Monday, February 4, 2019

People Read Characters in Fiction Incorrectly

I've been reading War and Peace over at /r/ayearofwarandpeace and I keep coming up against people who, probably for lack of formal training, lack the ability to critically analyze characters and their motivations. One thing they do frequently that I see as incorrect is the tendency to think about these characters as real people, with real thoughts and emotions and motivations. The author is god, so he can technically make these characters do whatever he wants. Even if it's a historical fiction, nothing is stopping Tolstoy from making Napoleon fly around the battlefield on a hippo if he really wanted. Napoleon could be just as smart or as stupid as Tolstoy decides, and the same goes as any other character in the book. When you read a fictional character and you read about the things they say or do, it's incorrect to interpret at singularly about the characters personality. The characters act and speak in a way to advance the story. They are going to do the "convenient" thing that makes the story good. It's a weird and subtle difference to realize.

I found a draft blog I wrote a while back that I never published that delved into this a little bit. In Literary Analysis, I'd argue there are 3 levels of analysis. Level 1: Direct observation about a passage. (E.G. He uses alliteration to draw attention to this word couplet). Level 2: Analysis of a collection or group of observations as a trend. (E.G. How does the author use many literary techniques to drive home his point? Do the techniques attempt to make a comment on the culture or society its being written in?) Level 3: Analysis takes the trend and collections, and compares them to other authors and works of the time, and compares and contrasts the differences between the styles. What does that say about the style, and by extension, culture, and society of the time? (E.G. Tolstoy, along with other Russian authors of the time, used poetic, flowery, descriptive language and long sentence structures, during the Golden Age of Literature to comment on the most essential aspects of the human experience with directness and honesty).

I'm not saying every reddit comment on the day's chapter should be some grand-overarching theory about how Tolstoy's imagery and symbolism in the chapter represents Russia's national identity in 1865 or how it's really a stand-in for the complex fight between liberal atheism vs Russian Orthodox Catholicism. Frankly, that stuff is exhausting and really wouldn't be fun to read. But it frustrates me that people treat these characters as real people, not as a stand in for an idea that Tolstoy wants to represent or embody. They will be used to move the story along and make comments about the kinds of people those people represent. Stop saying Anna Mikhailovna is sneaky or conniving. She is written to be sneaky or cunning, you can't actually predict what she will do, even though you may be able to predict was Tolstoy will write. I feel people fail to realize this, and come away with incorrect analysis about where the book is going but also fail to miss what the author is trying to say on a Level 3 or even Level 2 layer by writing the characters that way.

Friday, November 14, 2014

We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

I once stood at the end of civilization, staring at the non existent horizon. The 2am night around me, stars glowing overheard, I just stared and thought. How the ocean never really ended, it was our perception that ended. For centuries, men headed west to find El Dorado. "Westward, the course of civilization makes it way" my dad always used to say. Of course it was still in my head. It's those stupid things that stick with you long after you are no longer with a person. Here I was, at the peak of my time in college, staring out across the black pacific ocean and not knowing exactly how I had deserved this. How did I get so lucky that now, I can just walk to the beach. I can walk to the end of civilization and just say to myself "eh, the weather isn't that great today".

I never got why we needed to read literature really. I was always a reader, I read copiously in elementary school, all the way through high school and into college. Harry Potter captivated me and never let go, all the way until senior year. When Harry turned down Ginny at the end of book 6, it felt like I was doing it. When I finished book 7, I had to start reading the series again right away, knowing the depression about the series ending was just around the corner. It affected me, in a way that a personal loss affects you.

That same year I stood on the black beach, I really grasped it. Maybe it is a part of growing up. Maybe it was finally putting an articulation on a concept that I had felt all along. But an Irish Literature professor begged us, to read Yates' poems and ask ourselves, "Why did he write this? What compelled him to do so? There must have been something, he was just burning to say. He had to get it out. These are emotions, stripped raw of all unnecessary words and fluff. Please, when you go home, read this and listen to what he is saying!". I'm not sure anyone paid attention to him that day, but it's something I'll remember for the rest of my life. Poetry was the essence of life; emotion distilled into words, conveyed over unfathomable distance and time to anyone who wants it. "This is not your school work, this is life! this is everything". I won't forget Edna Duffy.

