Video Games: Instances of Digital Genetic Recombination within Microcosmos

Like the other media formats we have studied, the contents of a video game are completely determined the author (or more often, the gaggle of code-monkeys locked in the basement of EA headquarters). However, video games offer an utterly unprecedented amount of initiative to the user. How does that new level of interactivity effect a fundamental qualitative revolution, rather than a mere incremental shift, in the how humans can know  engage with and communicate via media? (I realize I’m begging the question here, but eh, screw it)

I think of it in terms of recombination. All games consist of and communicate via their mechanics (run, jump, shoot, spawn, etc.), and the user is given nearly complete control (within certain creator-set limits) of how to use those mechanics. The player can mix and match which actions they commit and in what order. The game then reacts to the players choices, again in accordance with the programmed mechanics. Every game is essentially a tiny constructed universe, with its own laws of physics and causality. Thus, of all the mediums we have so far studied video games  come the closest to comprehensively re-creating the real world and producing a truly narrative experiences.

The rhetorical and narrative benefits of greater audience immersion are numerous, obvious, and frequently touched upon in our past discussions. First and foremost, of course, is that video games are reactive to player choices, generating a sense of responsibility and investment with the simulated outcomes. In Dys4ia by going through the motions of the author’s own actions, we directly share her feelings of disorientation during her tribulations, along with her sense of accomplishment upon reaching the endgame.

Inside the Haiti Earthquake gives us three first-person views that each re-contextualize the same event–much like how one’s perception of reality is dependent on personal context. The user is forced to face the calculations, evaluations, and decisions produced by the alien yet real scenario, while living with the consequences (apparently I should never pursue a career in network news). In doing so, the player consciously imagines the motivations and conditions of the character, enhancing the emphatic impact of the what is otherwise mere visual/audio stimuli.

My chosen game was  Quandary, which comes back to my earlier point of games creating pocket universes of their own. Quandary literally places you within a fictional society to interact with and arbitrate the affairs of the various citizens. Otherwise theoretical ethical dilemmas are presented in all their complexity, forcing the player to make rhetorical maneuvers, commit to decision trees, and ultimately live with the uncertain outcomes of one’s judgement calls.

Phone was a bit simplistic and clumsy in using its mechanics to convey a rhetorical point, but it did manage to convey some disturbing  messages. Section 1 showed me that the conscious decision to find and intimidate another human being is institutionalized and normal in the existing economic system. Section 2 showed me that a 50% employed splatter rate is considered acceptable losses by factory managers.

“But Freddie,” asks Strawman, “how does all of this apply to RedvsBlue? Since machinima is not interactive, how is it differentiated from conventional animation or film?” I’m glad you asked! Since the RedvsBlue uses the predefined animations of the Halo engine, it can create a regulated and streamlined system of symbolic visual cues for the entertainment of the audience. In reality conversation involves all kinds of micro factors like facial expression and body language and context, but in machinima its just head bob=talking (was that a patronizingly simplistic explanation that glazed over the true complexities involved in all forms of communication  eh, screw it). While that was not the original intention of the Halo head bob animation, that’s what it has been re-contextualized to symbolize within the tiny universe of Blood Gulch. Same goes for the various game mechanics incorporated into the story–e.g. flag capturing, teleporters, plasma grenades, armor color, etc.

With some time to peruse my old ecology and genetics textbooks, I could have written an entire blog post creating an elaborate metaphor analogizing video games with DNA and evolution–I mean seriously, ‘coding’ basically writes it self! But I’ll restrin my self to saying this: video games are reactive, which means that when placed in a new environment, their individual components can be recombined, adapting them for new purposes and meanings.  mechanics–>reaction–>adaption–>new functionality. I guess what I’m trying to say is… gallus domesticus dentata is the pinnacle of literary evolution.


~ by Freddie on March 24, 2013.

