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?

Star Wars….and Gee?

When I was watching TV today, this advertisement came up:

http://www.youtube.com/user/swtheoldrepublic?v=FXGrXDlAhlc&feature=pyv&ad=20366037572&kw=star%20wars%20the%20old%20republic

It’s a video game that just came out recently called “Star Wars- the Old Republic” (I’m sure many of you have already heard of this game). What really caught my attention was the concept of choosing a side, and having just read the Gee book, it struck me that this game embodied Gee’s very idea of conceptual models and morality for the player (Chapter 6, if you want to refresh your memory). If you’ve ever played the game or read about it, you’ll know that this game allows the player to not only choose a “good” or “bad” side, but to also develop the character in terms of the player’s own conceptual model, whether it is turning a character from the “bad” side and then making good choices to eventually defer over to the “good” side through action, or whether it is converting a character from the “good” side and making choices that would serve for selfish gain, eventually driving the character towards the heart of evil. This makes it almost impossible for you, as the player or as an observer, to determine what is truly “right” or “wrong” in the game.

Interestingly enough, this game was also developed by Bioware, the same company that developed Mass Effect. Therefore, distinct characteristics, such as being able to choose different conversation pieces and missions, are available in order to develop and further your character. Whether you want to choose a conversation piece that is malevolent and violent to further the dark side, or a mission  to improve the good of humanity, it really all depends on what you think is best for your character (or maybe even to satisfy your curiosity of what might happen if you push this button.)

Women and The Sims

When I first started reading the Gee book, he mentioned that women made up the majority of The Sims players. As both a woman and an avid Sims fan, this made me wonder why? I have been playing The Sims since the original deployment of the game in 2000. I have all the expansion packs for The Sims, five of the expansion packs for The Sims 2, and I have The Sims 3 installed on my laptop here at school and The Sims 3: Pets for PS3. Whatever it is that has women hooked on the game has sure got ahold of me.

After spending the weekend trying to figure out how they got my attention and STILL hold it, I figured out what that game has that many other do not. It allows me to play God. Moreover, it permits me to play God in my own life. I can set up a sim that looks like me and has my name and have myself marry whom ever I wish. I am then allowed to live out my life in whatever way I wish – even in ways that would never be possible in real life. Though the object of my affection has changed throughout the years, the Sims always allowed it.

Girls always want to plan and fantasize about their future, even at a young age. The Sims is an outlet to live out ones entire fantasized life whereas without it the best one can do is imagination. That is what I have decided is the main reason The Sims has held my and so many other women’s attention so long. We can live out fantasies and not have to worry what anyone thinks. Do any other Simmers have any other reasons they love the game?

The Main character Who Died and Never Came Back to Life

On page 79 Gee compares movies and video games, noting that in video games the character you’re playing as cannot die and stay dead, or else “the game would be over before its ‘ending’”, whereas in a book or movie the character can stay dead, causing considerable sadness or other emotions. However, I’d like to contest the notion that video games are exempt from this.

In perhaps my favorite game of the past decade, the main character is murdered near the end of the main story. Because this is an open world game, which does not “end” per say, the player is now forced to play as the son of the main character. While Gee denies this possibility of the death of a main character, at the same time he expounds upon the importance of projective identities (p.63), and the impact that virtual identities can have on real world identities.

Indeed—I was terribly impacted by this death my virtual identity. Although the son has the exact same in-game abilities as the father, I completely lost the will to play upon the main characters death. It’s not that there was nothing left to do in my game world. There were still side missions I had yet to complete, and the gameplay was the exact same as it had been moments before the death, yet now that I could not adventure as the virtual identity I had shaped through my projective identity, I had no will to play.

However, I do not think that this ruined the game. In fact, I think this was the most brilliant part of the game. Never before had I been so attached to the character I was playing as, and killing off the virtual identity I had helped shape through all my hours of play made me realize that even more so. Up until that death, I had never felt sorrow from playing a game like I had from reading a good book or watching a good film.