Fiction has this tremendous ability to bring humans together; it allow us to live through the author, participating in experiences we'd otherwise not get to do. The best video games are ones that tell human stories. All the games are fake, so we respond to real emotion inside the narrative. Multiplayer allows us to have a different story every time, never the same twice. Hamlet is read 400 years after its penning, because it speaks to our inner most fears and desires. We still grapple with our mortal coil, and if we are compelled to act in line with tradition or in the way of the times. I will never be a Caribbean woman, but after reading Annie John, I can begin to know what it is like. The problem arises when people think that they have learned all the stories.

Another teacher I had, a TA, said that if it was available, I had to take a class from Candace Waid. She was one of the smartest professors here, he said. So when I saw her name listed next to the "So, Socal: American Literature" class, I signed up for it knowing nothing about it except that Paul was one of the funniest and most effective TAs I'd ever had. The day I walked in, I almost regretted it. But I'm glad I took it. Phillip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Joan Diddion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem have stayed with me for years afterwards. I'm not even sure why. I think about it a lot. It's Diddion's prose, her pessimism, her disillusionment, her matter of fact tone that I think I'm drawn to. She writes plainly, yet captivatingly. She talks about California in a way that stirred emotions: of feelings of hopefulness and betrayal. She talked about it the same way Hunter Thompson talks about Las Vegas. Of the glitz, glamour, and sheen, and the rusty undercoat threatening to show its face at any moment. Of how human civilization made its way to the west, in search for perfection. Now that we are here, are we perfect? Sometimes, it seems like the weather makes us think so.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ralphie’s Gripe with the Game (or How I Started Worrying and Began to Hate Clich├ęs)

Ralphie is a simple man. He enjoys Wizard Hats, wide animal themed shirts, and properly developed cannon. And now, horror of horrors,  Ralphie’s favorite MMO is in danger and this brings him now to the pulpit of our generation: NEOGAF forums. Ralphie cannot rectify his complex lore fascination with the terrifyingly awful decision to put Hobbits and Dwarfs on horse back in the Lord of the Rings Online. “WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!?!” he rages among piles of empty microwaveable Hungry Man microwaveable meals. “DO THEY NOT KNOW HOBBITS ARE FAR TOO SHORT TO PUT ON A HORSE. THE GALLANT AND CHIVALROUS MERIDOC BRANDYBUCK HAD TO BE ON THE BACK OF NOBLE EOWYN WHEN RIDING INTO PELENNOR FIELDS. THEIR LEGS AND ARMS ARE TOO SHORT FOR HUMAN HORSES”. He takes to the forums, knowing, feeling, the masses must be informed.

When Ralphie receives scorn, he does not back down. He does shirk away. He meets the challenge head on, like the wolves on his shirt were born to do. Rebuttals like, “But that decision would not allow half of the population to not participate in the new mounted combat” do not decelerate the Ralphie train. “LIKE ALL OF OUR LOTS IN LIFE, WE CANNOT GO BACK AND GET A NEW START. JUST AS I AM NOT DESTINED TO FIT IN AIRPLANE SEATS, THOSE WHO HAVE ROLLED A HOBBIT ARE NOT DESTINED TO FIGHT UPON HORSE BACK”.  Irksome hesitations and misgivings, such as “well it’s just a game, not everything has to 100% accurate” are not given the time of day to even cross Ralphie’s consciousness. “THE NOBLE ROHIRRIM GAVE THEIR LIVES TO SAVE US FROM THE EVER EXPANDING SHADOW AND YOU WOULD DO THEM THE DISSERVICE OF NOT HONORING THEIR MEMORY!?”, he seethes into the text submission box.  “GIMLI CANNOT SWING FROM HORSEBACK, AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU! HE WAS A NOBLE PRINCE AND YOU BUT A LOWLY ADVENTURER. IF HE COULD FIGHT FROM FOOT, YOU CAN TOO”.

