Pixel Dungeon: Modding

In my previous post, I discussed how Pixel Dungeon created the grounds for mobile modding. I believe that modding can strengthen a game’s community as well as encourage developer-gamer relations that ultimately benefit all parties. Because the modding of Pixel Dungeon is so accessible, I argue that it is a perfect entry point for beginning modders. In his article “When the Game Is Not Enough: Motivations and Practices Among Computer Game Modding Culture”, Olli Sotamaa further investigates the modding culture in Bohemia Interactive’s Operation Flashpoint and ARMA series. I want to draw connections between my game and Bohemia Interactive’s games in order to vouch for the credibility of Pixel Dungeon‘s modding scene.

Earthbound: Is Escapism Necessarily Bad?

As a role playing game (RPG), Earthbound caters to players who want to escape the real world and travel inside a virtual world. This virtual world allows players to fulfill extraordinary tasks, in this case travel the world using your newfound psychic powers to stop an evil alien overlord. Games in general are inherently forms of escapism or a means to leave reality in favor for imaginative fantasy. In his article “Digital Games and Escapism”, Gordon Calleja wants to understand why games are inherently seen as negative forms of escapism and wants to reevaluate the relationship between the real and virtual world.

I would like to focus on one of Calleja’s arguments called binary illusion, which states that video games have a negative connotation with the word escapism because of a contrasting binary character (being the virtual world versus the real world).  He notes that it is all too often that society characterizes video games “as trivial activities of pure waste disassociated from a more worthy ‘reality'” (Calleja). The binary illusion aides in that negative view of videogames. Calleja elaborates that this strict division stems from the fact that digital media in its infancy was compared to the western frontier. “This binary division places virtual environments (of which digital games are a subset) on the other side of a boundary whose crossing implies escapism” (Calleja). In order to rid digital escapism of its negative connotations, he proposes that we instead call these digital environments “synthetic worlds” because it better represents “the designed nature of virtual worlds” (Calleja). I agree with this statement because behind every game environment is man made code that dictates the rules and physics of said game world. Even though these worlds reside in a digital realm, they are grounded in reality by the programmers that designed them. Calleja then continues that even this proposed solution has flaws because “binary oppositions… create either/or relationships that ignore the richer middle ground” (Calleja). Though synthetic and real worlds can have shared characteristics, there is a lack of a stable middle ground where a player can reside. He references Edward Castronova’s book “Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality”, which aides in Calleja’s discussion of the middle ground. Castronova discusses that even though the two worlds can coexist and work together, the underlying issue is the continuous migration between said worlds and that there is a cost to moving from one world to the other. Castronova proposes that if we made the cost of moving from one world to another zero, it would be possible to exist in two worlds simultaneously. I agree with Calleja’s and Castronova’s ideas here. Because there is a clear distinction between the virtual and real world, there is is one, no real middle ground to exercise in, and two, to move from one world to the other requires an effort of the conscious to assimilate into the new world. To elaborate in terms of video games, if you could participate in the real world and the virtual world at the same time while maintaining a mental foot in each continuously, video games may be viewed differently, maybe in a more positive light. They could be seen as a way to experience an altered reality that caters to an individual’s imagination; allowing them to open up mental doors. Calleja finds the problem with the fact that crossing into the virtual world means leaving the real world completely, and that is why they are viewed as an escape from a world you don’t want to be in. Wanting to experience another world does not mean you dislike the one you currently live in, it just means you want to experience new environments that are otherwise impossible.

Calleja ends his investigation into the binary illusion explaining that “the utility of… virtual environments lies in emphasizing their creative potential for actualizing a theoretically infinite range of possible experiences” (Calleja). I agree with this statement whole heartedly because the use of virtual worlds, and video games in general, allows us to experience situations that are otherwise impossible. The real world is constrained by the laws of nature and the virtual world could open the doors to new and original ideas. Even though video games may be seen as leaving the real world behind, I like to look at it as bringing the real world forward with us. Though many think VR (virtual reality) devices like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive are the way to bridge the gap between the real and virtual worlds, I believe AR (augmented reality) devices like the Microsoft Hololens will cause a more positive impact on the negative connotation of video games as forms of escapism. AR creates the middle ground that Calleja believes we need and allows us to minimize the cost of transitioning from world to world as Castronova describes. Though primitive in terms of today’s video game market, Earthbound is a form of escapism that helps bridge the real and virtual worlds together because of its realistic setting and ability to create nostalgia in its use of youthful experiences as described in my earlier posts.