This game convinced me that video games are ready to be as deep or rich as film or literature, and that it’s possible to create strong emotional feelings for a virtual character. Moreover, it demonstrates that games CAN annihilate main characters without the game “ending.” And though I was unmotivated to invest myself into a new virtual identity, perhaps other players see this as an opportunity to start fresh and see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Choosing a Video Game

I don’t know how the whole selection process has been for you guys in terms of choosing a game for the semester, but it has seriously been a huge task for me. I went back and forth and back and forth with games so many times and finally decided on one, but now that I have been reading Gee’s book, I have started to have second thoughts again. I really resonated with what Gee said when he was talking about “projected identities” in video games. I really wanted to try this out and see if I really felt how he described in the book so I bought Skyrim and started playing and had the hardest time putting the controller down. I felt very much a part of the game, as if I were actually there. I’ve played plenty of RPG’s before but I was never fully aware of this feeling or really made much of it. It is for this reason that I am starting to debate whether or not I made the right choice in my video game for the semester. I chose FIFA 12 mainly because I wanted to learn about soccer (a sport that I know incredibly little about) and also because I wanted to have a game that could invite my roommates into playing. However, I played FIFA right before Skyrim and it was fun, don’t get me wrong, but the moment I turned Skyrim on, I was transfixed on the screen along with my roommates. We sat in the living room for a good four hours straight and loved every minute of it. After I finally was able to tear myself away from the screen to go out to dinner with some friends, I started to reflect on my experience and I thought more about what Gee was saying in his book. What if school was that exciting? What if we could create an environment that would motivate students so much that they would have to be torn away from their studies to eat? I’m excited to read the rest of Gee’s thoughts on this, but I just thought I’d share a little bit with everyone about my personal experience with the text this weekend.

Josh

Can Videogames teach RESPONSIBILITY?

Thus far in this class we have focused on using videogames as a substitute for traditional schooling and have argued that videogames facilitate learning in a more efficient and effective manner.  Moreover, when we make the argument that videogames better facilitate learning we are referring to what I call “traditional learning”.  In my eyes, traditional learning refers to the things students are taught as part of a standard lower level curriculum which include basic arithmetic, grammar and science.  Although we have concluded, during class discussions and after having read the likes of Gee and Lepper, that videogames are in some situations more efficient at facilitating traditional learning than the classroom is, can we also make the conclusion that videogames also represent a superior teaching tool when it comes to teaching “non-traditional” subjects such as responsibility? The other day I was playing Grand Theft Auto after one of our lectures and began to think about this idea of videogames being used to teach responsibility.  As I played the game I began to notice just how many tasks I had to attend to and to how I was forced to prioritize these tasks because it was physically impossible to address all of them simultaneously.  On a basic level I as the gamer was responsible for my characters basic needs.  On the left corner of my screen there was a monitor with a heart that represented my characters health.  As I played I began to notice that my characters health would be diminished when he experienced physical pain (being shot or hit by a car) but could be increased by a variety of things including food, health packs and sexual relations.  On a more complex level, my character had a variety of different responsibilities I had to address due to decisions I had made during different stages of the game.  For example, earlier in the game I had taken on mission that gave me the responsibility of taking out an enemy gang member.  If I did not take out the gang member by a certain time I would loose money and without money I was unable to buy weapons necessary for self-defense and food necessary for self-preservation.  Not only does this instance demonstrate how a videogame can be used to teach gamers responsibility but it also demonstrates how videogames teach gamers how to prioritize responsibilities.  For instance, although I had a mission to complete (responsibility A) I would not be able to complete this mission without buying the necessary weapon to carry it out (responsibility B) or buying enough food and health packs to get my characters health up to an appropriate level (responsibility C).   Therefore, after trial and error it became clear to me that I had to carry out my responsibilities in the order of C, B and then A hence I learned to prioritize.  Although Grand Theft Auto is a bit of an extreme example do we think videogames can be used to teach kids how to meet and prioritize their basic responsibilities?

More Options for Curriculums

I read an article on Sciencenewsforkids.org called What Video Games can Teach Us. James Gee was interviewed and the artcile explained the many pros about children playing video games. One specific example was that video games help with keeping the attention of children who have ADHD at least 9 hours. I thought this was interesting because today we talked about motivation and this seems to have some connection. Children with ADHD have trouble focusing in school as well as certain activities that most people may think are entertaining.  Playing video games brings out a motivation to stay focused and play the game for a longer period of time instead of moving on to the next thing. It would be interesting if they would bring this idea into ways of training children with ADHD to focus on things through motivation. This should very well be experimented as a curriculum with the classroom. Children should play games in the classes room instead of sitting at the desk listening to the teacher’s lesson. Children would be motivated to learn more in school.

It was also interesting to read that playing video games can encourage kids to try new things. For example if a child loves playing a game that has science fiction, they may take more interest into the subject and will decide to read books and join activities involving science fiction. This in hand would help children practice and improve their reading skills.

I raise the issue that schools across the country should be trying new lesson plans that involves playing video games. As humans we are always doing research to find new ways to improve our way of lives through technology. Playing video games in the classroom may enhance the learning curve and increase motivation in children at a early age. We should NOT be content with the current basic curriculum. Experimenting and change is key to improving.

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