Ralphie knows that with a loud enough voice, anyone can be heard. So he will be heard. He will be the eagle in the night, the owl in the day time, the lone wolf in the pack of wolves. He will campaign and crusade until Turbine see the error of their ways, lest he be content with a subpar product. He WILL NEVER PLAY WITH THIS INJUSTICE until he buys the game, just to login and complain to his fellowship that so much lore breaking is going on, it’s hurting his gullet, or maybe he’s just hungry. “YOU MUST STAND UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN,” he can be heard wheezeing over the Ventrilo server, pausing only to suck in saliva from the outer regions of his mouth, as he shouts over the deluge of water “WITHOUT IT WE ARE NOTHING”. He mounts up on his hobbit to explore the newly released Riddermark, hopefully he will get to Hytbold so he can upgrade his top tier raid armor.

HE WILL NEVER FORGET THE WRONGS COMMITTED THIS DAY until we do and then when Helm’s Deep is released Ralphie will rally the cries “THE WALLS OF THE DEEP WERE AT LEAST 3 AND A HALF INCHES TALLER”.


Depth of Interest: Revamp

So back in the summer of 2008, before I was a fresh-faced first year at University of California Santa Barbara, I wrote this article on my video games blog. It was about the depth of games, what makes games fun, and how they hold our interest. I wanted to revisit the entry, for I thought it contained some pretty good nuggets of truth, as well as some predictions that I can re-examine and can follow up on to see how true they ended up being. I'm going to rewrite a lot of it. Please use the link to read the original. 

I use to think that I knew what it meant to play a game for a long time. When I wrote the first version of this article, I had at least 634 hours in World of Warcraft. My main character at the time, Akoris, a level 70 Paladin had about 20 days of play time, which is about 480 hours of playing. I never really stopped playing World of Warcraft and continued to play through Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm. The sun is set on the Cataclysm era, and I've racked up about 100 days of play time now. I have 6 level 85s, and a level 69. I think most people would say that I have spent a lot of time in that game. Crazily, there are people who've played this game more. When Pandaria launched, a lot of people who had been veterans returned to the game and they were talking in general chat and one guy said he had 200 days of play time on a warlock and a 50 days on another guy. That's more time than I've spent in total on all my guys, they've spent it on one guy. I have to say that I don't think this guy is alone in this kind of commitment. World of Warcraft USE to be joked about as the game that sucked out all the time out of your life. I can't remember where I heard about it (it was on a podcast, either Gamers with Jobs, Rebel FM or WoW insider, and I can't remember which one for the life of me), but I heard somewhere about a guy playing Guild Wars for about 10 hours a day since the game has come out. That's some outrageous commitment. It really says something about the game when it can hold a person's interest for that long. This leads me to a simple, but very important question: why do games strive to hold our interest for such a long time? For a game like WoW, there is a monetary incentive for it: the longer people play, the more subscription fees they collect. Yet that isn't the case with a game like Oblivion, Mass Effect, Skyrim, Fallout 3, etc which are entirely offline, single player games. Going back even farther, there was a time when Donkey Kong, a 2D platformer, was the pinnacle of gaming, and a huge factor in the success of it was that it is easy to pick up and quickly, very fun.

Why do we strive for depth in our games? Maybe the obvious answer is because we like to have fun as long as possible before going to do something else. But different games go about "having fun" in different ways. "Fun" is a contentious term, but I want to define it as "you are enjoying the game for the sake of playing the game". What it means to "enjoy" a game vs be driven for rewards is a topic that should have a longer space to do it justice and should be discussed elsewhere. Returning to the topic , having fun isn't about just shooting people over and over and over. Sure that can be fun for a little while, which is why Geometry Wars can be fun. It is a certainly different experience to fly around shooting shapes as compared to an MMO or an FPS. Yet, that doesn't remain fun. The game eventually introduces different modes in the game, different guns and more shapes and more enemies. However, that game loses it fun rather quickly because it is largely always the same game. It's an arcade style console shooter. Without offering new and different experiences to the player, the player will eventually lose interest in the game and go find something else to do. However, what the player does is up for debate. He could play a different game, or he can play the same game in a different way. Smart game designers will design games to be played in different ways, if they want to retain a player base for longer than 2 or 3 hours.

