Monday, August 31, 2009

Maybe Catch Them Most

In interest of full disclosure, I must admit: I’ve got the bug. And this isn’t just any bug, folks. After all, there are bugs that you catch, and there are bugs that catch you, but this bug is the only one I know where you are catching.

The thing I am catching, gentle reader, is pokémans.

I know! I know. Years ago, I thought I had caught them all. Isn’t that how it works? You catch them all, and then you can live your life again. But apparently, while my guard was down, they went and invented a bunch more. This ain’t a scene. It’s an arms race.

Pictured: Rock-Type.

Not that I’m complaining. There is such a thing in this world as more of a good thing, and I’ve long noted my uncanny attraction to games that last forever. But the remarkable thing about these later generations of games is that they don’t seem so much to descend in a lineage, but to actively absorb earlier iterations.

Since the play mechanics are largely untouched, the pocket meisters of yesteryear are free to scamper about alongside the New Guard, retaining their movesets, their elemental types, and their varying degrees of use or uselessness. The result is a game that feels eerily metamorphic, not a new game, but an old one, transformed. Perhaps this is all fitting for a game about evolution.

Thank-you, Charles Darwin, for your contentious theories about fighting electric mice.

I don’t imagine, that in the days to come, I’ll be reviewing the content of the game itself – as a full-blown media phenomenon , it is precisely the sort of thing that defies review. That’s not to suggest that it isn’t a good game – in many ways, it’s excellent – but it’s the sort of game where its qualities and failings are beside the point.

Rather, I’d like to look at some of the ways in which an expansive game like Pokémon combines a number of fundamental aspects of gaming – collection, preparation, and strategy – to foster a surprising array of play styles. I’d like to consider what sets its apart from the half-dozen clones we’ve seen that operate under the same model.

I hope that all this can be done without me resorting to talking about my Pokémon. Hearing about someone’s pokémon is like hearing about someone’s dreams. And everyone likes listening to someone describe their dreams, right?


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Free Thing of the Week: When Zombies Attack!

There are lots of ways to prove something, but I think we can all agree that the best way to prove something is through math.

This is because Numbers Don't Lie. Let's say I was to tell you that a normal person only uses .3 per cent of their brain, that the Inuit have 127 words for snow, that you only have 2.4 seconds to make a first impression, or that 6 was afraid of 7 because 7 8 9. These are all lies, but the numbers themselves didn't lie. I did. So in their own way, they're facts.

6 was actually afraid of 7 because 7 killed 4's cat.

So yes. The best way to prove something is through math. And the best thing to prove, as long as you're going to be proving something, is zombies.

Hot out of Carlton University's school of mathematics and statistics is, I think we can all agree, some terrifying yet oddly exhilarating news. According to a mathematical model taking into account all manner of vectors and factors and other math words that I'm sort of afraid of, they found out that, in the upcoming zombie apocalypse, we're pretty much toast.

And here's the kicker... they even went and made the zombies slow. Just to give us a head start.

Look out strippers it is zombies.

So the future is looking bleak. I mean, yes. Those three strippers might help stem the tide of undead monsters for a little while. I can understand that the shotgun might be effective, and that chainsaw might do some damage as well. But that third stripper seems to have only a shoe.

I'd say the chances of that working are only around 17%

- Rook

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Immerser Report

During my visit to Montreal for Ludicine’s Thinking After Dark conference, I had the opportunity to speak on formations of avatar in horror video games. Specifically, I spoke on immersion - specifically, the sensation of feeling ‘inside’ games during play.

If there are two things that need clarification about these ideas, they are that immersion is both more specific and more simple than common usage suggests. Being part of a grab-bag of about a dozen words people use to describe videogame play, it often does double-duty as a catch-all term that describes any merit of any game.

Is your gameworld sprawling and expansive? Immersive. Do you care about your characters? Immersive! Do you spend the greater portion of your game actually immersed in some fluid? You better believe that’s immersive.

"The Wettening" was a great game. But I could never defeat Wa-wa Wawinski.

Ultimately things begin to stretch out thee limited elasticity of the term. If everything is immersive, nothing is: It begins to mean nothing more than ‘good.’ Thus an ‘incredibly immersive experience’ is doubleplusgood.

Actually, there’s a simple trick to using the term with clarity and purpose. Immersion is always physical. Thus a kid bobbing and weaving while playing a game is an example of immersion. Being sad that your dad is the dream of a ghost’s memory, or whatever, is not.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly: Immersion is easy. Forget suiting up like Tron. You don’t need any Captain N shenanigans to obtain the experience that you’re ‘in a game.’ Often it’s as simple as hitting a button.

There’s a reason for this, and that reason is locked away deep in your brain. Now, my more… penetrating experiments in the catacombs beneath Bedlam Hospital have revealed to me mysteries dark and glorious, but apparently neuroscience knows a thing or two about your thinker as well. Very well. I shall have my day yet!

Here’s a great, if enthusiastic, piece on the current research that’s being done in the field. Elsewhere on these selfsame tubes, neuroscientist Steve Novella explains the phenomenon in detail: The experience of being in one’s body is not automatic – it is a deliberate function of the mind, some feat of evolution, and can be meddled with through any number of tricks and sleights of hand.

I find this to be incredibly revealing, and one reason that games may affect us the way that they do, operating at the some physiological level. Just as this sense of posited self is more complex that flinching from negative stimuli, so too we may navigate games with a more complex presence of mind than “spikes bad, coins good.”

Though, I do think it bears repeating: Spikes baaaaaaaaaaaaad.

- Rook