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Posts Tagged ‘halo’

Videogaming culture

I remember when I bought my first video game system in 1990.  It was a Nintendo Entertainment System, and I played Super Mario Brothers for hours at a time.  I would sit with my friends, each of us tightly gripping the controller as the 8-bit music chattered at us and we excitedly pushed plastic buttons that in turn sent signals to a simple computer which manipulated the pixels on the television screen and moved Mario toward a mushroom or away from a turtle.  I am part of a generation that grew up playing video games.  My parents’ generation, on the other hand, has had a less organic relationship with this interactive electronic medium than I have.  My friends and I would grasp a controller and intuit how to move the character on the screen or manipulate the game.  On the rare occasions when I convinced my parents to play video games with me, they would sit stiffly, awkwardly holding the controller at an odd angle while making Mario walk unsteadily towards a pit.  When Mario fell into the pit, as he inevitably would, my parents would seem shocked, as if they had been blindsided by a surprise attack.  They would usually only last one or two tries before they got tired of playing.  Then they would hand the controller back to me and I would continue to interact with the small Japanese-built computer like it was an extension of myself. 

            In fact it was.  When I played video games, my nervous system and my mind were extended.  My eyes saw obstacles, my reflexes responded, and even my adrenal glands responded to the things that I was making the television display.  Even our language teaches us that a video game is an extension of ourselves.  We speak of making a character do this or that, or we say that I won the game this morning.  In fact we did not.  We pushed buttons on a lump of plastic all morning, but we somehow feel that the former description is more truthful than the latter.  Marshall McLuhan points this concept out in The Medium is the Massage.  He writes that every medium is an extension of the body.  “The wheel…is an extension of the foot.  The book is an extension of the eye…clothing, an extension of the skin.”  Video games are extensions of many different parts of our bodies—our eyes, our legs, our arms, our nervous systems, all wrapped up together in this interactive medium. 

            Video gaming as a medium has come a long way since Pong or Super Mario Brothers.  Now video gaming is generally divided into PC gaming (games played on personal computers, whether PC or Macs) and console gaming.  The three leading consoles on the market today are Nintendo’s Wii, Sony Corporation’s Playstation 3, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360.  These platforms are in direct competition with one another, and some of the companies contract with game developers to offer some game titles for only one platform in order to corner the market on that game.  Microsoft did just that when in June 2000 it purchased Bungie Studios, a game developer that was about to release a title called Halo.  When Microsoft bought Bungie, it guaranteed that this new game would be offered exclusively on the new Xbox console system.  Halo belongs to the class of games called shooters, because the game revolves around the player manipulating a character to shoot guns and, in the case of Halo, use a variety of advanced weaponry to destroy alien armies.  One subgenre of a shooter is a first-person shooter.  These shooters are so named because the point of view that the player takes on is the point of view of the main character in the game, so the player will see what the character in the game sees, as if the player is using the television screen to look through the eyes of the character.  This results in the player being able to control the character in the game in such a way that they can make the character walk or run around the game in any direction, look up, down, or around, and respond in real time to things happening in the game, much like a virtual reality. 

When Halo was first published in November 2001, it immediately took its place as arguably the most significant product in the gaming industry and, since then, the single game that was developed by a small gaming studio called Bungie has become an extremely lucrative franchise, to date netting three games (Halo CE, Halo 2, and Halo 3), five novels, one graphic novel, and several more products in the works.  Halo offers two modes of gameplay: the campaign and multiplayer.  In the campaign, players take on the role of the Master Chief, a futuristic supersoldier whose goal is to fight alien hordes in an attempt to save the human race and all sentient beings in the galaxy.  This mode is played either by oneself or with other players who play as allies, together trying to defeat the aliens.  The multiplayer mode, on the other hand, is played with multiple players, is set in enclosed maps laden with weapons, very like gladiatorial arenas, and the players do not play with each other; they play against each other.  The goal of this mode of play is generally to gain the most kills by killing the other players’ characters.  Awards can be won for certain kinds of difficult kills or other difficult feats.  I developed a greater interest (personal and academic) in the Halo world as more games were produced, and my enjoyment of the game grew to include more things than merely winning a multiplayer match with friends. 

Halo fans are unique.  They are typically very loyal to the game and to the game’s developer, Bungie studios, and Bungie has always cultivated a cooperative relationship with its fans.  This interactive relationship has contributed significantly to the success of Halo, and a circuit of feedback and interactivity has developed between Bungie and Halo fans—between the production and the consumption of this cultural artifact.  This production/consumption circuit is admittedly only a part of what is happening culturally with Halo and with video gaming in general, but this circuit is extremely significant to the future of video gaming in general and how it functions as a medium, because video gaming is naturally an interactive medium, and as the interaction between consumers and producers speeds up, new modes of interaction and game play are created, transforming a video game into an extremely sophisticated universe in which players interact with much more than just a digital character on a screen.