This tendency of human beings is the same one that WoW capitalises on to get its fun. There is always more. More areas, more spells, more levels, more dungeons, more fights, more gear and more quests. What asked my readers back in 2008 was, "Is this truly fun, or is all this new stuff just renewed novelty? Is depth just renewed novelty? Just an effort to give us new stuff all the time?". Now, after going to college and reading some Baudrillard, Hegel, Hume, Locke, Joyce, and other theory and literary critics, I'd have to say, I don't think I can answer this question. This question is too sweeping, too generalizing and tries to cover too many topics. But I think what I can do, is try to at least look at World of Warcraft, and see how it uses "renewed novelty" to stay fun. I think I made an error in judgment when I wrote this article because I don't think I understood WoW as much back then. A lot of the lower level experience is to prepare the player for the end game. I didn't know how deep the game went until I went through college, because that's when I really delved into the the number crunching aspect of theory crafting. The whole game you have to play with mastery, expertise and hit rating add a whole other aspect to the game. The lower level experience introduces new skills for your characters so you can learn them one at a time, and develop habits for using them. It also adds boss mechanics so you can learn them one by one as well. What I did not understand is that the game changes as it progresses. But I also think this redesign is recent to World of Warcraft. After Cataclysm, the whole 1- 60 experience was redesigned to flow better and to make more sense, so I think that this carefully crafted curve is a result of years of quest design and research.

World of Warcraft does a very good job at keeping a player entertained. With Mists of Pandaria, it added several new things to do with the game. It is avoiding the pitfall of constantly recycling and representing game mechanics in order to try and trick the player into having fun. The game changes and morphs into a different experience as you level, as this keeps people playing. By allowing us to play differently, it is encouraging player to stay with the game and to keep playing. Here's a short,  non exhaustive list, of ways they've introduced to keep us playing differently: Dungeon and Raid Finder, PvP for experience, pet battles, farming, Transmogrification, guild perks and experience, mounts at 20, Real ID grouping, and account wide achievements. These are all activities that were not traditional MMO affairs until WoW did them, and they are ways that Blizzard has come up with to keep us playing. They are allowing us to play how we want, and that is allowing them to remain relevant and it is the reason that people are still playing the game.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Diablo 3 Review


So, I have to admit, I was not that excited about Diablo 3. I had played a lot of Diablo 2, the original. I hadn't really played the expansion. But I had lost countless hours of my 7th-8th grade years doing Mephisto and Diablo runs on Nightmare and Hell. Those were great times. But I wasn't sure I wanted to repeat this whole experience. I figured, how could a game that was more or less the same game be fun a second time around? I played Torchlight earlier this year and got pretty far into it. I got close to finishing it, but not all the way. It honestly got kind of repetitive after a while. It was literally just going deeper and deeper into the dungeon. You never came out and went to a different place. The environments changed, but you just kept going deeper. Regardless, I enjoyed it, but I wasn't super pumped to play Diablo 3 or anything. I knew the internet was though.

However, when my friend Marc decided that the game would be more fun if played with friends and offered to pitch in to buy it for me, I was hesitant to say no. "I mean, it might be really fun with friends", I contemplated, so I decided to take him up on his offer. And boy am I glad I did. This game is the most fun  I've had playing a game for a long time. It's addicting, engaging and accesible while being surprisingly complex and deep. Blizzard could have produced a game that coasted on the phenomenal success on Diablo 2's name and sold millions of copies regardless if the game was good or not. However, they not only matched the success of Diablo 2, but I think they have surpassed it. The fun polished final product suggests that the creators and development team really took the time to study what made Diablo 2 work so well and along the way they fixed a lot of what was wrong with it and created a fantastic game that will raise the bar for both Action RPGs and sequels in general.

