of the two options? One of my closest female friends is an avid World of Warcraft player and she has stopped telling other people that she is interacting with that she is female because she either gets, “Wow! You must be really good if you are a girl and play this,” “You must be pretty bad. Girls aren’t good at WOW. You shouldn’t raid with us,” or receives an offer for a date or a certain popular derogatory message (I imagine many people are aware of the phrase that I am thinking of.) Even video game designers appear to assume that most gamers are male when designing protagonists. There are few powerful, independent female protagonists in video games. The main example that I can think of is Samus Aran from Metroid. Although women do exist as main characters in other video games, such as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider and Alex Roivas from Eternal Darkness, these women are often highly sexualized and may not have well-developed, independent characters. As a female gamer, I would like to have more independent, powerful women to play as and experience games through. Does anyone see a shift in this perception of female gamers occurring? Does anyone have any recommendations of games with a strong female protagonist that I could try? Does anyone have any other feelings on this subject?

Although this is not exactly video game related, I believe that this two blog posts from Epbot (one of my favorite blogs; the woman who writes it is so spirited and funny!) is also highly appropriate to this topic:

http://www.epbot.com/2011/12/three-cheers-for-little-girl-spock.html

http://www.epbot.com/2010/11/geek-girls-activate.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+epbot%2FfOpU+%28EPBOT%29

I don’t understand why there are people who tease others for their choices in entertainment or in their interests. Whether it is as a female gamer, a girl who wishes to dress up as Spock for Halloween, a boy who decides that he wants to dance ballet, or anyone else who chooses to defy societal norms is alright. Sorry that this post started as “I want more strong female protagonists in gaming!” and ended as “Let’s accept and support everyone!” I think that this is an important message that this class will teach us, though. We are attempting to understand and potentially pioneer a new method of learning. There will be stigma associated with it, just as there is currently stigma to a certain extent against females who play video games, but we must work through the stigma and fight for what we believe works and is important. This is an important lesson in perseverance, whether in learning, in changing the world, or just in finally beating the final boss of that one horribly hard game.

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