            This interactivity is one of the things that makes video games such a unique medium.  As the medium has grown from its infancy throughout the last decades of the twentieth century it has become more and more sophisticated, and one of the most significant reasons for this development lies at the very heart of the medium itself, in its interactivity.  Interaction occurs in video gaming not merely between the player and the video game unit but also through the increased interaction between the producer of the product and the consumer of the product. The video game is becoming more and more interactive on multiple levels as the production/ consumption circuit integrates production with consumption faster than ever.  As the circuit’s speed progressively increases and approaches the speed of instantaneous feeding of production into consumption and back into production, it transforms the simple interactive video game into a sophisticated interactive universe.  Although this phenomenon does not happen with every video game, it does happen with some of the most innovative and popular games, the games that tend to push the boundaries of the medium and be at the front of the video gaming industry’s growth.  It is these games that are the most influential to the development of video gaming as a continually changing medium, and Halo is one of many culturally significant gaming projects that could be analyzed. 

This production/consumption circuit is driven by capitalism and creativity; the producers make a more sophisticated product in order to sell more copies of the game.  They appropriate the creativity of the consumer and subsume it into their own product, bringing it under their own control.  The consumer allows this and is even an active agent in it because as the producers exert control over representations of their product and reincorporate them into production, if they continue to make the product better, they create customer loyalty, and the customer becomes a willing participant in the process of recreating and reinventing the product.  Thus the producer uses the customer to make a better product, and the consumer relies on the producer to create a product that they will want to buy—over and over again as new versions are sold, as the circuit speeds up, and as gaming itself as a medium develops into something different and much more sophisticated than we could ever have imagined when Pong was first released by Atari in 1972.

            

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If you have not seen anything of Halo, you should look at some of my other posts for some machinima videos before you watch this one.  This is a short film made to publicize Halo 3.  The flashy parts are interesting, like actually seeing a real Warthog or seeing a Halo sniper rifle or Brutes in action, but the most interesting part of this film is that it is a new crossroads in gaming.  The film was made not as a live action feature, but as an advertisement, and this is a prime example of those instances when commodity and sign are the same, just like the Apple store is an example of commodity and space becoming the same thing.

This film was made with the cooperation of Microsoft, Bungie, Wingnut Films (Peter Jackson’s production company) and the Weta Workshop (the New Zealand design studio created by Jackson during the pre-production of the Lord of the Rings).  Enjoy.

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One of the things that intrigues me is how there are certain games that are pushing the form of traditional video gaming.  What interests me is the shift from a linear structure to a more free-form nonlinear structure.  This structure, though, is not always seen, because, at least currently, the idea of the HIDDEN is extremely significant in gaming.  There are always easter eggs (little surprises) inserted into games now, and these easter eggs have developed from mere novelties to entire subplots or backstories, portals into different modes of completing the game, complex allusions to ideas, plots, stories, or websites not in the game, etc.  In short, the possibilities and actual uses for this mode of gaming are limitless.  In order to fully explore these, one must remember that in gaming there is usually at least one linear progression (often through the plot of the campaign),

A quest through the woods hunting ring-wraiths is a linear experience.

A quest through the woods hunting ring-wraiths is a linear experience.

but also a non-linear way to experience the game.  This non-linear exploration is much more than just a new marketing tool.  It is the evidence of the way that new non-linear forms of media are changing the way we think.  

Linear along with non-linear.  

B and not-B contradicting.  But not contradicting.

 

Complex and abstract thought being explored creatively through the culturally agreed-upon lowest of all media forms–video gaming.

 

This is the moment when 2 waves collide and become a completely new wave, different from the others, containing the inertia from both,

complex linear thought--this isn't Star Trek yet.

complex linear thought--this isn

but the restrictions from neither.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A steel mill created these pellets, but now they are being used in conjunction with a video gaming blog discussion.  Disparate elements forming new cohesions and relationships.

 

The Alternate Reality Game is a significant new medium.  

 

If we could visually represent non-linear gaming relationships, they might look like this.

If we could visually represent non-linear gaming relationships, they might look like this.

 

Borland, John, and Brad King.  “Bees, ARGs, and the Birth of the Collective Detective.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum85.2 (2005): 21-24.ProQuest Research Library ProQuest. Crafton Hills College Library, Yucaipa, CA.  7 Dec. 2007 <http://proquest. umi.com/>.

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Complexity

The world is undergoing a revolution.  In fact, it isn’t irrational to claim that ever since the invention of the telegraph, the world has been undergoing one massive media revolution composed of many smaller revolutions.  With each extension of our bodies (as McLuhan defines a medium), we reconfigure ourselves—we reconstruct the ways our minds view reality, and this is supremely important.  

This week I’ve been thinking in particular about video games.

Video games are often left off of the list, and they have also often gotten a bad rap.  In the academy, I have often gotten the feeling that video games are seen as one of the lowest forms of entertainment—one that rots the brain, and it would be much better for one to simply read some good theory or a new novel—anything that is high culture, for goodness’ sake! Video games often get this bad rap for two reasons: the fact that they are unapologetically pop culture, and some specifically objectionable games that usually make the news (Grand Theft Auto, etc.).  