4 Responses to “Video Games: Instances of Digital Genetic Recombination within Microcosmos”

  1. Dear Freddie,

    You have covered all of our assignments for this week and connected it with outside texts that creates a wide range of perspectives when regarding individuals. You provide useful information on the background of halo as a videogame and how culture interprets the ‘head bob’ aspects of the video game. After your overview of assignments, there seems to be a general foundation you discover about the interaction quality of these games. I enjoyed the “mechanics-reaction-adaption-new functionality cycle statement because it allows the reader to be remind the eternal fluid spirit of digital mediums and how static characteristics are abandoned.

    Great Job.

  2. I really like your in-depth analysis of RedVBlue. What was really interesting was your explanation of how the (relative) lack of animation in the characters’ conversations almost forces us to give more power to the words and their tones, rather than relying on how their eyes move, or something like that.

    Actually, upon thinking about it more, it makes a lot of sense. I was wondering why exactly such a presentation of humor could be more funny than the same material delivered by “live” actors, but now I’ve realized it. It seems that most of the humor is akin to verbal slapstick, directed from character to character as opposed to character on… the political situation, or something like that. The feeling of sadness or shame is usually expressed through facial cues, as opposed to verbally, so it is in effect removed form these characters’ interactions. Without reason for us to feel bad for the butts of these jokes, we are able to laugh freely at what may otherwise be considered ‘crossing a line’.

  3. Yes Freddie, simply yes. I can always trust another gamer to understand what this is all about. Coding is the DNA of a digital story. Video games are simple in this view and they simply become a set of controls for us to play on. It is because of the ease that the video games allow to control the product of the codes that they can be a prime example of digital storytelling. Replaying, remodeling, renewing. The point being, new adventures or stories or worlds or plots or anything, are just a couple of clicks and ideas away. When we pick up a game again, we re-create and have the opportunity to change what the idea was for the game. I’m sure that nobody at Bungie knew what a few friends were going to pull off with their game, but they provided the ability for this to happen.

    I’d love to say more about RvB but I don’t think I have the time and would most likely end up off topic, so I will move to Quandary. I too choose to play this game and ended up trying to become a dictator. I did whatever I wanted no matter how many people were against me because I could. This I think is where the essence of new world creation evolves. It is human nature to push the boundaries that we think are set before us. When a limit is given, the first thing people will do is try to break that limit. Maybe our entire generation is full of spiteful law breakers, or maybe we’re just trying to create our own stories.

  4. Freddie,

    You are freaking brilliant. In one blogpost, not only did you dissect the mechanics (and their functions) of each and every videogame we played, you also spoke to its connection with Red vs. Blue, something that is not manually reactive, but instead a video that is a “regulated and streamlined system of symbolic visual clues.”

    I appreciated the way you somehow “rhizome-ized” videogames (mechanically structured engines, of sorts) by viewing them as a “tiny constructured universe, with its own laws of physics and causality.” By doing this, you were able to speak to the layering effect of this separate world upon our own and our own hands interacting with that other tiny universe.

    With regards to dis4ia, you eloquently spoke to what I was trying to say in my blogpost: “In Dys4ia by going through the motions of the author’s own actions, we directly share her feelings of disorientation during her tribulations, along with her sense of accomplishment upon reaching the endgame.” Your concision is remarkable here, and connects to the sort of physical mechanics you spoke to earlier.

    Furthermore, I appreciated the way you discussed Phone story. When playing it and discussing it, I was vague with regards to the game goals themselves, but you found insight within the specifics: “Section 1 showed me that the conscious decision to find and intimidate another human being is institutionalized and normal in the existing economic system. Section 2 showed me that a 50% employed splatter rate is considered acceptable losses by factory managers.” While 50% might be a “generic” number, by honing in on the idea, it makes the “lesson” even more poignant and stark.

    In your last paragraph, you showed real thinking, extending the concept of videogames and applying it to genetics. This also connects with the sort of “theme” of our readings for this week–the humanness, or lack of humanity, within some of these games. Each of the games (as well as RvB) was an elucidation on the violence that we may or may not be participating in, be it directly or waywardly. In this way, it is a discussion of humanity and our (d)evolution.

    Lastly, I appreciate the way you were both open-minded and concrete in your blogpost… You were mechanical when you wanted to understand the process on a specific level, but weren’t too close-minded to not be able to look at the big picture. Fantastic job.


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