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Videogames and Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (16-20)

This is the fourth round of Pic of the day RECAP (16-20). To understand what all of this is about, check out the original entry.

16 - The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion: The stars were right, and this is the day

The stars were right. Is he referring to those who are famous and popular or to those massive celestial bodies? For those like me who have an open definition of agency, which includes humans and non-human as agents alike, it may get confusing sometimes. It doesn't matter, though. At least in this case. The important thing is the certainty of his discourse: this is the day. I hope I have his aplomb when my time comes. Nothing is perpetual. In the end, the stars were right and they know from experience: even the brightest star, earthly or celestial, will eventually fade.

17 - Dead Island: Give Way

"Change is always difficult," we say to ourselves. It can be difficult, indeed, but it happens all the time. Stability and solidity are mere contingent outcomes of the constant flow of change. Very real, but perishable. At the crossroads of times we are impelled to think fast and act quicker. Bob Dylan already warned us: "Your old road is / Rapidly agin' / Please get out of the new one / If you can't lend your hand". Times they are a changing and the end is nigh. Are you willing to change? If not, please, give way.

18 - Super Meat Boy: Press start
Is there something more game-like that the "press start" imperative? Maybe the dreary "game over" sentence. The alpha and omega of video games. It's interesting because they don't command you to just "start". Video games clearly state that you have to press start, as if you had to put pressure on the video game to make it into existence. Someone might point out that the "button" word is implied. I don't like taking things for granted. There is a negotiation between you, the player, and it, the video game. Once you press start, it's like signing a contract. Your relationship, even if it doesn't last more than five minutes, will change both of you irreversibly.

19 - Deadlight: Everybody reacts to fear differently

Everybody reacts to fear differently. That's true, but everybody reacts to everything in different ways. It always is, it always has been. Will it be? Sure. However, fear is a strong feeling and the reactions can be extreme. "I'll kill you, freaks!" we can read on the wall. It's not surprising at all. Otherness is what we fear the most. Remember, with the proper mediations even your neighbour, the person who sits next to you or yourself might be turned into a freak, an outsider, an alien. And then fear. And then reactions.

20 - The Witcher: An edifying tale...

Geralt of Rivia is being polite by describing as edifying the story he has just heard. In fact, this can be read as a meta-reference to this very section on this blog. If his words were subjected to translation, I would say he means the following: "I've been reading your digressions about video games and sociology, and I've come to the conclusion that they're just gibberish wrapped in a pretentious inane discourse". But Geralt doesn't want to sound impolite, so he says that my section is an edifying tale. All these years delving deeper into the mysteries of deconstruction, destabilising the hegemonic narratives and learning the arts of articulating heterogeneous elements, and he concludes that the section is "edifying" pretending to be polite. If you wanted to be polite, you could have used plenty of adjectives. Anything but "edifying", Geralt. Anything.

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Why is it never a cheese sandwich? On the lock-and-key logic



I'm in the middle of some stuff related to securing the funding for next year - I´ll tell you about this at another time - but I wouldn't like to leave the blog without a new entry for too long. I invite you to check the following video (WARNING: Some spoilers about the video game Penumbra: The Black Plague):


What I want to point out here are the remarks made by Clarence on certain logic in video games (around 1:47). Clarence, one of the best NPCs in the history of video games, makes a very good point: why is it always a key, a note, a swipe card? Why not a cheese sandwich? I know there are probably some games out there in which you can collect cheese sandwiches and whatnot. But let's face it: how many games have you played in which keys and notes are used as a main mechanic, as a way to make the story advance and deliver their narrative? Countless, right? 

Jason Johnson from Kill Screen magazine quoted one of the comments made by Tim Schafer in an interview on Adventure Gamers, and he concluded that, probably mistakenly, Schafer was told by his backers (and he would agree) he should not innovate and get back to the classic lock-and-key puzzles. Honestly, that's almost the whole history of video games: locked doors and keys to open it. You can substitute the door with any other impediment - physical or other - and the key with any other object - material or intangible - that helps to overcome that obstacle. 

How can this logic of the lock-and-key puzzles influence on our daily life? If we, the gamers, are used to this kind of logic, do we see everything as a space full of locked doors which we must open? What kind of impact can have these mechanics on video gamers and the social worlds that are around them? Do they discipline us in some ways, in how we experience reality? In what do developers think when they create these commonplaces? Is this logic unique to video games or can be generalised?  

Think, monkeys, think!

PS: After writing this entry I came across this fabulous post [in Spanish] on a very particular puzzle in Monkey Island, the one in which Guybrush is tossed into the sea to let him sleep with the fishes. Here is a screenshot as a gentle reminder:
What Miguel R. Fervenza from Indiefence points out is why the puzzle works with veteran adventurers: because it plays with the mechanical way of thinking of gamers. At first, we try to reach one of those sharp objects we see around us (we think it's obvious, just cut the rope!). Once we notice we can't take any of them, we focus on our inventory, trying any combination that comes to our minds. We even yearn to find the solution from those guys who seem to be desperate to get rid of their knife. But the answer is much simpler: we just have to take the damn idol and walk away from the bottom of the ocean... Well, this is the kind of logic that, we, as gamers, have been cultivating along the years. That's the reason some games and designers, knowing it, mock us cruelly.