One of the best parts of Diablo 3 is the whole aesthetic appeal of the game. The art direction of the game is simply incredible. The look of Azmodan, Diablo and the whole High Heavens are just really really cool looking. The atmosphere is incredible in this game and one of the ways they achieve this is through the graphics. They are warm, detailed and add a lot of depth to the game while not being a simple gimmick. Your character progresses through a variety of environments even in the first Act and one of the things that I really liked was the detail they put into the space outside the explorable map. You know, the place that you can't get to. They fill it with rich textures of swamps, mountains, dungeons and a variety of other background pieces. It really helps add to the feeling that you are a part of a living, breathing world, and immersion is one effect Blizzard achieves with flying colors. What is also great is that the game actually sorta scale. I know that when I get home to my real desktop computer, I should be able to crank the graphics up and play it beautifully, but I can play it pretty well on my Macbook Air. I do get frame rate slowdowns when in particularly busy fights, but nothing that I can't handle.

When I said they did not simply piggy back off the success of the old game, I wasn't kidding. Underneath, it is still the same game as it was before, and Blizzard even subtly acknowledges this. In Diablo 2, you went from Tristram to a desert level from Act 1 to Act 2 and this is the very thing you do in Diablo 3. It's a subtle reminder that this is still the game you know and love. However, they have corrected many of the problems that plagued the original Diablo 2. Firstly, they have now moved on to everyone getting their own loot in multiplayer. No longer are the people with slower internet connections and slower computers at a disadvantage when the boss dies. Everyone will get something. However, they left in the system of being able to drop items to trade. Without that feature, the game probably wouldn't feel like Diablo. Additionally, they decided to do away with Scrolls of Town Portal and Identity. Some will say that this was part of the game, but I want to commend Blizzard on it. That is a feature that was characteristic of the series, but not in a good way. There were few things that were more annoying than when you were out in the wilderness and you realized that you had forgotten to buy Town Portal scrolls. They made an executive decision and it makes the game much more fun. You spend less time doing tedious activities and more time slaying hordes of monsters, which is the most fun aspect of this game.

The choice to include health orbs was a wise one as well. It makes the game less about collecting potions and rewards killing monsters instead of buying stuff. It adds to the fast paced nature of the game and keeps your character moving forward, never losing momentum. The pacing of this game is superb as well. The acts go quickly enough that you do not get bored, but they last long enough to finish in an extended sitting. This all helps the momentum of the game never really stop until you finish the game on normal setting.

In the Original Diablo 2, there were 5 classes, with 2 more added in the expansion. With 12 years of development, Blizzard surely could have come up with some more classes. Instead, they opted to make each character have a variety of play-styles. Good news is, is that this gamble succeeded. Each character has about 15-20 spells, but only 6 can be actively at one time. What this forces the player to do is to think about what sort of role you want to fill. As a Wizard, I could either be a living bomb, opting to pick spells that AOE out from my character, or I could choose to be a single target ranged killer, or a AOE at range role. However, these are all decided on the fly and leads to incredible depth to the classes. Not only can you only use 6 spells of an available 30, each spell has about 7 different runes for each one. And you guessed it correctly, you can only have 1 rune per 1 spell. This leads to thousands, if not millions, of different combinations that are possible for each class. You unlock the available 6 slots for actions by level 10 or so, providing good time for you to experiment with the interactions between all your spells as you level and take on more monsters. The game is easy to pick up, but provides incredible depth and complexity if you choose to partake in it. And what is great, is that the spells you unlock first stay relevant throughout the game, as the damage scales based on weapon damage, not a set number. This means the spell you used at level 1 is going to be roughly just as good as the one you get at 30. There will simply be situational differences that dictate their use instead of numerical ones. Too often do games pick up a mechanic and ditch it later on because something new and fancy came along. Diablo keeps all of its content fresh consistently, and this is a considerable feat.

