Brian Hochhalter and Professor April Haws, Theater and Media Arts
John Steinbeck noted in Travels With Charley that “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
So I have found in my research efforts. I originally embarked on a journey to investigate narrative cinema techniques that have been adopted by multimedia games, determine which of these techniques effectively engaged players, which don’t, and report my findings. Specifically, given the use of cinematic techniques in recent games, I sought to use theories of how films affect spectators to guide my investigation. As I have come to know the subject more deeply I have come across a number of factors to change my approach to the subject.
Though I originally intended to focus on questions of what presentational methods borrowed from the cinema work effectively in multimedia games, concerns voiced through the news media about the effects of multimedia games on young people have made me increasingly dissatisfied with my original direction. From the beginning of the project I hoped to address the ideological dimension of multimedia games, but considered that a side interest that would have little bearing on the final report. As multimedia games have recently come under greater criticism for their use of violence to drive stories and involve players, it appears to me that a study of the ideological effects of multimedia games has become more relevant. Additionally, examining various film theories in regard to films’ effect on spectators I found that the theories I investigated fell in line with my new direction, namely to investigate the ideological and psychological effects of the ways game makers involve players in their games.
Though I believe this new direction to be superior to the old, I have run into difficulty addressing multimedia games as a whole. Multimedia games use a number of techniques to engage players, but the interactivity games provide complicates spectatorship beyond the issues discussed by film theorists. The range of possibilities with an interactive game includes the possibilities used in narrative films, but the player’s ability to interact with the game and affect its outcome adds another dimension to those possibilities.
Fortunately, due to their commercial nature, multimedia games subdivide rather easily into genres and subgenres. The techniques used to pull players into the game experience follow conventions established in each genre. For example, the first-person shooter genre of games is named for its interactive and presentational structure. Players rove around a realistic three-dimensional environment in a first person perspective with the goal of shooting down their antagonists. Games of the platform genre center around guiding a cute protagonist (such as Nintendo’s Mario or Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog) around a brightly colored environment, collecting items to help him defeat a menacing but subversively cute arch-enemy (such as Nintendo’s Bowser Koopa III or Sega’s Doctor Robotnic).
The characteristics of the different genres serve to streamline the analysis of what ideals games in a given genre preach through their interactions and presentation methods. But as can be seen in the previous examples, popular multimedia game genres vary greatly, in how they involve players, making it difficult to find a specific genre or game that is indicative of the methods used in all multimedia games. Additionally, given the popularity of a variety of game genres I don’t believe I can properly address the issues surrounding different kinds of games by looking at a single specific game within a single genre.
In order to address the variety of popular multimedia games I propose to focus first on mapping out the different multimedia game genres, focusing specifically on the methods they use to involve players and the moral implications of those methods. This will provide a framework for a closer study of specific games within a given genre. For example, an increasing number of new games contain certain reminders within the story that they are games, rupturing the storytelling environment to remind players that “it’s just a game.” In order to provide a new twist on an old kind of game some game makers are blending genres, creating games with storylines or control methods that borrow from differing genres.
I believe that creating a map of genres will provide myself and others a clearer path in analyzing multimedia games, investigating their narrative and presentational structures and peering into the ideological messages within these games. I hope such a map will serve as a guide to future theorists navigating the landscape of multimedia games so they may begin their theoretical journeys with a better sense of direction than my own.