[An extended version of this post in Spanish can be found here 
at Deus Ex Machina]

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Videogames and Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (11-15)

This is the third round of Pic of the day RECAP (11-15). To understand what all of this is about, check out the original entry

11 - Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP: Home is where the hearth is
If we understand hearth as the floor of a fireplace in a house, we might be inclined to consider that home is just either a cold and dusty place or a warm and smoky one. Like most social relationships, all depends on whether the fire is lit or not. The other option is to consider hearth in its metaphorical sense as home and family. Therefore, Home is where home is. That's redundant. Sociology, as social actors - human and non-human - always do, should prioritise literal meanings over metaphorical ones.
 
12 - Crysis: What the hell is going on out there?
We tend to think in terms of opposing dichotomies: above and below, left and right, nature and culture, action and structure, life and death, in and out. Most of the time those notions only make sense if they're put together. That should be interpreted as a sing of its spurious nature. If we're at home and hear a thunderous sound coming from the street, we say 'What the hell is going on out there?'. If we're in a haunted house and glimpse a spectral figure walking down the corridor, we shout 'What the hell is going on out there?'. If we're social scientists outlining a research project, we think 'What the hell is going on out there?'. There is no such a thing as an out there, it's only a matter of distance, magnitude and mediation.
 
13 - Super Street Fighter IV: You're early 
People usually get angry when other people are late. It seems, but it's not completely corroborated, that people also can be mad at other people if they show up earlier than expected. What does this teach us from a sociological point of view? Things always happen on time. It's just that its time doesn't need to coincide with yours.


14 - Dark Souls: This is your fate
Fate relates to all that is already written, foreseen and foretold. It's about destiny and the inevitable. Fate is what controls you like a puppet. In sum, fate is much like the structure, the habitus, the limits of the system, the dispositif, or the constrictions imposed by other social agents. Don't worry, as oppressive and bleak as your situation might seem to be, there is always room for some good old free will: agencies, arrangements, shady deals, plays, tricks, detours. We also play a role in our fate and, more importantly, our actions are part of other people's fate.
  
15 - Spec Ops: The line:  Too many lies
When a specific number of lies becomes too many? Is not just one lie enough? Why are we worried about lies when there is a guy holding an assault rifle (or is it a shotgun?)? Amidst the lies and the guns we can spot the news. You can figure out the rest.


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Long live to the three-headed monkey!

The other day I was watching Tim Schafer in the special PBS Game/Show on humour in video games and something suddenly shocked me: the famous line that gives name to this blog  - Look behind you! A three-headed monkey! - could have not existed. Schafer was working in Monkey Island writing a dialogue in which Guybrush needed to distract the villagers and came up with that line, but he immediately thought it was stupid and was sure Ron Gilbert, the leader of the project, would get rid of it. 


One of the best lines in the history of video games and Schafer almost take it out! Fortunately, they kept the line, everyone is happy and this blog exists. Imaging life without the three-headed monkey is like gazing upon a bleeding wound in the space-time continuum. Long live to the three-headed monkey!

And monkeys are always funny, three-headed or otherwise. Period.
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Diaries from The Forest (vol.1): senseless brutality

In my efforts to experiment with new research techniques in social sciences, I will create two new regular sections: diaries and flash sociological reviews. You can read about the latter here. But at this moment, I'd like to focus on diaries.

What is a diary? You'll probably have already seen those articles on magazines and posts on forums in which the author describes what they've done and experienced during a specific gameplay. It's not a review per se, it's more like a diary entry, where you express what happened in your life that day and how you feel about it. This could be a good example on RPS magazine about the game DayZ. It's probably too elaborated and it's not easy to find those on the Internet, but it's still a very good model to follow. After some time playing the game, I'll try to make a similar attempt.  

I don't intend to imitate those pieces to produce narratives and share experiences about video games (although, wanted or not, I will  inexorably participate in the process), but to take advantage of it in order to analyse and explore those shared and semi-ubiquitous-produced narratives and experiences. By copying social actors behaviour and their way to produce knowledge, I hope to find new ways to approach their reality. The diaries will be brief and will include my own game experiences along with extracts from other gamers  diaries. These diaries will be, at the same time, part of a sociological method and of video game culture. 

As it seems that survival games are prone to this kind of narrative, my first attempt to experiment with diaries will be The Forest. I've chosen The Forest for two reasons: firstly, because it's an open world survival game that has already produced 'diaries'; secondly, because it's on Steam's early access games program, which means The Forest is a game still in development and, therefore, it's the perfect candidate to see up close the process of producing a video game and how the developers and video gamers interact with each other. But that's another story, let's go with the first volume of this Diaries from The Forest that has been entitled Senseless brutality.