All of this great gameplay works well playing even by yourself. But where the game's most fun times are to had are online. They say bad pizza is great with friends, and so it comes to no surprise that great pizza is incredible with friends. Multi-player online with Diablo 3 are an absolute blast, and are among the best times I've ever had playing a game online, rivaling the days of Halo 2, Team Fortress 2, WoW and Gears of War. When you get 4 players into a game and you are all hacking and slashing your way through hordes of enemies, they are few things that have made me as happy. And since everyone has their own loot, there is never any fights over loot, only better chances that someone in your party got something that your character can use.

What is going to be impossible to predict of this game is the legacy of. No review could have anticipated the massive overwhelmingly positive reaction to the online play of Diablo 2. The game has inspired millions of people, in multiple ways. It inspired a bunch of kids who grew up playing it to make games like that when they grew up. It also inspired industry designers who saw the success of Diablo and looked to copy it. It paved the way for games like Torchlight and Titan Quest, even if Diablo wasn't the original Action RPG. It made it marketable and the proof of that is in the sales numbers and longevity of its continued play. Will Diablo see such continued play for the next 10 years? Or will it be a flash in the pan game that people cease to play after the hype dies down. There is no way to tell.

Diablo 3 makes extremely good use of a limited amount of material. They re-use astonishingly well. They use a limited number of levels, classes, skills and stories, yet they make it continually fresh. They have delivered a game that is accessible, simple, complex, addicting, beautiful, and social without departing radically from the Diablo franchise. Blizzard has raised the bar yet again with this iteration of the series and has proved once again that they, along with Valve, can consistently put out high quality, polished games, even if it takes forever. It really makes me feel like it was worth the wait.

Playlist:

  1. Diablo 3
  2. WoW

Technical Mechanisms, Video Games and Art: A Reflection on Reviews

The industry of reviews has an ongoing debate, perpetuated by the nature of the medium, about how much a good video game review talks about the technical mechanisms of the game it reviews. Shawn Elliot (ex-GFW and current Irrational Games) contests (in the GFW show of October 25th 2007) that in any other medium of art criticism, a good reviewer very rarely talks about the medium itself when discussing the merits of the piece of art. He said that most video game reviewers get really caught up in the technical aspects of the game and forget to add if they liked the game or not. I initially whole heartedly agreed, but after some thinking, I revised my position to say that I agree with him to a certain extent. In the kind of review he is speaking of, they describe the game itself and then they decide that the piece is good enough of a "review" fit for publication. It isn't.

A good review, whether it be music, movie or an event, will describe the thing firstly with objective facts. The aspect that separates an average review from a good review is whether or not the reviewer will then turn around and describe their own subjective reaction to those facts. There is nothing wrong with being subjective. As humans, everything will be biased in one way or another. It is impossible to avoid this reality. What we can do then is recognize that we will all be biased and write subjectively. It is then the duty of the reader to know that the review is subjective and take that into account when reading it. However, I think that Elliott makes a couple missteps in his statement. Firstly, I believe a good reviewer considers the form of the art medium in a good review and comments upon it. Secondly, I also believe that video games are an unique art form, as their existence predicates itself on the existence of technology, therefore rely on it working correctly, and because of this, the form of video games can have a significant influence on the content of it.

To start off, it is important to define what I mean by the term "technical mechanisms". In the broadest sense, they are they systematic pieces that frame the game, and allow it to be engaged. They can be easily observable parts like controls, video resolution, frame rates, and graphics quality, as well as more intangible aspects like, delivery methods, menu layout or how the multi-player system is setup. These can be considered "form". The other side, we have "content". These are things like, story, game mechanics or level design. These two aspects, form and content, constitute all art in the world, across all mediums. They are in books, movies, music, dancing, architecture, painting, sculpture and any other art form you can imagine. However, some of the difference lies in how much you can separate the two from each other. It's a largely fruitless exercise (since form cannot exist without content, and vice versa), but it may help it understand what can be considered form, and what can be content. For a book, the form is the page layout, the font type, the sentence layout on the page, and the placement of words upon the page, among other things. The content is the story. Now, the tricky part comes when you try to separate the two. Is there story without chapters? Does the story change when you change the page layout? The more important question would then be, "Does your experience change?". If you look to an art like dancing, it is impossible to see the dance without the form. You cannot separate the form of the dancer from the content of the dance. But that doesn't mean both form and content don't exist in this medium. It just means that the two appear differently in each different medium and affects the experience of each medium in different ways. Now, how does art use that form to create meaning?