Microsoft Hololens bridges the gap between real and virtual worlds and creates a middle ground for users to exercise in.

 

Sources:

Calleja, Gordon. “Digital Games and Escapism.” Games and Culture, vol. 5, no. 4, 2010, pp. 335–353., doi:10.1177/1555412009360412.

Castronova, E. (2007). Exodus to the virtual world: How online fun is changing reality (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Postal Redux: Another Perspective

While Postal Redux is played in the third person perspective, I never have felt that the game lacks a sense of immersion. Some may argue that the sequel, Postal 2, is much more immersive because it is played in the first person perspective. In general, many gamers would argue that first person perspective games are more immersive than third person perspective games because you can play from “inside” the in game character. In his article “Why Can I See My Avatar? Embodied Visual Engagement in the Third-Person Video Game”, Daniel Black states that it is not the so much the perspective that creates immersion but how effectively the game can bridge the gap from physical reality to digital fantasy.

Black examines James Newman’s “The Myth of the Ergodic Videogame” in order to make a case for his claim. Newman is arguing against the immersiveness of third person perspectives and how it creates a division between the player and the in game character. Newman states that “the primary-player–character relationship is one of vehicular embodiment” (Newman). Black argues back that this vehicular metaphor acts as Cartesian dualism, “with the player taking the role of disembodied cogito using the game character to act upon the digital res extensa of the game world” (Black). To explain, Black is saying that players use in game characters in order to perform tasks that they would otherwise not perform, kind of like a puppet. He continues saying that if this were truly the case, games would not be as engaging as they are made out to be. I agree with this statement because I believe in game characters are more than just a tool to be used, they are a digital representation of one’s identity and behaviors. They encapsulate a secondary form of consciousness like no other medium can because they allow the player to perform whatever task said player wants to act upon.

A typical coin operated arcade racer, in this case Cruisin’ USA, will have a pseudo car for you to drive.

Continuing on the vehicular metaphor, Newman describes a typical CoinOp racing game and how it is possible to be sitting in a physical representation of the in game car you are driving, yet view yourself driving from a third perspective (he suggests from a helicopter). He states that these type of games create “multiple and apparently contradictory presentations of the self”(Newman). Arguing against this claim, Black turns to how we view Hollywood car chase scenes:

“While we do not control the car in the Hollywood film, we identify with the driver, and perhaps flinch at a near collision as if we were physically located inside the car, even as we watch the chase largely from a viewpoint outside the car.” (Black)

The Fast and the Furious (2001) is a perfect example of a typical Hollywood car chase scene. Note the variety of perspectives that the director uses.

These car chase scenes often have multiple perspectives of the singular main driver- a first person perspective of the driver, a perspective of the passenger, an outside of the car third person perspective, and sometimes even a perspective from another driver. And while the film creates multiple perspectives and angles that we view ourselves in, we often can still maintain singularity with the main driver in order to create consistency inside our heads. Black states that if we are able to create consistency with films, we should be able to create consistency in videogames, which have much less switching of perspectives. I agree with this statement because even if there is a visual “division” between me and the in game character,  be it the perspective or even the screen itself, I can still feel like I am inside the game. I am creating a mental connection to the character in order to create consistency for myself. Perspectives do not have to be one to one with the in game character, but they at least need to allow me to be able to create a simulated singularity.

Black finds problems Newman’s argument against the immersiveness of multiple perspectives/representations of the self in order to strengthen his own argument for the immersiveness of third person perspectives. Even if a game is in a third person view, it can still be immersive and can allow players to feel like they are truly inside the game. Postal is a perfect example of this claim, as its third person view does not hinder its immersiveness or its ability to envelope the player’s identity into a digital character.

Even though Postal is in the third person perspective, it is still quite immersive and engaging.

Sources:

Newman James (2002). The Myth of the Ergodic Videogame. Game Studies, 2.

Black, Daniel. “Why Can I See My Avatar? Embodied Visual Engagement in the Third-Person Video Game.” Games and Culture, 13 June 2015, journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1555412015589175#articleCitationDownloadContainer.