Senseless brutality
I was on a plane. Nobody was around me but a little kid who I assume is my son. Something was wrong with the plane, we crashed... I woke up on the floor of the crashed plane,  I looked above and saw someone who had taken the kid (again, my son? my nephew?) in his arms. He doesn't look like friendly (is this a racist or ethnocentric assumption?). They leaved.
I stood up. I was hungry, thirsty and in pain. I ate some meals from the plane's catering. I drank a can of soda. I took everything I saw compulsively, including an axe I found stuck into a stewardess. She was dead. I got out of the plane and started looking for clues on where I was. I felt disorientated and didn't know what to do. I noticed I had a survival guide in my backpack. I opened it and decided to build a shelter. A hunting shelter according to the guide. 
As soon as I was about to place the shelter just next to the wrecked plane, I found myself surrounded by hostile individuals. They seem to be part of the same tribe (ethnocentrism again?) of the man who took the kid. There were four or them, three males and a female. At least two of them were armed with blunt weapons. They're fast. Incredibly fast. They climbed the trees, jumping from one to another. They were really scaring me. They circled me, they wanted to attack me from my weakest point. I fighted back, but I didn't last too long. One of them, the most intimidating one, took me down. I fainted. 
I woke up in the dark. I used my lighter. I was in some sort of subterranean cave. Dead bodies, some of them horribly mutilated, hanged from the ceiling. I took everything I saw: food, medicine, drinks, a flare gun and some flares. I frantically looked for an exit.
I came across a corpse of a man with a rusty axe into his belly. I took it. I made a creepy joke about his t-shirt: 'I love my guts'. I laughed. 

After a fleeting moment of cheeriness, the looming dread of what might inhabit the cave made me shiver. Almost blinded, I made my way towards what I thought was the exit. I missed a step and fell. I was dead. 
Days survived 2. I still don't know where I was, why they took the child and attacked me. I don't understand why they did what they did to those poor people. Senseless brutality.

Compare my first play with another first time experience: 
-The first time I played-
Spawned near a beach.
Grabbed some supplies.
Wacked a bunny over the head with my axe.
Grabbed the bunny.
Built a fire near the coast.
Cooked the bunny.
Saw a mutant in the forest watching me.
It started screaming and 5 more walked out.
They started sprinting at me, so I swam out into the water.
They all stopped at my camp and stared at it. 
5 of them walked away and left one lone mutant.
I was all like "I got this ♥♥♥♥" [shit?] and ran towards the mutant with my axe.
She hit me twice and killed me. 
I woke up in a cave with a bunch of dead bodies hanging from the cave ceiling. 
Found an axe and a flare gun, then slowly made my way out of the cave.
3 naked mutants ran at me and killed me by beating me down with human heads.
11/10, thats some spooky ♥♥♥♥ [shit, again?]. 
Source: Steam users reviews on The Forest (posted: 31 May 2014; user: Rawlson).

To make my first diary reverberate through the same channels, I will post my experience on Steam reviews. I will keep track of the outcome. Expect more diaries soon. 
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Videogames and Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (6-10)

This is the second round of Pic of the day RECAP (6-10). To understand what all of this is about, check out the original entry

6 - The Secret World: The end of the world waits for no man

The end of the world is the passage of time and what it comes with it: decadence, death, oblivion. Furthermore, only the signs of ageing prove the existence of the passage of time. The statement is partially wrong nonetheless: it waits for no man, indeed, but also for no animal, object, building or custom. In any case, there are still the possibility of (more or less) good outcomes after the end of the world: you can be turned into a myth, a social institution or cultural heritage. 

- Amnesia: Oh my... so Babylon shall fall, you say

We could interpret Babylon as the reflection of world's evil. But the ancient city's metaphorical prowess shouldn't be circumscribed to evil. Babylon is everything - a marriage, a car, a government, a culture, a theory -  that was, is and will be. It's another word to describe gravity: they all rise and, sooner or later, shall fall.

8 - The Last Door: One more song

One more song. One more episode. One more play. One more cup of tea. One more kiss. One more bit of chocolate. One more joke. One more apricot. One more cigarette. One more pint. One more one more... No matter what 'one more' you ask for. One more and it will finally kill you.

9 - Assassin's Creed: Nothing is true, everything is permitted

The assassin's rule of conduct is formed by two different, not necessarily related, statements. The first one, nothing is true. I would be tempted to say the sentence is true, but then it wouldn't be true what I was saying. Let's try a Foucaldian approach: we are faced with games of truth. Regimes of what can be said and what can be seen within specific conditions of possibility. In fact, the second statement, everything is permitted, is a gentle reminder of the contingent nature of those regimes of truth: it's what incites us to push the limits of thought and overcome the current conditions of possibility (creating new ones). 


10 - Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth: Innsmouth? Never heard of it

The dark, forgotten and damp - because everything in Lovecraft's universe is clammy - village of Innsmouth represents the uncharted territory of the unknown. From time to time we receive clues of those unheard realities in the shape of phone calls, hunches, whispers, premonitory dreams or letters to the editor. Seldom do we notice those signs, but eventually someone will do and Innsmouth will have to change its location.

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Videogames and Sociology: Twitter's pic of the day summary (1-5)