A lot of good artists utilize the medium itself in order to convey meaning and to not discuss this is to miss some of the message they are trying to convey. Jonathan Safran Foer is a writer in particular that uses the medium of the printed book to create a subtle, multi-layered message. James Joyce uses this as well in Ulysses (the last chapter is five sentences long, spanning 50 pages, mirroring the stream of consciousness style of thought). Arguably, sentence count and length could be considered a "technical" aspect of the book. If you read, "this chapter has 5 sentences and they are 30 words in length", that is pretty similar to hearing "there are 10 levels in the game" and hearing, "the graphics are using Unreal Engine" is close to hearing, "the book has a 12 point font". These are both instances where the form of the medium can be used to shape the content of it. If the font of a book uses Times New Roman versus Sandscript, there is probably a reason behind it. The printer had to decided which one to chose, so it's not an accident. Additionally, while books are regionalized and can be printed on a variety of page sizes and font sizes, consider for a moment if that wasn't true. What if there was only edition of the book, and the font was small and hard to read. This would greatly impact the experience one has with the book. If the "great review" looks to explain your experience with the art object, mentioning that it was physically hard to read would make that experience different. Video games only have one graphics engine, one controls scheme and one frame rate. It is impossible to distinguish form from content in the medium of video games for this reason. If the story and mechanics was transplanted into another "shell" of a video game, maybe it would be different and better, but most of us would consider that a different game. The form of video games is important for the experience.

This is similarly experimented with in other art modes. Great filmmakers tinker with the format of film, changing color filters, film speeds, sound qualities and other aspects that can greatly influence how we experience the film. Music does this as well. When Elliott says that great reviewers don't talk about the technical aspects of the medium, I think he is mistaken. I believe they do. I just think it's in a tone that is different from the tone we usually get when reading about scholarly things like music and movies. Those are art forms that are widely recognized and accepted, so consequently, there are statistically going to be more mature writers who write on the subject. Video games journalism and critique is still in its infancy and still has a long way to go. Video games have traditionally been a field dominated by male, immature nerds. Not until recently has it been cool to play video games. And even now, most of the people who are devoted enough to video games are not usually the ones who write about them. This may be an unfair characterization, but I feel like most of the people who play video games go into Math and Science fields, though that demographic is changing. Because of this, I think that the pieces that we traditionally get written about video games reflect that trend. They tend to be more technical and structured and tend to talk more about objective facts more than subjective interpretations.

While I think this is not the way to get the video games industry taken seriously, I think we should recognize that the form (re: technical aspects) of the video game influences the medium of video games more than most other forms of art. If a movie was hard to play for your DVD player, or the CD also skipped at a certain moment, you would mark it down. Consequently, if a video games' graphics make it hard on the eyes, or if the frame rates are not good enough to beat a level because it lags too much, its going to make the game less enjoyable. There is a level of nit pickiness that goes in video games journalism that is unacceptable, but I think that it is fair to mark down a video game if the graphics are truly abominable and they influence the game experience. Half Life 1's graphics now are not the best, but they do not hinder the game play in any way. You can still play that game and enjoy it, even after playing games in the modern era. But if you got a game on Xbox 360 (a system you cannot upgrade) and it cannot play the game smoothly, the game should not be forgiven because the mechanics behind those graphics might be clever. Like I said, in many instances, the form of the medium influences the content dramatically.