In the days of Pong, gaming was a simpler affair, and now games have much greater sophistication and greater graphics.  The goal of many of them is to feel more realistic, and those who see the video game glass as half empty usually see games as a form of the feelies or the centrifugal bumblepuppy.  There are distinct movements within gaming that point to a larger movement, and game designers and game consumers have both begun to be louder in their desire to be taken seriously as cultural contributors and as artists. 

Halo, for example, is an extremely sophisticated cultural artifact and as such speaks to issues as varied as environmentalism, humanism, globalism and globalization, the use of science, military criticism, political activism, religious extremism and violence, and technophilia.  Halo is a fascinating study for those interested in how new media work, because to understand Halo is to understand global business and economics, the cutting edge of digital art, wikis and user-based production philosophy, visual artistic expression, and most importantly, the concept of connection and communication in the 21st century. 

The nuance and sophistication of the artists who created Halo, the merciless demand of quality and subtlety required of so many of those consuming Halo, the knowing reconstitution information and product into countless re-presentations—all of these things speak to the organic quality of this piece of cultural production.  Halo, like many projects on the far forward curve of gaming production, has transcended the status of a mere toy.  It utilizes multiple media, multiple forums of expression to tell stories and create pieces of art.  The producers employ subtlety of narrative style, formal shifts and non-linear rabbit holes that keep the project expanding.  They are inventing new forms of communication.  These bricoleurs are largely the D&D nerds, the computer geeks, the people who in high school were the ones the jocks wouldn’t touch with a jousting pole.  These minds—the ones who have learned to see digital code in novels, colors in the street, philosophical material in virtual form, are the ones creating these new forms, and once again, they are largely ignored.  To be sure, they are part of the corporate gaming engine, but their enterprise is on the verge of becoming more than anyone could ever imagine even four years ago.  The way Halo—just one game, albeit the most successful console game in history—has reshaped the world speaks to the growing complexity of the culture and the desire for expression and community within the growing population of the world of those under 40. 

The world is growing, and growing restless.  Some see video games as a form of soma, but the games themselves play with the very idea artistically and reshape the conversation as it is happening.  

 

This week’s assignment: Google Halo 3.  See if what you find is representative of your conception of what video games are.  See if you can easily assimilate the meaning or complexity of the content and the form of all the hits.  Expand your view of communication, and embrace the vast panoramas that make Halo so unique.  These panoramas of structure, meaning, art, representation, and expression.

www.ilovebees.com

 

NEW MEANINGS FROM PIXELS

NEW MEANINGS FROM PIXELS

 

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I just got back from vacation, and it was awesome.  I needed to go somewhere far away and unwind, and this totally did the trick.  The scenery was totally high-res, except for a couple really lame places that bordered on analog, but for the most part it was really nice.  My wife really liked the solitude of our trip the best, but I liked the depth of the design and the rich color palate.  It was so much better than the stuff I see at home.  

 

   

The Hotel Lockout
The Hotel Lockout

 

 

This is a picture of our hotel in the northernmost part of our trip—a lonely little place called Lockout.  The lodging was kind of Spartan, but since we only were there for two nights, it was ok. 

While we were there, we visited an archeological dig camp—get this—in the snow! and got a great shot of the moon rising and the sun setting. It had an unearthly feel to it, and it wasn’t quite as cold as it looked. 

the archeology dig camp in the snow at dusk

the archeology dig camp in the snow at dusk

 

After two nights, we went to another spot—an astronomy camp!—away from the cold.  The typical mode of transport for the region is a kind of airplane/helicopter thing they call a Pelican. This is a great shot of the one right before ours leaving the tiny shack they call an airport.

A Pelican

A Pelican

   

The local village close to the astronomy camp—very quaint.  I like how they worked the architectural style with the landscape.

The local village--beautiful view!

The local village--beautiful view!

 

 

ruined building--Mayan or Cambodian?  Not so sure...

ruined building--Mayan or Cambodian? Not so sure...

An old building we explored next to the camp.  A great place for a picnic.  Apparently you can see the remnants of both Central American and Southeast Asian style in the architectural design.  At least, that was what the brochure said.  I really can’t see it…I hope it wasn’t a tourist façade like some of the Old West towns in New Mexico and Colorado that I’ve seen.

 

This part of the trip was maybe the most exciting for me.  We were able to work with some pretty well-known astronomers and actually use the equipment there to take some photos of stars and stuff.  It was pretty cool.  You can see some of the arrays in the distance.

Astronomy array--really pleasant and reminds me of Rohan!

Astronomy array--really pleasant and reminds me of Rohan!

 

 

We got to see this new space station that was made in space, and we took some cool pictures of it. 

 

Station from a distance

Station from a distance

The station with the sun behind it

The station with the sun behind it

Closeup view

Closeup view

Extreme closeup of the surface--really cool! What these engineers come up with these days!

Extreme closeup of the surface--really cool! What these engineers come up with these days!

 

 

 

The day we left there was some kind of malfunction in the space station and there were all these fires on it—I guess they had to evacuate and everything.  But that’s this picture—the last one I got. 

 

On fire--I wonder how much this cost NASA?

On fire--I wonder how much this cost NASA?

 

 <End Program> 

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