Don't get me wrong though. I think Shawn Elliott is a very intelligent guy and his views on video games are sorely missed, as he now works in the industry and cannot comment on them much anymore. I do agree with him in that a lot of reviewers in industry pass off paltry attempts for reviews, dwelling on petty technicalities and pretend to be objective. Those reviews will never move past 10th grade high school level. The guise of "objectivity" will severely limit the writers ability to express the experience of the game itself. The review is suppose to tell you if a game is good or bad, not a rap sheet of technical bullet points, so by its very definition, it will be subjective. However, I think that a good review will mention these technical aspects, but will comment upon how the developers use those technical mechanics to create atmospherical aesthetic and captivating gameplay. I think that a careful line must be walked between these two, as failing to mention the interaction of form and content will miss some of the message that the artist is trying to convey, and therefore will not accurately reflect the experience one has with the art object, be it music, movies or video games.

What Blizzard Needs to Do


What Blizzard needs to do with World of Warcraft is similar to the thing that the music industry needs to do in order to become profitable again. World of Warcraft is arguably, being ruined by the fact that we can fly. There are a couple conclusions that I stumbled upon that I would use to reinforce my argument, like the fact that having flying makes us consume content at a faster rate, makes the game easier, and detaches us from the immersion in the world itself. It allows us to pick and choose our battles for the most part, and this leads to a detached feeling from the world. When we were ground bound, it took longer, because we had to get there. It's weird going back to an alt without flying, because actually getting there is like half the battle until level 60. What Blizzard has also done, that has made this game easier, and therefore more boring (to some. not me, but some) is they had reduced the number of items required for something, like material gathering quests or kills for reputation gains.

Now that the game is easier, how will Blizzard sustain its playerbase and not lose people because they either dont like it or run out of things to do? Blizzard will have to innovate. It will have to make content interesting enough that we will want to experience it. And so far from what I have seen, they are. They make quests that make intricate use of the flying mount, and I can tell you it's really fun to be able use my flying mount for the quests. But they have to create new game mechanics that are entertaining and engaging enough that are not the old style MMORPG quests. I don't know if I can think of another MMO that uses flying like WoW. WoW is an old school MMO at heart, at least when it began. It took a turn after Burning Crusade and the release of flying mounts. At first, flying mounts were hard to obtain, but because of the nature of expansion packs, they became the norm. By nature of expansion packs, I mean,  by being an expansion pack, one assumes that the characters will be advanced in level beyond the level cap of the previous game. So, when Wrath came out, everyone needed to get to level 80. If the flying level is 70, its necessary that everyone who experiences new content will have obtained flying at some point. So, therefore, flying becomes normal. If flying makes the game easier, that means that everyone will have an easier game. After everyone experiences this easier game, no one is going to  want to go back to the hard game. You can't go back. It will always be seen as a downgrade, and not up to the game's full potential.

What Blizzard needs to do is make us want to play the game for other reasons than the traditional MMO reasons. The tradition of old MMOs is wanting to collect something for the purpose of being a compulsive collector. What WoW needs to do is make the MMO fun. They need to make you want to collect things, but for different reasons. They have to make us want to keep playing after we've collected the things. That is something that the Star Wars: The Old Republic and (probably) The Elders Scrolls MMO haven't figured out yet, and this is why they failing. WoW is making it easier to play (Dungeon Finder, Mounts, PvP queues from anywhere, less reputation for factions), so that if you want to collect, its so much easier. We've all been trying for so long, we should just be given what we want. Why make it hard?

I don't have any suggestions really for how to make it better. But I do think that Blizzard recognizes this fact and is acting upon it. Like I said, I think their questing mechanics reflect this trend. Deepholm makes good use of flying mounts, as does the Twilight Highlands. Especially the parts with the city on the rock, The Krazzworks. They use vertical space well, and they make it useful, but not impossibly easy to complete the quests there. I think adding fighting to flying would make the game a lot different. It would add that sense of danger back into the game. It would make it so you can't AFK in the middle of the world.

Of companies I know that may be up to the challenge, Blizzard is one I expect to rise to the occasion. They needs to innovate, and that's what I see them doing. But I think most importantly, they have to deal with this flying problem.